Interpreting the Bible

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Interpreting the Bible: A Twenty-First Century Introduction to First Century Methods

An everyday guide to interpreting the Bible using the methods of the New Testament writers. Discover how they used biblical theology, Greek oratory, and Jewish hermeneutics to understand, interpret and write the Bible.

We wrote this book to provide readers with an understanding of the interpretive methods used by the writers of the New Testament. The reason that we think a book of this nature is necessary is because we live in spiritually perilous times (2 Timothy 3:1). Many theologians, preachers, and church leaders have lost sight of the interpretive tools used by the apostles. Instead, they use traditional denominational interpretation methods, or ideas from motivational writers, or ‘blessed thoughts’ from their own minds. The focus is frequently on what people want to hear, not what the Bible actually teaches.

There is an important spiritual reason for this state of affairs. The Bible warns us that in the last days many will depart from the faith, and give heed to false doctrines, fables, and old wives’ tales (see Matthew 24:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3, 4). This great apostasy or ‘falling away’ is characterized by a departure from the truth of Scripture by those who would call themselves ‘Christian’. Some time ago, the general public and the ‘liberal’ churches abandoned any pretense of believing that the Bible is God’s Word, and His revelation to a fallen world. However, now conservative Evangelicals are treading the same downward path in the name of ‘relevance’. Beginning in the orthodox, conservative seminaries some fifty years ago, the departure from the faith of the apostles has increased to epidemic proportions in those sections of the church called Evangelical. This book joins with a small minority of writers and preachers who are pressing the alarm that was first sounded by Francis Schaeffer in his book The Great Evangelical Disaster, published in 1984.

This book sets out to tackle the issue of biblical interpretation, or to give the technical term, hermeneutics. The way in which the first century Bible writers used and interpreted the Scriptures was very different from the way we often interpret the Bible today. The context in which Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and Peter wrote was a Judeo-Hellenistic world, dominated by the might of the Roman Empire. When we say ‘Judeo-Hellenistic’, we mean the dual influences of the teaching of Jewish rabbis for the four hundred years leading up to Christ, and the culture of the Greek inheritors of the Empire of Alexander the Great. Both these influences shaped the way in which the New Testament writers framed their texts, and in order to understand what they are saying, we need to understand them in some detail. This book will take some time expounding these two aspects.

A third aspect we want to examine is this: underlying the whole of the Bible is a unified theme with which the Holy Spirit infuses the whole narrative from Genesis to Revelation. This provides the ‘big picture’ or metanarrative of Scripture. The New Testament writers understood this key concept, which we call ‘biblical theology’. It is what the Bible says about God, and His relationship to all His creation, especially the human race. It enables us to see the Bible from God’s perspective, and see the over-arching scheme, which unifies our understanding of what God wishes to convey to us all.

The book is a collection of essays by the three authors, each of whom has his own style and way of conveying his message. However, they are united on the underlying principles of apostolic hermeneutics, and the desire to help their readers have a better grasp of what God is actually saying in His word. They come from different social, cultural, and educational backgrounds, and their underlying assumptions sometimes may color what they say. However, this is normal in human life, and it is hoped that the reader will see beyond these superficial differences in approach to catch the underlying theme. American readers will probably detect that two of the writers are from the United Kingdom, so we apologize in advance for any transatlantic nuances that have crept into the text. The writers also have had difference experiences of church life, which again will perhaps be evident in what they say. Finally, and most importantly, these differing backgrounds show conclusively that people of all kind can engage in a deeper study of Scripture, and use the approaches to interpretation advocated in this book.

Stephen Dennett
Christian Dennett
Caleb Massey
Summer 2015