Why does the Bible need to be studied? Isn’t its message simple enough to be understood by anyone? Surely it would be unfair of God to expect people to believe him and live according to his Word if it wasn’t able to be understood by everyone? Has not God chosen the ‘foolish’ of this world?
These are commonly expressed concerns when people advocate what is perceived to be an ‘academic’ approach to the Bible. It has an element of truth to it but it is a rather simplistic statement. Yes, God does expect people to understand His Word and believe clear basic doctrines concerning Him and His plan of salvation. But we must also remember that we are not the original recipients of the Bible. God has not spoken directly to us. He has not even written directly to us.
God has communicated His message to special individuals over thousands of years. But he wrote first for them, in their time and in their culture. He preserved the message for us, but it was first written to another people in another time.
The Bible was written to people from a different cultural background to us. The original audience was an ancient one. They knew nothing of the science, technology, medicine, and other things that define our modern world. They knew little of democracy, and literacy was not widespread. It is only in the modern era, from perhaps the 18th century onwards, that literacy has been common. Even today literacy is not as widespread as it should be. Consider then that the original audience most commonly would have heard rather than read the text!
We want to consider the following points (1) over subsequent posts as reasons why we need to engage carefully and thoughtfully in an interpretive process.
- Time distance
- Cultural distance
- Language distance
- Geographical distance
Finally, consider the variety of Biblical interpretations there are out there. How many people and Christian groups are there, all disagreeing with each other about how to understand certain points and issues?
This all goes to show that we need to have a systematic approach to understanding the Bible. We need to use methods and resources that we know make sense and are consistently reliable.
The Bible is for us too. But we need to remember we aren’t the original audience, so we need to think about how they would have understood it. Hopefully this blog will assist you with this and help to deepen your understanding of God’s Word and how to study it.
(1) Taken from Klein, William, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2004.