One of my pet peaves that has grown over the years, is the tendency modern-day Christians have to try to explain-away some of the things that are written in the Bible – things they find hard to explain or think might “offend” some sensitive soul. Like God needs defending… I think it was C.S. Lewis (I could be wrong) who said, “God needs defending about as much as a Lion.” We have to learn to take the things the Bible says at face value – assuming that if God wrote it, He must have meant it. WE may not always understand it – but that’s to be expected since it was GOD who wrote it… (As Audio Adrenaline says, “If I were King, I’d be unwise – cause my brains aren’t… King-size!”)
But with that said, we have to make sure that we don’t disregard the particular details of context, type of literature, or historical background – those are all vital elements that help us to understand the things said in the scriptures. How about a brief “refresher” on what is meant by all of those…????
Like we learned in 5th grade language arts – this is the stuff surrounding the passage we are concerned about. In other words, don’t just pick a verse to prove your point, make sure that you have read the surrounding verses, or the chapter that contains the verse (amazingly many people DON’T do this) to make sure that the verse, in its context, actually says/means what you think it says/means. I spoke about that in my post yesterday – “Don’t Judge Me!”. Check it out for a good example…
TYPE OF LITERATURE
The fancy-schmancy word for this is “genre” (procounced “jon-rah” – or sometimes with a fancy french-sounding “zzshh” at the beginning). It means the “type” of writing it is. For example: If you are reading a book and it begins, “Once Upon a Time…” then you know it is most likely a type of literature known as a Fairy Tale. What do you know about Fairy Tales? They are entirely fictional, and you can expect the main characters to be wizards, princes and princesses, or even talking animals. You don’t believe everything you read in a Fairy Tale to be true… why? BECAUSE IT’S A FAIRY TALE!
So how does that relate to our reading of scripture? Well, it’s a book full of different kinds of literature – history, prophecy, poetry, letters (epistles), etc. Each of those has distinct characteristics of their own which we need to take into consideration when we are reading. For instance: When we read in Psalm 57:1 that David said he would take refuge in the “shadow of (God’s) wings,” are we to believe that God actually has wings? Not really – but do you know why? Because a Pslam is an ancient Hebrew poem, and we know that poetry uses all kinds of imagery to define or express the sentiment of the writer. It’s not intended to be taken entirely literally. The point that is being made is to be understood and taken seriously, but the figures used to communicate it are not. There have been some very damaging and amazing false teachings that have gone around strictly because of a lack of following this simple rule of Biblical interpretation. KNOW YOUR TYPE OF LITERATURE!
Understanding, as much as possible, what was going on historically during the time a piece of literature was written helps tremendously in understanding the meaning intended by the author. When reading the book of Ephesians we eventually come to chapter 6 – where Paul begins speaking of the “Armor of God.” It helps TREMENDOUSLY to know that at the very time Paul was writing that letter, he was most likely chained up in a Roman jail, where he saw soldiers in full armor day after day! Once we know that, we are able to look into the historical facts of what kind of armor a Roman soldier actually wore. This gives us a better idea of what Paul was talking about when he mentions things like a breastplate, etc.
Back to the pet peave…
It’s important that we take all these things into consideration, but once that is said and done, we have to leave what God said to say what it was actually meant to say! (Do you think I can make that sentence a bit more convoluted?) In other words, don’t try to explain-away or change the meaning just because you (or someone else) doesn’t like what it says! Here are some good examples (they’ll be uncomfortable for some, but I find that scripture is full of dis-comforting things, don’t you?)
- If the Bible says that God commanded Joshua and the Israelites to commit genocide as they entered the land He was giving them (and it does, check out Joshua 10:40) – then let it say that! Get beyond the facts to figure out WHY God had them do such a thing. You might learn something about what is important to God…
- If the Bible says that men are to take on the role of leadership both in the home and in the church (and it does – check out these: Ephesians 5:23, 1 Timothy 2:12-15), then learn to get beyond “what” it says to understand “why” it says it. You will find some very helpful and revealing things about the way God made men and women, about their differences, and about the VALUE of those differences… (I know I just opened up a can of worms on that one… I’ll address that topic soon…)
What we need to understand is that God wrote what He did for very specific and important reasons! We need to look for those reasons, not try to explain them away because they put a wrinkle in our world view! God is the One who knows what the truth is – regarding ALL situations and conditions. We are better off if we start working toward and understanding of those things rather than trying to explain them away.