What Training Do We Need to Interpret the Bible?
by Bill Pratt
Let’s get some facts out on the table about the Bible. The Bible is composed of some 66 separate documents that were written approximately between the years of 1500 BC to AD 100 in two primary languages (Hebrew and Greek), and produced in cultures and historical contexts that are radically different from ours.
All of these elements make it difficult to interpret the biblical texts correctly: 1) the fact that we are dealing with many documents written by many different authors, 2) the fact that these documents were written in foreign and ancient languages, 3) the fact that the cultures that produced these documents are very different from ours, and 4) the fact that we are far removed from the historical contexts of these documents.
If a Christian wanted to overcome all of these obstacles to understand the Bible, what disciplines must she master? Christian philosopher Tom Howe puts the question this way:
Does this imply that in order to understand God’s Word one must be competent in the biblical languages, in Hebrew and Greek culture and customs, in the history of nations and people who have interacted with Israel and the church; that the interpreter must be a competent philosopher of history, philosopher of language, philosopher of science, metaphysician as well as an accomplished theologian?
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Howe’s answer to the question is both “yes” and “no.” First, let’s look at the sense in which the answer is “no.” Howe answers:
If by “to understand the Bible” one means the capacity to grasp and receive the message of salvation through Christ which is the aim of the Word of God, then the answer is emphatically, No! The nature of man, having been created in the image of God as a rational creature, seems to be a sufficient prerequisite to hear, understand, and receive the message of salvation through Christ.
This is an incredibly important point. Howe is saying that the message of salvation through Christ is understandable to any human being because we are made in the image of God as rational creatures…
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