I [John] warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:
if anyone adds to them,
God will add to him the plagues described in this book,
and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy,
God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city,
which are described in this book.
Revelation 22:18-19 ESV
Regardless of where we find ourselves amid the 2 Testaments, 66 books or 1,189 chapters of Scripture, this thing of living in the Word of God sends us on quite the journey, doesn’t it?
That thought left me with so much to reflect upon as I toured the three floors (that’s 430,000 square feet) that comprise the jaw-dropping Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. It’s an experience I hope you’ll take when you have the opportunity.
One exhibit in particular had me considering afresh the importance of John’s words in today’s passage of focus. The exhibit features a 19th Century version of the Holy Bible – edited and published in London, England – “updated” by human hands with omission of 90% of the Old Testament as well as a sizable percentage of the New; “updated” to fit the needs and suit the agendas of those same human hands.
Other groups of visitors were taking in the exhibit at the same time my group did. I recall hearing a good many gasps, several tsk-tsks, and a few outright displays of indignant anger. And rightfully so.
But as much as any of us may have wished to try, any attempt to go back in time and erase the situations and circumstances that brought about this hacked version of Scripture would have been and is futile.
As bad as the history of the exhibit is, though, one would expect to find a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Perhaps – just off the top of my head – that mankind (and certainly those who profess to follow Christ) would gain a renewed commitment to pursue and promote sound principles of interpreting in light of its entirety. In other words, to avoid the temptation of proof-texting – interpreting portions of Scripture apart from the whole story or the context in which said portion is set.
The sad and dangerous reality, though, is that so many people have failed at learning that lesson. There are printed and bound editions of the “scripture” out there right now that has been cut, shaped, sized, added to and deleted from for the express purpose of suiting some of mankind’s most profane, unimaginable agendas.
And the writers and readers of these pieces of propaganda are playing with deadly fire. The kind that singes and burns for eternity.
And Satan is laughing all the way to the bank because they are.
The upshot is that when you and I dig deeply and deliberately into the true Word of God – the whole of the Bible carefully pulled from the translation of its original text – we can rest assured that His Holy Spirit imparts to us what we need to know.
Sound interpretive principles are must-have tools when it comes to Bible study. The reality is that anyone who reads God’s Word become interpreters – to ourselves and to others. It’s a task that requires steady, prayerful focus; no matter where or when we live, you and I live within our own contexts. Just as Scripture was penned in specific times and cultures for a specific audience, we live in times and cultures of our own that shape our specific roles as Christians.
So the task of interpretation gets messy at times, particularly in Western culture. Thankfully, the three-step method of looking in the text, behind the text, and in front of the text clears a lot of confusion as we study Scripture and seek God’s will for our lives.
Let’s look at an example of this method through the lens of an oft-debated ESV passage:
… women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. (1 Corinthians 14:34).
- When we look at this passage In the Text, we look not only at the text itself but also at other text that sits in close proximity to it. As we consider the passage in question, for example, we can’t deny the fact that Paul writes favorably in this same letter of women who pray and prophecy in worship assemblies (1 Corinthians 11:5). Since by definition God can’t contradict Himself, we know there must be more to this story.
- So we dig Behind the Text for a lookatsocial, political and cultural aspects from the author’s environment. (An Archeological Study Bible provides a great way to do this.) In Paul’s day, women generally sat together in a church balcony while the men sat below. Some of the women of Corinth took to chatting rather loudly among themselves during services. It’s this disruption that Paul addresses in our text.
- With this knowledge, we’re now able to move In Front of the Text; to reflect on what God seeks to say to us.How, in other words, does the passage speak to me or apply to my life? Well, obviously I shouldn’t be chatting (or texting) it up in church, right? But maybe there’s more. Think about it this way, cultures and customs come and go, but each culture has its own customs for maintaining order with Christian worship. We can all evaluate our personal commitment to filling roles within our own churches.
We may find a blunt source of application as we move through that final step in the study of our passage; to be candid, I certainly did:
Can I serve Christ’s Church andconduct myself respectfully as His child in the process? If not, self-imposed silence is my best option.
– Copyright 2019, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.