Well friends, give yourself a little pat on the back! We’ve made it through observation and are ready to move onto the next section, interpretation.
Interpretation is the place where we seek to determine the original author’s intended meaning for the original audience.
We should never ask the question, “What does this passage mean to me?”
Scripture was written to an intended audience, in a specific time and culture. In order to accurately determine the theological meaning and emphasis of a given passage, we must take these things into account. What we think a passage “means” to us is irrelevant, and frankly, dangerous. In interpretation, our goal is to determine the theological truth of the passage. That is an unchanging and timeless truth that applies to all cultures and all peoples. When it becomes personal is in application: specific application of the truth of a passage can look different in different contexts. This may feel like an insignificant distinction, but it is incredibly important.
As we seek to discern the author’s intended meaning for the original audience we should keep the following in mind:
- Avoid reading our current culture and circumstances into the text.
- Assume a normal use of language; don’t look for hidden meanings in the text.
- Keep the overall context and story of the book in mind.
- Allow clear passages to illuminate difficult passages. Don’t seek to redefine a clear passage by interpreting a difficult passage.
- Research and understand historical and cultural background.
- Look up difficult words or phrases.
During observation, we put much of the above list on hold. We didn’t research the background of a passage and we didn’t look up any difficult words. Now is the time to do those things. After we have carefully observed the passage and taken the time to understand all the ins and outs of what the author is saying, we move on to answering any questions that arose during observation.
We’ll spend the next week looking at additional resources to use for interpretation. For now, let’s do our best to answer the following questions about today’s SOAP passage, Matthew 24:35:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
- Who is the speaker?
- Who is the intended audience?
- What do we know about the audience?
- In what time period did the events take place?
- What issues is the speaker addressing?
- Are any of the ideas expressed repeated elsewhere in the Bible? If so, where?
- Does the speaker give any commands or prohibitions in the passage?
- Does the speaker explain why he commands the audience to do or not do something?
- How do the surrounding verses give insight into the meaning of this verse?
- What is the overall context of the passage in which you find this verse?
Keep in mind, in order to answer these questions, you may need to use additional resources, like a study Bible or a commentary. These types of resources are excellent in helping us determine the cultural and historical context of a passage. You can also use surrounding passages and verses to help you answer these questions.
Let’s continue to pursue God as we study His Word. Remember, our goal is not to walk away with a simple catch phrase or nugget of encouragement. Our ultimate goal in studying the Bible is to know God, His character, His heart, His holiness, and His grace. May we be encouraged today and not grow weary or discouraged in this marvelous task!
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Thank you, Melissa! I am gleaning so much information on studying Scripture in this study. Today’s info is priceless!