meat eaters’ crash course week 2
Bible Study Methods: Interpretation (the basics)
1. Pray. You really need the Holy Spirit to help you observe and interpret, but especially for interpretation because…
2. There Is Only One Correct Interpretation of any given passage! Though there is an infinite number of observations and an infinite number of applications you can get from a passage, and no single ‘right’ answer for observation, there is a single – only one – right answer to the question, ‘What did the original author (Paul in our case) mean by this?’ It would drive me crazy if someone told me that I meant something else by what I said than I actually did. We have to be strict with ourselves to get the right answer – and with God’s help (step number 1) we can (usually) get it.
3. The best interpretation of a passage is in context. You can look at it in historical-slash-geographical context (for example, in our case, ‘Where was Ephesus? What was life like there, and what hardships did the Christians there have to deal with?’ – stuff like that). You can also look at it in literary context – examining it in light of the words and paragraphs around and related to it. For example, we could ask of Ephesians 6:10, ‘What does the word ‘strong’ mean here – do we interpret this as “be buff in the Lord”, “be architecturally sound in the Lord”, or “be powerful in the Lord”, or something else?’
4. Get Help. We pray first for God’s help (step 1). He can use other people and resources to guide us: ask your parents, your pastor, a trusted mentor, a sound book to ‘check your work’, to take another person’s look at your interpretation. Proverbs 19:20 says, ‘Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.’ There are many tools available for us to use. You can look at how a passage is translated in multiple versions of the Bible (see www.biblegateway.com). You can use word study tools, such as Vine’s Expository Dictionary and a concordance. Another excellent way to learn more about the literary context of your passage is cross-referencing: many Bibles give you other verses that are related to the verse you’re looking at, in the margin or at the bottom of the page. Looking up those other verses can help you understand the one you’re trying to interpret. Other good ‘advisors’ are commentaries; notes from study Bibles included. Two thoughts on commentaries: don’t go to them first; try to do the work on your own before you refer to someone else’s work. Second, a warning about internet commentaries: don’t use or trust them unless you know for sure that the author is trustworthy. Anybody can post their ideas on the internet, but not many people can get a good commentary published.
5. Paraphrase. This is kind of the goal of interpretation – to be able to say what the author means in your own words. For example: once I’ve studied the command, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, and found out that the word ‘neighbour’ means anyone near you, and the word for love (agape) is defined in I Corinthians 13, I can now paraphrase it (having interpreted it) and say, ‘How much do you show love to yourself? That’s how much you should treat everyone around you – with that same love.’ By paraphrasing it, I had to get a firm grasp on what Jesus meant when he said it – I had to interpret it.
For Next Week:
Your homework for this week is to figure out what Paul means when he says ‘so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.’ What exactly does ‘the day of evil’ mean? Work your way through the following steps.
1. Pray. Ask God to help you understand this verse.
2. Does your Bible or any other Bible around your house have cross-references for Ephesians 6:13? If so, write the references down here:
3. What are the possible meanings for the word ‘day’ in the Greek? See Greek Dictionary handout, number 2250 (hemera). Then read the entry from Vine’s Expository Dictionary about what ‘day’ means.
4. Find other versions around your house and see how they translate ‘day of evil’.
5. On your third homework handout (it’s a concordance), find how many times Paul uses ‘evil’ in Ephesians, read those, and write down in this space what you observe.
6. If you have a study Bible at home, see if it includes any footnotes on this verse. Write those here.
7. Look up Galatians 1:4, Jeremiah 17:17-18, Obadiah 13, Daniel 12:1, I Corinthians 2:6. How do those passages help you understand ‘the evil day’?
8. Finally, read both handouts from two different commentaries on verse 13.
9. Having done all of the above, put into your own words what you think Ephesians 6:13 is saying. If you want to, list out your reasons for why you’ve interpreted it this way. (We’ll talk about those next week together.)