A thought about reading the bible: how do you get to the meaning?

Have you ever thought about the different factors at play when you trying to understand the bible? It’s actually quite interesting. Perhaps you are reading a passage from John chapter 4. Here is Jesus, talking to a woman at a well, but what does it all mean? There are many different approaches people might take in answering this question (please forgive the boring colorless diagrams, one learns to love them I promise).

Reading 1Most people would agree (I hope) that John 4 is describing an event, and that the event has some amount of meaning (see above). A simple approach would be to assume that the meaning is somehow obvious and that we can just understand it at face value (Jesus was thirsty and saw an opportunity to combine a drink with a tutorial on conversational evangelism -duh). This is na├»ve, of course, because the full meaning of the event is dependent upon the historical and cultural context. For instance, if we don’t know eastern culture, will we appreciate the significance of a man speaking to a woman, or a rabbi speaking to a sinner? If we don’t know Israel’s history, will we feel the shock of a Jew speaking to a Samaritan, or the Messiah ministering outside the nation? Clearly not. So once we have obtained our Masters degree in ancient history, our process of interpretation might look something like this.

Reading 2This is better, but there are still other more subtle barriers to understanding. Firstly, we cannot assume that we have direct access to the event.

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