Monday, June 1, 2015

Key Questions to Ponder When Interpreting a Biblical Text

In the previous post: Reading Scripture Wisely and Well, I covered steps for analyzing a text carefully through a close reading. Here are a set of questions that can help you in the process:

1) Have I prayed for the Spirit’s guidance and direction? Ask God to astonish you with the text?

2) Do I understand the geographical and /or cultural references in this passage?

3) How does our text function within the wider argument in the book? What's going on in the context? How does this text fit into what comes before it and after it?

4) What are the key words and phrases in the text? How are these words and phrases used elsewhere by our author? 

5) If I am working on a New Testament text: What Old Testament texts are alluded to or quoted? How does the OT passage illuminate the meaning of the text I am interpreting? For OT texts: Are there quotations or allusions to other texts in the OT? If so, how do the texts illuminate one another? Is there a NT appropriation of my text? How does the NT author understand the OT text?

6) How is my passage structured? How does the structure of the passage contribute to its meaning? Does the passage flow logically? How does the story flow spacialy? How do the characters function within the story?

7) For those with facility in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek: What nuances are present in the syntax and the word order of the original language that are ambiguous or not explicit in the modern translations? Pay particular attention to verbal aspect and force of prepositions. 

8) What are the major interpretive issues present in this text? How are these resolved in the major English translations?

9) What are the possible ways that we may misread the text based on the English text?

10) What is the genre of my text (narrative, parable, discursive, prophetic, apocalyptic)? How does the genre affect my understanding of the passage?

11) What does this text assume to be true? How do these assumptions affect our reading of the text?
12) What elements in the text may be offensive in our contemporary context? What issues raised will be difficult for insiders? What issues in the text will be difficult for outsiders? What are the obvious objections that one could raise to the claims of the text? In what ways does the text answer these objections?

Interested in a bible study resource that builds on these sorts of questions and seeks to guide its users to read the Bible carefully while also emphasizing mission, community, and holiness? Check out my book and dvd study Invitation. It is available through Seedbed. You can see a sample and media interviews here.

© 2015 Brian D. Russell 


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