Between Two Worlds: Interpreting the Bible


For Meditation

Last week, we introduced our mini series by mentioning the “two worlds” we inhabit when we pick up the Bible. Every time you pick up your Bible to read it, you are entering into two different worlds. On the one hand, you are reading the Bible with your own contemporary world in view, with all of your present questions, concerns, and context. On the other hand, you are entering into the world of the Bible, an ancient text written in a very different time and place. One of the most challenging things about reading the Bible (and one of the reasons why we often don’t!) is that it is often very difficult to bridge the gap between these two worlds. How is the Bible applicable to our world today? How can an ancient text written over 2000 years ago have anything relevant to say to our situation today?

At the heart of this issue is the problem of culture. There is on such thing as a de-cultured person or a de-cultured Word. Even God himself, when he moved to save humanity, “became flesh” (John 1:14), entered into a specific time, place, language and culture. So when we read the Bible, we are wrestle with two layers of culture. On the one hand, there is the culture of us the readers, which informs how we read, interpret and apply the text. On the other hand, there is the culture of the biblical text itself, which was written in a specific point in history in a particular time and place. So the challenge that faces us when we read the Bible is first to recognize the ways that we are biased and formed by our own cultural formation to (mis)read the biblical text. Second, we need to do the hard work of understanding the context, history and culture of the original author and audience of the biblical text. 

Why should we strive to do this? The purpose of this is not to engage in some stale academic exercise. The purpose is that we would become “hearers and doers of the Word of God,” hearing what the text actually says (rather than the echo chamber of our own cultural assumptions), and obeying the Word of God in a way that is relevant to our context today.

As you prepare for worship, think about a time when you have struggled with a particular passage of Scripture that seemed really difficult or hard to understand. How did you handle the difficulty? What questions did it provoke? How did you come to a conclusion about what the passage teaches? Finally, spend some time praying that the Lord would continue to give us open ears to hear his Word more clearly as a living word for us today.

Our weekly worship guide can be found here once finalized. 

James 1:22-25

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.