The worse question to ask when reading the Bible is “What does this passage mean to me?” Instead, we ask two questions:
1. What did this passage mean to the original hearers?
2. How does that apply to my life?
Can you see the difference? One approaches the scripture with me at the center, the other with scripture at the center. It is important that we learn what the passage means, THEN how it applies to our lives. To do this correctly, we need to understand context. Hang with me, it is not as hard as it seems.
I asked my friend, Elder, and fellow-Pastor Paul Bertsch his thoughts on understanding context. Here are Paul’s suggestions:
I think our first tool is simply helping them learn to read the text well. Even though we might not have all the historical background there are tons of clues in the text that can give us some sense of what’s going on politically, militarily religiously. It seems like a huge win if they can begin to notice these things and have an eye for them.
Of course, most decent study Bibles probably do as good of job providing context in a brief way as any tool. If they can learn to use their study Bible and actually read the introduction to each book it seems that would really help them have a sense of context. I think this is where the iPhone/iPad Bibles don’t serve us quite as well.
My two favorite resources for these things are: 1. The new Bible dictionary by InterVarsity Press (available here or here). A large book and a bit pricey, but you have a lifetime of scholarship on terms book introductions and all kinds of stuff that is super helpful for context.
Secondly, I love “How to read the Bible for all it’s worth” by Fee and Stewart (available here). This is a great, and readable book that breaks down the different genres of the Bible and how we need to read each one a little bit differently because of the context and background situation.
What have you found useful in understanding what the Bible really means? Comment below.