Over the past two months we looked at the various sections on the Bible. Our general overview touched upon the importance they have within the meta-narrative of God’s story and we looked a little at how to interpret them in light of contexts. Today we are talking about the Pauline epistles (1 Corinthians-Philemon), the general epistles (Hebrews-Jude), and the Book of Revelation.
When you receive a letter, email or text message how do you read it? Do you read it with the sender’s voice in your head, filled with emotional charge? We are all humans and we all tend to read into messages. The same problem can arise when we read the epistles found in the New Testament. We can read meaning into what Paul or the other apostles wrote. We tend to apply it to our lives first before we look at the situational (cultural) context.
When we read our own personal letters we typically know the situation or circumstances behind the author’s words. To understand the epistles we have to apply the same scheme. Researching the historical background from Bible surveys, commentaries or even the Acts of the Apostles can shine a light on the reason behind the letter.
Comprehending the purpose of a passage will aid us greatly in applying it to our daily lives.
One thing that I cannot stress enough, which is in part thanks to Dr George Guthrie and seminary, is context. Keeping all Scripture passages in their proper context is crucial in understanding the Bible as the original audiences would have understood them. (As closely as we can make it, that is.)
This goes for the epistles as well as John’s Revelation.
Also known as the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation has been a mystery for most (if not all) of Church history. Why is this? Symbolism. A good percentage of the imagery that John uses are derived directly from Old Testament passages. (When we come to studying Revelation, chapter by chapter, we will look at this in more detail.) What is important to reading this book? Context.
The original audience would have understood Revelation according to their couture and theology (both Jewish and Christian). While this is true it does not mean that it is totally irrelevant to us today. Many commentators and scholars will attest that this work has three distinct genres interwoven: letter, prophecy and apocalyptic. While it, as well as all the epistles, had special meaning for the first century Church, it also has profound meaning for us today.
We can not ignore Revelation on the sole basis that it is difficult to read and understand.
Next week we are wrapping up our study Read the Bible for Life, by Dr George Guthrie, after which we are diving “In God’s Holy Word”. This will be a chapter by chapter study of the Holy Bible using the New American Commentary series, published by B&H (Broadman & Holman).