This is the first of three short posts on reading God’s word which first appeared in Partnership Perspectives.
What Does the Text Actually Say?
I should not find the career of a Bible teacher so satisfying as I do if I were not persuaded that the Bible is God’s word written. The fact that I am so persuaded means that I must not come to the Bible with my own preconceptions of what the Bible … can or cannot say. It is important to determine, by the canons of grammatical, textual, historical and literary study, what it actually does say. (F.F. Bruce, In Retrospect, London:Pickering and Inglis 1980, p. 311)
F. F. Bruce, here summarises succinctly one of the great privileges and tasks of the follower of Jesus, to be able to come to the written Word of God and read it as God’s breathed-out revelation of himself. He also touches upon the important aspect of applying this breathed-out word to our present circumstances, to come to an understanding of what the text actually says in the context of its time, and what the text actually says in the context of our time. This is hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation and it is something all of us engage in as soon as we use words such as, “God says…” or “This means that…”.
The Basis for Interpretation
The basis for our reading and studying the Bible involves a number of important assumptions, which we may not always recognise:
- God exists
- God has chosen to reveal himself to humanity
- God has chosen to reveal himself in a way that humanity can understand
- God’s revelation of himself is not complete but is true and reliable
- God’s Word has meaning and relevance for today
It is the fact that we believe in a God who communicates, who speaks, which lies at the heart of our being able to come to know him. It is a part of God’s character which is evident from Genesis 1, where “God said…”, through to John 1 and the incarnate Word, right to Revelation, where John hears a “loud voice like a trumpet.”
The Bible, as God’s written revelation, came about as a result of God’s Spirit working through and with the writers, in what we know as ‘inspiration’. But we understand the Bible not so much as the words of God, “but as the Word of God. Word implies address, communication, the possibility of response and a relationship.” (A. Reynolds Reading the Bible for the Love of God, Brazos Press 2003, p. 48)
We believe that God has revealed himself in a way we can understand through his God-breathed Word and that this same God is active in working in us, God’s children, to help us all understand that Scripture. God is both the source of inspiration and the means of illumination.
It is this reality that the Spirit of God helps us in our interpretation which should encourage us in that task. God has not left us alone to stumble around in the dark as we approach his Word.