In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Jared shares some key concepts in biblical interpretation and gives us some tools on how we can derive meaning from biblical passages as he explores the following questions:
- What are some key concepts in interpretation of the Bible?
- What are hermeneutics?
- What are some hinderances in understanding what the biblical authors were trying to communicate?
- How can the Bible help interpret itself?
- Why is it important to understand what the biblical authors were trying to communicate?
- How can we know what the biblical authors’ intentions were without tasking them?
- How has archeology helped us interpret the Bible?
- How can the way we interpret art teach us about interpreting the Bible?
- Why does the reader’s context matter when interpreting the Bible?
- How is language its own context?
- What is the danger of being objective when doing biblical interpretation?
- Why does Jared Byas think hearing diverse interpretations of the Bible is important?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Jared Byas you can share.
- “The root of biblical interpretation is author intention.” @jbyas
- “The fruit of biblical interpretation is reader reception.” @jbyas
- “Meaning is in the relationship between the person who’s communicating to someone, and the person who’s receiving that communication.”@jbyas
- “Meaning is found between intent and impact: the intention of the author and the significance it has for the reader.” @jbyas
- “We should be humble about what we think we know… we all might experience the same thing but from a different angle with a different perspective.” @jbyas
- “As one human being in a particular place and time it’s hard to know the whole story.” @jbyas
- “The best way to get the God’s eye view is to accept and honor the diversity of all the readings that we find in our world.” @jbyas
- “Don’t discount your own reading and your own example and your own life and own context.” @jbyas
Mentioned in This Episode
- Patreon: The Bible for Normal People
Powered by RedCircleRead the transcript
Pete: You’re listening to the Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. Serious talk about the sacred book. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty Intro Music]
Jared: Welcome, everyone, to this episode of the Bible for Normal People. Today, we’re going to dive into one of the two things we say we talk about quite a bit on the podcast. We talk about “what is the Bible” and “what do we do with it?” With that “what do we do with it,” we’ve talked about concepts like inspiration, revelation, authority and hopefully, we’ll get back into some of those, because I doubt we’ve plumbed the depths of those concepts.
As I was reflecting, one of the things we haven’t talked about is are some of the key concepts in interpretation of the Bible. What do we mean when we ask, “what does the Bible mean?” I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit as I finish my book that I’m working on. I have just a few weeks left here to get that in.
It just got the wheels turning here about what we mean when we talk about what the Bible means and just the basics of Biblical interpretations. There’s, of course, been many, many books written on—the scholarly term for this is “hermeneutics,” which is how we interpret the Bible. What are the key principles or concepts behind that?
I have five points I want to make about this Biblical interpretation. Again, we’re just going to be scratching the surface, so there’s lots I won’t say. We just provide these disclaimers for those of you who want to write us and say, “Yeah, but you forgot about this and how would you say it that way? And that’s oversimplifying.”
We know that. Thank you very much. If you’d rather just not send us those emails, that’d be okay, because we understand that. But if you feel compelled, feel free to keep sending those.
The first thing I want to talk about—and these are cascading points—they tie together—the first is the root of Biblical interpretation is author intention. Let’s take a minute and look at what that means.
The root of Biblical interpretation is author intention. By author intention, we mean, “what was the original intention of the people who put pen to paper, or whatever they had at the time to paper. The editors—what was the intention. What were they trying to communicate?
That’s a really important principle when we’re trying to interpret the Bible. It’s the root of what we’re asking. Any relationship or conversation with someone, you want to understand what that people who’s talking to you is trying to communicate. The Bible means more than what the author intended to say, but it doesn’t mean less.
The beginning of Biblical interpretation is doing this hard work of understanding what the author was trying to say. This is important because it keeps us from the great fear of more conservative Biblical interpreters is that we’re going to make the text, make the Bible mean whatever we want it to mean, that we’re going to unmoor it, or pull up the anchor of the author’s intention and now it’s just a free-for-all where we get to make the Bible mean whatever we want it to mean.
Folks like John MacArthur, and others in the past, at least in my tradition, would have been, “That’s how we end up compromising with the culture and diving into the ethics of our day instead of a Biblical ethic,” whatever that means. We’re not going to respect whatever the author intends.
That is a really important—when we’re talking about conversation with the Bible and interpreting it and what it means.
However, the challenge of getting to the author’s intention is that none of the authors are alive. That’s going to be a problem, not to mention the fact that we don’t actually know who wrote a good chunk of the books of the Bible. They’re anonymous. They’re not attributed to anyone. We don’t know who wrote them.
To add on to that, we have this challenge, this fact that the books were also edited together and redacted together by editors or redactors. We have to take that into account when we’re talking about Biblical interpretation. We don’t have access to the authors. We don’t know who wrote a lot of them and we have these editors.
That doesn’t give us an excuse. We can’t give up. The text itself is still trying to communicate something.
Scholars have developed these tools and ways to get at what the author intended by looking at the text and looking outside the text.
When we talk about the root of Biblical interpretation is author intention. I think that’s just the first thing to remember.
When we’re reading our Bible, it is a helpful question to ask, “What are they trying to communicate here to the audience?”
That’s important to keep in mind so that we’re not making the Bible mean whatever we want it to mean.
The second point I want to make is if the root of Biblical interpretation is author intention, then the author’s context matters.
We mean that in two different ways, again these tools that scholars use. Looking the literary context, which means what do these words and phrases and paragraphs mean in the context of the book itself and the historical context, meaning how does this book fit next to other books at the same time period or other artifacts, other things that we’ve discovered about that time. How does this square or fit within that?
The author’s context matters, literarily and historically, if we want to understand what the author meant. This is pretty simple. We would assume this in our day and age, that if I’m talking to someone that you would want to know what the context is in which I’m saying it and you have to already have a lot of context historically for what I’m trying to say as well.
Let’s look at a little bit of this.
The first is looking at a particular book. Remember, in the Bible, there are 66 individual books. I don’t know where I stand on this exactly, but my tradition would say that if you want to know what Paul means in the book of Galatians, you could look at the same theme and the same words and you could find those in the book of Joshua and that Joshua can help you understand what Galatians means.
The reason we could do this was because we believed that the Bible is ultimately authored by God, so it’s not really 66 books, it really is one book and God is the ultimate author of that book.
In that, we’re assuming this unanimous voice of the Bible, that what the book says—there’s no diversity in the Bible. There really is one message that’s threaded throughout all 66 books.
Of course, if that’s true and God is the singular author, so-to-speak, at the biggest level, then yeah, the context of Galatians is Joshua. We can look at the Old Testament and it can help us interpret the New. And vice versa. There’s really no disconnect between those two.
I’m certainly not in that camp. I don’t think that’s true. I think you end up violating a lot of rules and respecting what the author was trying to say, like Paul, in Galatians. If you’re reading into it these themes in Joshua that maybe Paul had no intention of thinking about or connecting the dots to. I wouldn’t go that far.
However, I wouldn’t also go all the way to say that certain books aren’t in the water or influencing other authors, especially in the New Testament. There is some—if it warrants it, if it seems very explicit or clear, there are oftentimes, say, in the book of Matthew where Matthew makes it clear, like in Chapter 2, Jesus has this episode down to Egypt and then Jesus comes back up out of Egypt, and Matthew explicitly says, “This is what to fulfill what the prophet Hosea says in Hosea, Chapter 11, “Out of Egypt, I have called my son.” Well then, obviously Hosea is part of the context for what Matthew is reading as this narrative is being written. It would be an important piece of that context to understand what Matthew means. Again, that is what we’re after. What does Matthew mean?
All that to say, the literary context is important. We want to look at the particular book. Look right before that book—I’m sorry, look before whatever passage we’re reading. Look after. What words they’re using. What metaphors are being used. What’s the argument that the author’s trying to make? That will help us figure out what the author is intending to say. We want to look at that particular book.
Then, I think, it’s legitimate to look at other books in the Bible that perhaps would have influenced that author. That would be really important.
Those are the literary context of what we want to look at. Just some tools for you as you’re reading the Bible. Make sure you’re look at the author’s intention. How do you know that? We can’t go ask the author. The author’s not with us anymore. But we can look at the context clues. Look at that passage in relationship to other passages that are in the same book. Look at the line of thinking. Look at the argument that they’re trying to make. Trying to piece that together.
A huge part of Biblical interpretation isn’t just the literary context. We have to look outside that book and look at the historical context and look at the time period and what else do we know about that time period. What archeological discoveries have we found? What other books, sacred writings, law codes—what other things, letters do we have access that help to shape what that looks like.
Here are just examples of why context matters. First, literarily. One of the examples I like to use is Philippians, Chapter 4, Verse 13, just because we’ve all seen it on a Nike sneaker for an athlete. Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Usually, in our context, what that means is, “God’s gonna help me win this sporting event or help me do my best or whatever it is.” That’s kind of how it means in Christian “pop” culture, I think.
But if we look at Philippians 4 and the context that Paul is writing, he’s basically, in Chapter 4, talking about the concern that the people in Philippi have for Paul and he saying, “Thank you so much for your concern about me. You’ve been concerned, but you haven’t had an opportunity to show it. I really appreciate it. However,” he says, “I’m not saying this I’m in need. I’m not saying this out of neediness, because I’ve learned to be content in whatever circumstances I found myself in. I know what it’s like to be in need. I know what’s it’s like to have plenty of food. I’ve learned the secret of contentment in all my situations, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
That’s the context. That’s really important for what Paul’s really trying to say. It’s interesting that we’ve taken it to mean Paul is saying, “We can accomplish all these things through Christ, because Christ gives us strength to accomplish a lot of things,” when the context here is about contentment. It’s clear that Paul is saying he’s learned to be content in every situation, whether he wins or loses, whether he’s well-fed or hungry, whether he’s living in plenty of in want. He says, “I can do this.” It’s interesting. The NIV now translates this—I’m pretty sure it didn’t used to translate it this way—but older versions would have said, “I can do all things.”
That’s the ambiguity. That’s how we opened up the idea that it can mean something different because it says, “I can do all things.” We just pull that right out of context and just on its own—sure, that means baseball games. It means whatever you want it to mean. What are all things? Well, all is all things.
But now the translation is, “I can do all this,” instead of “all things.” It’s “this” and it points us back to this idea of contentment. What does “this” mean? Oh, we just look there and it points us there.
Again, it’s really important when we’re trying to understand what the Bible means is context. This is a good example where the Biblical translators have changed it so that we understand how important that context is in Philippians Chapter 4.
Another example of where we don’t really know the author’s intention—we have a lot of this in the Old Testament. There’s this really strange story in Exodus, Chapter 4, where it says, “at a lodging place on the way, God meets Moses and sought to put him to death.”
It comes—this is a really out of left field part of Exodus, Chapter 4. God’s talking to Moses. He says, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all these miracles that I’ve put in your power, because I want to harden Pharaoh’s heart and he’s not going to let you go. You’re going to take out the first-born son. Let my first-born son go and if you don’t, I’m going to kill your first-born son, Pharaoh.” That ends that.
Then it says, “at a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and sought to put him to death.” So out of left field. Then it gets weirder. “Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin”—and if you want context for foreskin, you can just Google that for yourself—and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me. So, God left him alone.”
It was then that Zipporah said, “a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision. Then we just move on in the narrative. It’s very strange and I would say this is one place where it would be wonderful if we had access to the authors and we could just ask them, “What were you trying to say here?”
We have many theories and there are lots of these things where scholars have theories, but we can’t be definitive on what exactly is going on here. What does it mean? What’s the point? Why is it here?
That’s one place where you look at the context, we don’t have other stories, necessarily, outside of the Bible where people are cutting off foreskins and touching feet with them. We don’t have a lot of context and we have to leave it ambiguous there of what this means and how it fits.
Again, there’s theories and thoughts about why. But in this case, we don’t actually have anything explicit and we don’t have a lot to go on.
On the flip side, another example where we have gained more context over the years and it has really made a difference in how we understand the author’s intention is in Genesis and the creation story at the very beginning of Genesis.
Again, without a lot of context, scholars would have simply seen this as an account of how the world was created and tried to put it into their context. A lot of times when we don’t know what the author intended and we don’t have a lot to gone on in terms of the context in the ancient world, we just assume our own context and try to fit it there.
It didn’t work really well in that case. And then, we discovered these texts like Enuma Elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh, that had very similar themes and components in those creation stories, and so Genesis wasn’t unique, which sounded probably—fear—when I learned that Genesis wasn’t unique, I was afraid. “What do you mean, it’s not unique?”
What it does do is give us a wealth of information about how ancient people thought about creation and the beginning of the world and put a lot of information onto Genesis that we can then use to say, “Oh, we’re pretty sure this now is what the authors were intending when they used these phrases.”
For instance, in the very beginning of Genesis, when the waters are separated, “the waters above from the waters below,” we have this thing called the “raqia” that separates it. That’s what separates it. For a long time—you can see this if you look at the history of translations within “what is that thing that separates the waters from the waters”—it’s interesting because you have many different attempts at translating this.
The NRSV translates is a “dome.” NIV, a “vault.” KJV, a “firmament.” ESV is an “expanse.” The NLT is a “space.” The ISV is a “canopy.” Let there be a vault. Let there be a firmament. Let there be an expanse. There be a canopy. The Message just says—Eugene Peterson, “God spoke sky.” He’s thinking it’s sky.
I appreciate the ICB—I think that’s a children’s Bible—that just said, “Then God said, ‘Let there be something to divide the water in two.’” The ICB’s just being honest. We don’t know. “Let there be something.”
For a long time, we don’t know what this is. We don’t have the context of information. But then, as we gather information about how the ancient world thought of creation in UNINTELLIGIBLE, Epic of Gilgamesh and these other texts and understandings, we start to realize that they thought about the universe in a very different way and they thought of this “dome,” this solid structure that separated the “waters above from the waters below,” and that’s how they thought of how the world was made.
That shed all this light on our understanding of our Genesis 1 and other texts like Job and Ecclesiastes that utilizes—and a lot of the Psalms—that utilizes this creation language.
Those are examples from the Bible as to why the literary and the historical context really matters [BACKGROUND MUSIC STARTS] when we’re trying to interpret the Bible. The author’s context matters.
Point One: the root of Biblical interpretation is author intention.
[PRODUCER’S GROUP ENDORSEMENT]
Jared: When you’re reading the Bible, it’s important to start with that question. What did the author intend here? If you’re doing that, then point number two flows naturally, that the author’s context matters. The author’s context matters.
Now the third point here is that we don’t stop there. This is going to be important, because in my upbringing, we were taught that the only thing that really matters when you’re interpreting the Bible is the author intention and who the author was.
My third point is the fruit of Biblical interpretation is reader reception. So, the root is author intention, but the fruit is reader reception, how we read the Bible.
We, as readers, are important for meaning, for what the Bible means. When we say, “What does the Bible mean?” we don’t just mean what did it mean then. Not what the Bible meant. We mean that in the present tense. What does the Bible mean?
We, as readers, are very important when we’re going to ask the question of what the Bible means. Again, for a long time, we used to just think that when we’re talking about meaning, the only thing that mattered in that equation was the author’s intention.
Then, we had writers and scholars, literary theorists like Stanley Fish and others who came along and started saying, “No. The reader’s just as important because meaning is in the relationship between the person who’s communicating to someone and the person who’s receiving that communication.” It’s a relationship. If we start seeing the Bible as a relationship and our reading of the Bible as a relationship between the author and the readers, then we see that both sides of the street are important.
We see this—this is a pretty obvious thing that we see in artistic endeavors all the time. When we talk about songs, or pieces of literature, or movies, we don’t say that the only thing that matters when we’re talking about what it means is what the author intended.
Ed Sheeran had this particular story from his childhood in mind when he’s writing this song. It’s wrong and inappropriate for you to relate to that in your own way and have it be very meaningful and connected to your own memories and your own life and how it’s helping you navigate your life in a different way.
We wouldn’t ever say that. Yet, this is how we do it with the Bible all the time. Just allowing that to be a context too. Yes, I’m saying the Bible is kind of like that. The Bible is literature. It’s important to recognize that it’s literature.
When you’re reading Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, these others, and you’re relating to it and making new meaning and connecting it to your own life, that’s a valuable part of what it means. That’s not disconnected from the roots of what the author intended. We get to make it mean whatever we want it to mean, but it’s also not—it only can ever mean what the author intended it to mean. That’s not just how literature and pieces of art, writing and communication work. Communication is a two-way street.
There’s a level of transparency where readers see their story in that story and relate to it. That’s actually valuable. We don’t want to get rid of that. We don’t want to dismiss it.
In my tradition, we tried to get rid of it and I’ll talk in a minute about the dangers of that.
Meaning is found between intent and impact, the intention of the author and the significance it has for the reader.
When we say, “What does Jonah mean? What does the book of Jonah mean?,” our experiences and personality and tradition will impact inevitably what it means for us. When we have an interpreter, meaning a pastor, someone at the front of the congregation, interpreting it for us, their personality, their experiences, their tradition will impact the parts that they highlight or don’t highlight, emphasize or don’t emphasize, the pieces that they’ll draw from, the context that they’ll give it. What context are they looking at? That will all inform what they say Jonah means.
That brings to the fourth point, which is author intent is the root and that means the author’s context matters, and the fruit is reader reception, that means the reader’s context matters.
That’s really important when we’re interpreting things. We have to understand our position. We have to understand our context, where we’re coming from.
That’s the danger, I would say, of more conservative Biblical scholarship or Biblical theology, is it doesn’t recognize it has a context. That’s what usually people mean by objective. We have to be objective.
What they usually mean, we have to try to not be human and try not to have a context.
You can’t do that. We have to really recognize that we bring a lot of baggage and lot of biases, a lot of context to the text when we’re reading it. Even something so basic as language, and I think we’ve talked about this on numerous occasions on the podcast, language itself is a context. There are certain ways we think in the English language, based solely on the fact that we speak English.
One of the examples of this with the emphasis being on the individual’s relationship with Jesus. It was about the individual. Because I inherited that tradition, when I went to the Bible and I read Paul, saying things like, “Your body is the temple. You—“, a lot of “you” language, I took that “you” as “me” individually.
Why would I do that? Because you, in English, is singular and plural. When I talk about you as a group, I use the same word. There’s an inherent ambiguity in the English for when I read my Bible.
But in Greek, that’s not true. We can tell the difference when Paul is talking singularly to an individual and plurally to a community. Most often, Paul is talking plurally to a community of faith. He’s writing to the church at Philippi. He’s writing to the Corinthians. He’s writing to a group of people and talking communally to them.
But English is a context I have that blurs that line. Already, my context is making it more challenging to understand the author’s intent, what Paul is trying to say.
If I were to not be speaking in English, but maybe growing up speaking Greek, what the New Testament was written in, it would have challenged, perhaps, my notion that it’s just about me and Jesus, Lone Ranger, Christian understanding of the faith. It would have challenged that. But my context didn’t allow for that.
It’s really important to recognize all of the baggage that we bring to a text. If we don’t, that’s really dangerous, because the baggage is playing into our interpretation. We just aren’t recognizing it.
That can be oppressive for people. We need the roots as a beginning place, but we need the fruits, our context, to keep the text alive.
I talked about the dangers of this. We’re always looking at it from our perspective. That can be a really good thing, when we’re talking about the fruits of Biblical interpretation. When I’m reading The Lord of the Rings, I am just full-force throwing my context and my baggage into that book. I am relating to it and I am connecting to it. I don’t really care what the author was trying to communicate.
I don’t really care that Tolkien was thinking of this when he wrote that about the orcs and the battle between good and evil. What I care about is how I’m connecting to it.
As a Biblical scholar, scholars have a different emphasis. They are interested in the roots. That’s their job, to put aside their baggage and their biases and come to the text as objectively as they can.
Either way, we have to recognize our baggage. If we’re trying to be objective and just bracket out what the author was intending—what was Paul trying to communicate—if that’s my only goal, I still need to know my baggage, so that I can bracket it off and say, “Oh. I think I’m just bringing it in because I’m an English speaker or because I’m white or because I’m a man.”
We have to make sure we’re aware of our baggage, regardless of what our intentions are and what we’re trying to do, whether we’re in the classroom, doing research, writing a book on a scholarly approach to the Bible, or that we’re sitting in the pew on Sunday morning.
We’ll get into that in a minute.
That leads me, then, to my fifth point. Because meaning is a relationship between the author’s intention and the reader, there is no fixed meaning. There’s no fixed meaning in the Bible.
If someone ever tells you, “I know exactly what the Bible means,” you can call them a liar.
That comes to the fact that if we extrapolate that out, not to get too abstract, what we’re saying there’s no absolute—there’s no way we can access absolute truth. There’s no absolute truth when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Why?
Because we always and already and all the time, come from a different position. We’re bringing our baggage to how we experience the world. We can’t really do anything about that. I will always look at the world through my particular lens.
There’s this ancient story about these three blind men who were on a journey together. Each happens on an object at the same time. One of the blind men bumps up against something that feels broad and round like a tree trunk and announces it to everyone else. “Hey, it’s a tree trunk, everyone.”
A second blind man comes and takes another step and is smacked in the face with something skinny that has a small tuft at the end, and this blind man says, “It’s not a tree trunk. It’s a rope.”
The third blind man, wanting to settle things once-and-for-all, of course, puts his hands out, feels something very hard, and broad, and tall and flat, says, “What are you guys talking about? You need to get your hands checked by the doctor back at the village. It’s not a rope. It’s not a tree trunk. It’s a wall.”
There’re some good things about this story, including the overall point, that we should be humble about what we think we know. We’re all a little blind after all. We might all experience the same thing, but from a different angle, with a different perspective. As one human being in a particular place and time, it’s hard to know the whole story. That’s going to be important.
However, there’s a problem I have with this story. The punchline of the story that the person telling the story—me, I just told you the story—and that we the reader knows that it’s an elephant. The whole point is to put ourselves in the position of one of the blind men to say, “Oh yeah, we need to be humble.”
But at the end, the thrust of the point hinges on us nodding and all saying, “Ah. I see. That was his leg. That was his tail. That was the side of his body. They were limited, but we can see the whole thing.”
The whole story depends on me being God in that story, that I can see the whole elephant and everyone else—these blind men are blind.
But if we were the blind men, we wouldn’t ever actually know, necessarily, that it’s an elephant, because we were only ever able to experience that one part of the whole. What if, in real life, none of us knows for sure—we don’t know that we know that we know with absolute certainty, that it’s an elephant
All that to say, we’re always looking at things from our own perspective and when we interpret the Bible, that’s no different. In fact, if we carry that story out a little bit, the best way to get the God’s-eye-view is to accept and honor the diversity of all the readings that we find in our world.
It’s the plurality of meaning that helps us understand the fuller meaning. It’s the collective meaning. I want to understand how an African context or an African man or an African woman reads this text of the Bible differently than I do. How does the Asian person and the person in Hawaii and the person in Texas and the woman, the child, the older person, as much diversity as we can understand in this world, that’s giving us more and more perspectives?
We’re adding more and more pieces to the puzzle, getting that fuller meaning of what the Bible means, because it means something different to the gay woman in sub-Saharan Africa as it does to the white, straight man in Europe. They’re going to mean different things. It’s not that one’s more legitimate than the other, or maybe it’s not more correct or more right or more wrong. Maybe there are better readings than others and not as good readings.
If we mean that if we respect what the author intends, maybe we’re getting further away from what the author intends. Maybe we’re getting closer to what the author intends. That’s not to negate the validity of the reading.
When we’re talking about Biblical interpretation, we’re not saying readers are irrelevant. But we’re not also saying that they’re the only thing that matter. We don’t need to get rid of our context, because if we get rid of our context, we get rid of the human element, which is what meaning is all about. If we get rid of the humanity, we’re just robots.
We have to put that human element, our context, in its proper place and understand when we’re putting it into the text and assuming that’s what Paul meant. We have to let Paul be Paul and us be us. We have to respect that relationship. We can’t enmesh ourselves in Paul and start assuming that we are Paul.
Just a few examples of how this happened in the wider world of Biblical scholarship is a recent—probably in the last 30, 40 years—groundswell or emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus. That context was really important, because scholars were putting a little too much of their own context, post-Luther context, into this understanding of Jesus.
There’s this back-and-forth, mutual sharpening in the relationship between the author’s intention and our reception. It’s a relationship and that’s where meaning is found, in the relationship.
To review, when we’re reading our Bible, just very practically, we want to be able to think about, in our minds, have a relationship with the author. What is Paul trying to get at? What’s the literary context? What can I look around in other parts of this book and try to figure out what Paul means? What’s the historical context? There’s a lot of good books. You don’t have to do that work. There’s a lot of good books that talk about the background and context of the New Testament world or Second Temple Judaism or the Ancient Near East.
You can read some of these contexts that help inform what the author’s trying to get at. But don’t discount your own reading and your own example and your own life and your own context. Because if the root of Biblical interpretation is author intention, the fruit is reader reception. The reader’s context matters just as the author’s context matters.
Finally, recognize this is a relationship. There’s no fixed meaning in the Bible. The author’s intention can be fixed. The author intended something or didn’t intend something. That is something we can keep going at, although we’re limited because we can’t go ask the author. That’s always a moving target. We’re always tweaking it. We’re always getting closer and closer, but we could never know, because we could never go ask the author.
We have that, but we also have the relational part which is us, the reader, in community, individually. We constantly going back-and-forth, letting these sharpen each other. The author’s intention and what I’m learning about the context should shape how I read the Bible. It should influence it, just like a conversation with someone will influence how I think.
Vice versa. What I’m learning may influence what I agree with or don’t agree with when I read Paul and it may shape how I read the text.
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Jared: Thank you, guys, for bearing with me as we talk about some of these things that can feel a little abstract, but really are the basic building blocks that scholars now have used and created complicated theories on top of, as they read the Bible and produce these wonderful books for us, and then come on podcasts like The Bible For Normal People to teach us.
We really appreciate you engaging with us and learning. One of those places is on Patreon. We have a group of people on Slack, several hundred people who are constantly talking about the Bible. That’s also this conversation and relationship about what the Bible means. Part of our context is other people. Having them in that dialogue is great.
We hope to see you online. We hope to see you back here listening to the podcast next week.
Thanks so much.