I watched this one hour documentary last week on Why Beauty Matters. It is a philosophical look at art and beauty. It is excellent so I wanted to share. If you have an hour to spare, check it out:
I watched this one hour documentary last week on Why Beauty Matters. It is a philosophical look at art and beauty. It is excellent so I wanted to share. If you have an hour to spare, check it out:
Wisdom Literature in the Bible
The three main books in the category of wisdom literature are Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, though wisdom literature is found in other books— such as in Song of Songs, Psalms, and Habakkuk. Wisdom literature is mostly written in poetic form and therefore many figures of speech are used.
This type of literature and instruction was common in the ancient East. Wisdom was always taught primarily in the home, but certain individuals— “wise men”— were sought out for instruction in wise living and thinking. Such wise men were always more practical than theoretical.
Biblical wisdom is unique in that it teaches that the very first step in gaining wisdom is knowing and fearing (not in the sense of being afraid of but more of a revering) God. Biblical wisdom has nothing to do with being smart or clever, it is not a matter of age. Instead it is “a matter of orientation to God, out of which comes the ability to please him. Wisdom is the ability to make godly choices in life which is achieved by applying God’s truth to your life.” James 1:5 says that God will give wisdom to those who ask for it.
Something to try… Since James 1:5 promises that God will help us become more godly in our choices (he will give us wisdom) *if* we ask him, think about where you’d like to grow in making godly choices. Start asking God to help you make godly choices in your marriage, parenting, job, homemaking, finances, schooling, relationships, lifestyle choices, habits, etc.
The main guidelines for reading wisdom literature are:
1) They are meant to be read in context. You must read the whole book to get the overall message that is being communicated. When people read these books in bits and pieces, they will not usually follow the line of argument— which will lead to confusion or misinterpretation. People end up citing as biblical truth what was intended as an incorrect understanding of life.” For example, Job 15:20 says: All their days the wicked suffer torment, the ruthless through all the years stored up for them. “Would you take this to be an inspired teaching that evil people cannot really be happy? Job did not! He energetically refuted it! This verse is part of a speech by Job’s self-appointed “comforter” Eliphaz, who is trying to convince Job that the reason he is suffering so much is that he has been evil. Later in the book God vindicates the words of Job and condemns the words of Eliphaz (Job 42:7-8). But unless you follow the whole discourse of Job, you cannot know this.” You can see how reading one verse out of context will lead you to a very different and wrong conclusion than what was intended.
2) Remember to consider figures of speech and literary styles.
A Closer Look at the Wisdom Books
First we will start with Proverbs.
Proverbs are a unique literary style of writing. Proverbs are short pithy sayings that give observations or practical guidelines for successful every-day living. Proverbs are observations of life, not promises of prosperity and health. The setting of the book is a father giving advice to his son, encouraging him to seek wisdom rather than folly. You can see wisdom and folly contrasted throughout the book. Proverbs were written to be catchy and memorable expressions of truth. They were/are not intended to be taken as exact precise statements. For example, an English proverb says “look before you leap.” This is in inexact but memorable statement. “It does not say where or how to look, what to look for, or how soon to leap after looking. It is not even intended to apply literally to jumping.” It is a brief and memorable way to say something along the lines of “in advance of committing yourself to a course of action, consider your circumstances and options.” The former (brief expression) is the way in which the Hebrew authors wrote the Proverbs. In the original language many of the proverbs have some sort of rhythm, sound repetition or vocabulary qualities that make them easy to learn. (This is a total tangent and although I have no desire to get into controversial subjects on this blog, I will mention that understanding the literary context of Proverbs has reshaped my views on spanking in child discipline. I have moved away from spanking after understanding that Proverbs are not meant to be precise literal commands. I take Proverbs 13:24 “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” to mean that if you neglect to discipline your child when needed, you do them a huge disservice, but if want the best for them you should be consistent and intentional about training them. I look for the principle that is being communicated instead of scrupulously dissecting every word (like I might do when reading New Testament Pauline theology). In addition, wisdom literature is meant to be read in context of the entire passage or book in order to get the whole message. So I see discipline to mean instruction, training, walking alongside, correcting when needed, etc. It is multi-faceted according to the picture Proverbs gives us.)
As I mentioned above, wisdom literature uses lots of figurative language, so be aware of the many figures of speech as you read Proverbs and don’t take things literal that are meant to be figurative.
Here are a few tips for reading and understanding Proverbs (this and all above quotes from How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth):
1. Proverbs are often parabolic (they are figurative, alluding to something more).
2. Proverbs are intensely practical, not theoretically theological.
3. Proverbs are worded to be memorable, not technically precise.
4. Proverbs are not designed to support selfish behavior— just the opposite.
5. Proverbs strongly reflecting ancient culture may need sensible “translation” so as not to lose their meaning. For example Proverbs 25:24 talks says “better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” In Bible times, roofs were flat so lodging on a roof was both possible and common.
6. Proverbs are not guarantees from God but poetic guidelines for good living.
7. Proverbs may use exaggeration (hyperbole), euphemism, or any of a variety of literary techniques to make their point.
8. Proverbs give good advice for wise approaches to certain aspects of life, but are not exhaustive in their coverage.
9. Wrongly used, proverbs may justify a crass, materialistic lifestyle. Rightly used, proverbs will provide practical advice for daily living.
Because this post is getting long I will split it in two parts and will talk about other wisdom books in the next post. I’m getting ready to attend a Walk Thru the Bible Instructor Training course in less than two weeks (which I’ve had to prepare and study for), we have family coming into town, and my sister is getting married this month. My goal is to keep posting 1-2 times a week but if I’m not here you’ll know why. Thanks for reading and following along. Peace.
I have more posts to write regarding the types of literature found in the Bible …I still need to cover wisdom literature including a possible separate post on Proverbs, prophecy, gospels, parables, epistles, apocalyptic literature (such as Revelation), and eschatology (regarding the end times), but I figured we’d take a little interlude here to talk about Figures of Speech since the last posts were on poetry— and poetry is full of figures of speech. In order to better understand the Bible, readers need to be able to identify and interpret figurative language… figures of speech.
Literary devices or figures of speech such as metaphor, simile, paradox, types, rhetorical questions, personification, and hyperbole, are found throughout the Bible. These all are by nature poetical, but the thing about the Bible is figures of speech are found everywhere (not just in the poetical books).
It is important to be familiar with some of the common literary devices that are used in the Bible because knowing how they work will spare us from misinterpretations. “For example, exaggeration in a story that purports to be factual history (such as the stories found in historical narratives) would be a form of untruth, while that same type of exaggeration in lyric poetry is called hyperbole and is a standard way of expressing emotional truth.” (From How to Read the Bible as Literature by Ryken.)
A verse that trips up a lot of Christians and non-Christians alike is Luke 14:26, where Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” This is an example of hyperbole— an exaggeration with the intent of making a point. If you’ve read the rest of the Gospels you would know that to interpret that literally would contradict Jesus’ other teachings to love and serve others. He does not mean we ought to literally hate our family members— instead he’s saying that to be his disciple one has to be willing to give up their life to follow him and that our love for God should be first and foremost— with all other loves paling in comparison. It is figurative (not literal) language, but readers who do not know how to identify and interpret hyperbole will be confused by this verse and will likely misinterpret it.
So here are some of the figures of speech (a figure of speech is a literary mode of expression in which words are used out of their literal sense to suggest a picture or image) frequently seen in the Bible:
~Metaphor: An indirect comparison of two things. Asserts that one thing is another. Substitution of the name of one thing for another. Like a simile but the connectives of like, as, and so are left out. Examples are Galatians 2:9 “pillars”, Proverbs 23:27, Matthew 3:7 “you brood of vipers”.
~Allegory: An extended metaphor that has the form of a story. Example is Galatians 4:21-31. Examples from literature are Pilgrim’s Progress and Screwtape Letters.
~Apostrophe: Addressing or speaking to things, abstract ideas or imaginary objects. Example is 1 Corinthians 15:55 “O death, where is your sting?”
~Hyperbole: Exaggeration, not with the intent to deceive but to emphasize and intensify an impression. Examples are Galatians 4:15 “you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me”, Mark 9:43 “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…”.
~Rhetorical Questions: These are questions posed for which the author doesn’t expect an answer (often because the author already knows the answer. They are said to make a point— often times in sarcasm). Examples are 1 Corinthians 1:13 “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?…”, Matthew 7:16.
~Litotes: The use of understatement. It is the opposite of hyperbole and is often used as irony. Example is Acts 15:2 “no small debate”.
~Synecdoche: Part of something is mentioned but the whole is meant. Example is: Galatians 1:16.
~ Euphemism: The substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for a harsh, blunt one. Euphemisms are used to indirectly discuss such topics as bodily functions, anatomy, or unpleasant topics. Examples are Genesis 4:1, Isaiah 7:20.
~Types: A type foreshadows (prefigures) something or someone to come. A prefiguring symbol such as an Old Testament event prefiguring an event in the New Testament: the Passover foreshadows Christ’s sacrificial death (1 Corinthians 5:7). Often types are explicitly mentioned in the New Testament. Examples are Romans 5:14, 1 Corinthians 15:45, John 3:14-15.
~Symbols: Something that stands for another meaning in addition to its ordinary meaning. It is usually a visual image that represents an invisible concept. In interpreting symbols one is not free to impose his own interpretation but he must discover the author’s intention by taking into consideration the culture, principles of interpretation, the overall message of the book and in many cases the author’s own specific definition. Example are Revelation 1:12 & 20.
~Paradox: A statement that seems absurd, self-contradictory, or contrary to logical thought, but with an underlying truth. Example is Matthew 16:25: “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.”
To get the most out of our faith journeys we truly need to learn to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Familiarizing yourself with these literary devices will definitely help you better understand the Bible, and it is one small way to exercise your mind, to the glory of God.
A few of you have emailed… wanting to know a bit more about me. I am a mom to three little ones— ages 6 (girl), 4 (girl), and 2 (boy). They keep me very busy! So though I’d like to post more frequently, sometimes it is hard to find time to sit down and write. Here I am below, with my husband of 7 years (we met when he showed up at my house for a church small group- about 10 years ago):
And now I’ll get on with the post.
The Psalms (the word Psalms means “a song sung to the accompaniment of a plucked instrument”) were written and complied over a period of about 1,000 years. They were written by a number of authors— 75 by King David, 12 by Asaph— a priest who lead the musical worship services, ten were by the sons of Korah— a guild of singers and composers, two were by Solomon, one was by Moses, one by Heman, one by Ethan, and the remaining 50 are anonymous— though some are attributed to Ezra.
“Because of their broad chronological and thematic range, the psalms were written to different audiences under many conditions. They therefore reflect a multitude of moods and as such are relevant to every reader.” (The Wilkinson and Boa Bible Handbook)
Historically they were used as temple hymnals and devotional guides for the Jewish people. There are several different types of psalms— but they have a common theme of worshiping God. The type of the Psalm refers to a group of texts similar in their emotion, content, or structure. They are flexible— a psalm can be part of more than one style.
The types of Psalms are:
1. Praise Psalms— A description of the nature and qualities of God (for example, Psalms 146-150).
2. Lament— Expression of sorrow or regret. They are a cry out to God in great distress. The author is honest about his frustration. They usually include a petition, a description of distress, and an expression of trust. (Examples are Psalms 44, 74, 79, 80, 137).
3. Penitential Psalms— The Psalmist asking forgiveness for his own unrighteousness and failure. (Examples are 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143.)
4. Messianic Psalms— They predict the Messiah, the “anointed one”, the coming king, priest, and prophet. (Examples are 2, 8, 16, 22, 31, 40, 45, 69, 72, 89, 102, 109, 110, 132.)
5. Wisdom (proverb)— These psalms emphasize a contrast in ways of living which bring about different consequences. Also they teach that through prayer and praise men can approach God and live by faith and obedience to the law. (Examples 1, 19:7-14, 37, 49, 73, 112, 119, 127, 133, 139.)
6. Historic Psalms— Psalms with specific settings. You will be able to identify these by their titles (see more on titles below). (Examples 3, 7, 18, 30, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63, 142.)
7. Social Psalms or Psalms of Remembrance— The history of Israel and God’s past acts of redemption are the focus. Also speaks of the origin, nature and purpose, and destiny of man. These lead to thanksgiving or supplication. (Examples 78, 105, 106, 135, 136.)
8. Imprecatory Psalms— Crying out to God for justice for the failure of other men, prayer for the defeat and overthrow of the wicked. (Examples 35, 59, 69, 109.)
If you open your Bible to the Psalms, you will notice that some have titles such as “A Maskil of David, When He Was In the Cave. A Prayer.” (Psalm 142) Unlike other paragraph titles found throughout the Bible which were not part of the original text but were added in later by publishers, these titles were part of the original text so they are considered “inspired”— or part of the Word. These titles— in some cases— tell the authorship, occasion for writing— any history, literary style, musical instructions, and aim/purpose of the psalm. The different literary styles you will come across in the titles and their meanings are:
A few benefits of The Psalms
~The Psalms reveal the character of God. For example, in Psalm 23 we learn about God as shepherd, comforter, guide. As you read a Psalm, look for what it teaches you about who God is.
~ The Psalms teach doctrine in a different way— not by presenting anything new but by supporting doctrine found elsewhere in Scripture.
~ The Psalms teach us to relate to God honestly and should draw out emotions.
~The Psalms demonstrate the importance of reflection and meditation upon who God is and what he has done.
When reading the Psalms, remember that they are poetry, so read them as such. Lots of symbolic language is used.
Some things to try when reading the Psalms
~Meditate through a Psalm. Meditating means taking time to read through the psalm several times, thinking about what you are reading (or better yet, if you have it memorized you can think through it while you go about your day!) Here are some questions to help guide your thinking:
~If you are an artist, try illustrating the psalm— considering its major theme and what the psalm reveals about God.
~Write a poem in that same style (praise, lament, etc.) Try writing your own Psalm using parallelism (thought rhyme— which I talked about here.)
~Pray through the Psalm— applying it to your own life.
Since the Psalms and Poetical Books contain many figures of speech, I will cover those in the next post.
In all languages, poetry is the means of expressing more directly, emotionally and intensely the longings of the human heart. As the language of the heart, poetry expresses moods of joy and despair. It contains many figures of speech, so is not to be taken too literally.
Before 1753 no distinction was made in our English bibles between poetry and prose (therefore the KJV does not lay out poetry as poetry). The RSV was the first English translation to print poetry laid out as poetry.
Yet somewhere around 40% of the Old Testament is written in poetry— which includes entire books such as Job, Psalms, Proverbs, the Song of Songs and Lamentations. Other generes— such as historical narratives, have poetry scattered throughout, and the Prophets (a genre I will talk about soon) often communicated through poetry. Only a few Old Testament books contain no poetry (Leviticus, Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Malachi). In the New Testament poetry is less frequent but can be found throughout.
In ancient Israel, poetry was widely appreciated as a means of learning. Because reading and writing were rare skills and no one privately owned written documents (with an exception, perhaps, of the kings), poetry was commonly used to help people commit things to memory. Some poems were even written as acrostics (such as Provebs 31)— which are used as mnemonic devices (memory aids). Since poetry was a common means of learning, God spoke through the prophets and to the people through poems, and people expressed their feelings to God (both positive and negative) through poems. Deep expression of struggles and joy in life are seen in biblical poetry. Questions are often asked— asking whether God has become silent, is ignoring the author, or if His love has ceased… likely the same types of questions we ask when going through hard times. Poetry and songs frequently occur as the author’s response to a situation in his or her life. For example— David’s response when he heard of Saul and Jonathan’s tragic death is a song of lament (2 Sam 1:19-27).
The key to understanding Hebrew poetry is not assonace, alliteration, meter or rhyme— so common to poetry as we know it today. Instead, the essential component to Hebrew poetry is something called parallelism. “(Parallelism) is a construction in which the content of one line is repeated, contrasted, or advanced by the content of the next.” It can be thought of or described as a “thought rhyme” where thoughts are repeated, contrasted, or developed from one line to the next in order to expound on the thought more fully. There are several types of parallelism, the most common types listed below:
1. Synonymous parallelism: this is where the second line of a poetic verse repeats the thought of the first line (only in different words). Therefore, both lines mean the same. For example, Psalm 19:1:
“The heavens are telling the glory of God
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”
2. Antithetic parallelism: this is where the second line states the truth of the first line in a contrasting way. Often connected by the word “but”. For example, Proverbs 15:1:
“A gentle answer turns away wrath
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
3. Synthetic parallelism: The second line adds to the first, leading to a logical conclusion. The second line completes the thought of the first. (Usually you can ask “Why?” or “What’s the result?”) For example, Psalm 90:12:
“So teach us to number our days
That we may get a heart of wisdom.”
4. Emblematic parallelism: One line is a literal statement followed by a second line which is figurative. (Uses similes and metaphors.) For example, Song of Solomon 2:2:
“As a lily among brambles,
So is my love among the maidens.”
5. Climactic parallelism: Also known as repetitive parallelism. Merges synonymous and synthetic parallelism. There is repetition and development of a concept. Stair-like. For example, Psalm 1:3:
“He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf does not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.”
Though parallelism is likely a new concept to most of us, there are some familiar things to look for in biblical poetry:
Like our poetry the authors often used word pictures to describe the situation they were going through or the emotions they were feeling. Figures of speech (which I will cover in greater depth in an upcoming post) are frequently used. A few tips for understanding word pictures/figures of speech:
A final tip on reading poetry:
Poetry reflects and contains doctrinal truths but like historical narrative, its purpose is not to teach systems of doctrine. It should not be read in the same way that you would read a New Testament letter— chocked full of doctrine. Instead, “it is intended to appeal to the emotions, to evoke feelings rather than propositional thinking, and to stimulate a response on the part of the individual that goes beyond a mere cognitive understanding of certain facts.” (From How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.)
(Whew— sorry for the long title! I’m not sure how to best word or condense that all!)
Have you ever wondered if or how the Old Testament law applies to us today? How should we seek to understand the law?
These are a couple of questions I hope to answer in this post.
There are a few different ways the word “law” is used in terms of the Bible. It can be used to refer to the first five books of the Bible, the entire Old Testament, or the portions of law contained in the Pentateuch from Exodus 20, Leviticus, Numbers to the end of Deuteronomy— the latter or which I’m talking about today. These portions of law are set in the middle of books that are mostly historical narrative.
What was the purpose of the law?
God had set apart a people from Himself to fulfill a special role in His plan of redemption. From this people was to come the Messiah. Therefore God wanted this people to be different— a light to the Gentiles (everyone who was not a Jew). So God gave Israel the law to show them what it looked liked to live as God’s people— both in their relationship with God and with one another. As such, the law can be divided into two aspects: ritual laws— how to worship God, and civil laws— how to treat others.
The law was never designed to enable man to gain salvation and be accepted by God (if that’s a new thought to you, see Hebrews 10, Hebrews 11, Romans 4:1-3 (which quotes Genesis 15:6). Instead its purpose was to show people: how sinful they were— so that they would see their need for God, how they could not keep the law on their own— again revealing their need for God, and how merciful and gracious God was. It was to be a custodian until Christ came. Because it was impossible for the people to keep the law perfectly, God provided a way for them to be forgiven: through the blood sacrifice of an animal. Without the shedding of blood, no forgiveness of sins was possible. When Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice was made, this old covenant approach was made obsolete. Jesus fulfilled the old covenant for all time and ushered in a new covenant.
A little more about covenants:
The Old Testament law is a covenant. A covenant is a binding contact between two parties. There are three types of covenants:
Since Jesus fulfilled the old covenant/law, and in doing so made it obsolete, we are not required to abide by it. (Remember, I am not referring to the whole Old Testament— only the portions of law contained in the Pentateuch from Exodus 20, Leviticus, Numbers to the end of Deuteronomy. I do not mean that we should not heed the instruction of scripture given in the Old Testament. We just no longer have to follow the animal sacrifice rituals and all of the customs that the Israelites were commanded to do in these few passages.) We can assume that the laws are not binding on us unless they are renewed by being restated in the New Testament— as the NT covenant is our covenant. A couple of examples of laws renewed in the New Testament are the ten commandments since they are cited in different ways throughout the New Testament (see Matthew 5:21-37, Romans 13:9-10), and the two greatest commandments— in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18— the two laws upon which the whole law is based). The reality is, we STILL cannot keep these commandments perfectly on our own— but the gospel— the good news, is that Jesus shed his blood so that we are forgiven, and with the new covenant He has sent us His Holy Spirit— who takes up residence in our hearts to enable us to live as new people— God’s people.
Even though the law has been fulfilled in Christ, it is still the inspired Word of God, and as such it remains valuable to us today. “When you read the laws, think in terms of their role in ancient Israelite society— and look also for how they reveal something about God’s character. We cannot know the significance of our story— the story of the new covenant, without knowing the story of the former covenant and how the law functioned.” (How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart.)
To sum it up, here are a few tips for reading the Law in the Old Testament: (Paraphrased from How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth)
Something to try:
The book of Hebrews gives us insight into how Jesus has fulfilled the Law, as a comparison is made throughout between the Law and Jesus. Jesus is always shown to be superior. A useful exercise to understand fully what the writer of Hebrews is saying, and what the implications of the Law are, would be to read: Hebrews— Leviticus— Hebrews.
In the next post I will talk about Hebrew poetry.
There are several different types of literary genres found in the Bible. To best understand and interpret what you are reading, you need to know what type of literature you’re looking at. I’ll attempt to cover the various genres in upcoming posts. I’ll begin where the Bible begins— with the Old Testament Narratives.
There are 17 Old Testament narratives. They are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First Samuel, Second Samuel, First Kings, Second Kings, First Chronicles, Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. The first five listed make up the Pentateuch/Law. There is also narrative in the New Testament (for example—Acts which would be similarly interpreted, and parts of the gospels).
The 17 books listed above are historical narratives— they give us the history of Israel from its beginning to the time of the prophet Malachi (though they are not arranged chronologically which can be confusing!). “In the Pentateuch, Israel was chosen, redeemed, disciplined, and instructed. The remaining 12 historical books record the conquest of the land, the period of the judges (who were individuals raised up by God to be military deliverers for Israel as surrounding nations were threatening them), the formation of a united kingdom, and the division of that kingdom into the North (Israel) and the South (Judah). Both were taken into captivity but many of the people eventually returned.” (From The Wilkinson and Boa Bible Handbook.)
Not only do the narratives give the history of Israel, they also give readers the meta-narrative— or the bigger story of the universal plan of God… from creation to the fall, to God’s plan and story of redemption… as he redeems a people for Himself. These themes are woven throughout each book.
Old Testament narratives are stories about certain events and people, but most of all, they are about God— at work in His creation and among His people. Because we tend to associate “stories” with fiction, the term narratives is used since these accounts are real— and though I’m not going to get into it here, there is plenty of extra-biblical evidence (extra-biblical means outside of the Bible— for example King Ahab of Israel who is mentioned in the Bible in Kings and Chronicles is also mentioned outside of the Bible on an ancient Assyrian monument) to support the fact that these people and events actually existed.
As we read through the narratives, there can be some confusion because they do not always teach directly (explicitly). Instead they tend to teach indirectly (implicitly) through the lives of the characters. For example, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah (2 Sam 11). There is not explicit teaching on adultery and murder following this part of David’s story. Instead, there is implicit teaching in that it says the Lord was displeased (though many other OT stories don’t even go as far as to say the Lord was displeased) and in 2 Samuel 12 when Nathan confronts David.
But the thing is, the original audience (Jews circa 900 BC) would have been hearing and reading this story about David in the context of the rest of their Scriptures. They would have previously known that Exodus 20:13-14 commanded “You shall not kill… you shall not commit adultery.” So when they heard this story about David they would have understood it was wrong because they were familiar with the explicit teaching found in the law. The author and original audience held the same presuppositions that we do not necessarily share. What was obvious to the original audience is not always obvious to us. Again, that is why it is important for us to take in the whole Bible to get an overall context! I’ve seen people take such stories in the Old Testament completely out of context by saying that since it happened and is in Bible it must be okay. That would be reading out of context and in ignorance to the type of literature it is.
So, with that said, here are 10 principles to help you interpret historical narratives (taken from How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth):
1. Old Testament narratives do not usually teach doctrine directly.
2. An Old Testament narrative usually illustrates doctrine taught elsewhere in the Bible.
3. Narratives record what happened, not what should have happened, therefore not every story has a single identifiable moral application.
4. What people do in narratives is not always a good example to us— often it is the opposite.
5. Most characters in the narratives are FAR from perfect— as are their actions.
6. We are not always told whether the actions in the narratives are good or bad— we are expected to judge based on what God has taught us elsewhere in Scripture.
7. The Old Testament narratives are selective and the inspired authors did not give us every last detail to each story, so don’t impose a meaning if you can’t see one.
8. They were not written to answer all of our theological questions— they have specific, limited purposes.
9. Narratives may teach explicitly or implicitly. When we are looking at what is implicit especially, we should rely on prayer and the Holy Spirit to help us understand based on the narrative instead of imposing our own ideas onto it.
10. God is the protagonist — the main character and hero, of all biblical narratives.
A couple of years ago I started a mom heart group, gathering together what might be considered an eclectic, small group of women that I thought might be interested in walking a little deeper road of life with me.
We meet once a month during the winter months, eat a beautiful potluck meal together and then have a time of study and discussion. We usually end up being at my house for about 5 or 6 hours! It’s a big commitment really for moms with thriving, active families but it is a really wonderful time of sharing, learning and getting to know one another.
There are only 8 of us. Some are younger on the journey and some have more experience with the journey but I think that makes it rich and lovely and I love these women.
We don’t all go to the same church. We don’t all live technically in the same communities, but what I have gained from each one of them is so valuable and life giving.
We don’t always see one another between our meetings but when we do, weather its planned or a surprise gift that is what it is, gift.
Many of these women have either grown up on a farm or have lived “it” long enough that they intrigue me with their knowledge about all kinds of things that I know nothing about. I love learning about what each woman loves to do, what they are good at, what they think they aren’t good at and really are!
I love that they are all mama’s who uniquely live out their devotion and commitment to their families and communities day in and day out.
They inspire me.
Recently I decided that the kids and I were going to take this gardening thing a little more seriously! Ha! I figured it would be better to go with the grain on this one and take advantage of the opportunity we have right outside of our kitchen door…
Read the rest at Mom Heart today?…
(This is a little sign I have hanging in my kitchen to remind me each day of the truth of which it speaks.)
We as a culture want what is convenient—quick, easy, efficient, comfortable, as little work as possible. We highly value convenience.
But should we?
Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for modern conveniences like washing machines and water heaters! And I mean that wholeheartedly because I’ve lived without both at various times in my life!
The problem lies where this desire for convenience permeates our parenting… and because parenting is area where we cannot rush or even control the process, the tension of living with what is “inconvenient” surfaces and our cravings for convenience stare us in the face.
When we place such high value on convenience that it undermines our relationships with our children and our parenting, things get very skewed….
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There are many Bible translations available to us today— the NIV, NLT, ESV, NKJV, KJV, RSV, NRSV, the Message… and the list goes on. The options can be overwhelming as we try to decide which one to use… not to mention the confusion surrounding the difference between translations and why there are so many to choose from. I’ll attempt to explain some of this here.
The 66 books that make up the Protestant Bible were originally written in 3 different languages— Hebrew for most of the Old Testament, Aramaic (a sister-language to Hebrew used in half of Daniel and two passages in Ezra), and Greek (all of the New Testament).
Though one “original” does not exist for any of the Biblical books, there are thousands of hand-written copies— copied many times over more than 1,400 years. There are places where the copies differ, so there is a science known as textual criticism that looks at the variants in the original language copies, and using evidence and scientific approach, determines which variants are errors and which likely represented the original text… so that an accurate starting point for translating into other languages is achieved.
From there, there are a few different approaches translators use when translating the original languages into English:
The first is known as formal equivalence (or literal). These types of translations attempt to stay as close to the Hebrew or Greek in words and grammar, as can be said in understandable English. An example of this would be the ESV (or English Standard Version).
The second is known as functional equivalence (or dynamic)— in which translators attempt to keep the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek but re-word things into a more normal way of saying them in English— so they “update” language, grammar, and style. An example of this would be the NIV (New International Version).
The third is called free translation (or paraphrase)— where the goal is to translate ideas from one language to another with less concern with the exact words of the original language. Free translations try to remain faithful to the original text while transferring thoughts into more contemporary terms. An example of this would be The Message.
Some translations fall somewhere in the middle of these. An example is the New Living Translation (NLT) which would be considered a functional equivalent, but moves in the direction of a free translation.
I personally like to read from all different types— as one translation might illuminate something to me that another did not. The only translations that are not recommended for study are the KJV or NKJV (King James Version or New King James— which just updates the language of the KJV). Though the KJV is a literal translation, it was translated in 1611 and the only manuscripts available at the time were later copies which had more errors. Translators today have access to earlier and more accurate copies to base translation on.
The first time I read through the New Testament I read in the New Living Translation— which was a great starting point and made difficult passages easier to understand. Today, for study, I prefer to use the ESV or NRSV and for devotional reading I love to read from The Message.
This week I’m hoping to get into the different genres found in the Bible which I will cover over several days. You can find the previous posts in this series here.