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Exegesis Series: Part 3

This week we continue with our series on the interpretation of scripture. We started by first looking at ourselves with last week giving an example of my own self-reflection on the experiences I bring to my own view of scripture. These next three weeks we will look at three different approaches one can use when interpreting scripture: a historical approach, a practical approach, and an interpretive approach.

We begin with a historical approach. Think of it like a lens we can put on or remove, and a way of coloring this lens is to use certain questions to frame what we look for in scripture. For the historical lens, consider questions such as, “what can this tell me about how people saw the world in its time and place?” or “what can this tell me about the customs or cultural practices of the people associated with this part of the text?”. Consider two examples below:

Genesis 9:1 (NRSV)

“God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…”

In this example, Noah is receiving a covenant from his deity with this being only the first part. From a historical approach, this passage suggests a part of the worldview of ancient Hebrews, a strong desire for many children. This desire for children is seen in the blessing that is received, presumably desirable to its recipients in its specifics, and it is noteworthy that this blessing did not directly impart guarantees to significant material wealth, power over other humans, or widespread fame.

1 Corinthians 8:8-9 (NRSV)

“’Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”

In this example, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth concerning those who wish to eat meat that has been sacrificed to deities other than their own. He suggests that it is okay, unless it would cause those who do not understand why this is the case to be confused. From a historical approach, this shows us that early Christians were still partaking in some aspects of Roman religion, participation that was sometimes seen as a civic duty of Roman citizens. This engagement with religious practices of the larger community and Paul’s tolerance of it provides an interesting window into how early Christians adapted.

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