Most of how we interpret the Bible is how, or at least should be consistent with how, we interpret people around us. Really, it is.  We read the needs of others and take for granted how we do it. Yet when we read the Bible we treat it as some other-worldly piece that we don’t treat like everything else. So here’s some very simple case studies and how interpreting the Bible can be made to make a little more sense.

Case Study #1

You just got home. It was a hard day. Your hat went on the steps. Your jacket on the back of your chair. Your boots remained in the doorway. Then your wife comes to you and says “Pick that junk up and put it away! I just cleaned!”

So how do you define “junk?” Are you supposed to throw away your hat, boots, and jacket? Of course not. We interpret words according to their context and we do it all the time. We take it for granted.

Case Study #2

Last Christmas you got a new router for Christmas. It’s what you asked for and your wife was kind and thoughtful to get it for you. This year it wasn’t on your list. Why? Because you didn’t need one. You already received one.

Needs change over time. We don’t interpret a person’s needs, or a society’s needs, the same at any give moment.

Case Study #3

On her 12th birthday your daughter asked for a Vespa. You said no. A scooter just doesn’t work for a child that age. She doesn’t have what it takes to handle one of those in town. Then on her 17th birthday she asks for one and you find one for her. Her life needs have changed. Her maturity has changed.  Her driving skills have improved between 12 and 17. And she is now looking at a job and more schooling so she will need the transportation.  We interpret the needs and abilities of those around us according to their skills and context. There’s nothing newsworthy about it though again we take it for granted. It’s the way we think.

Case Study #4

Bill needs a hand saw.  Jane needs a set of brushes for a painting project. Do you get Bill the brushes and Jane the saw? Of course not.  The needs and position of each person and their future development is built around those needs and desires. We don’t assign one person’s solution to another person. Life just doesn’t work that way. It’s so obvious that it needn’t be stated.

To the point, finally

Here is a simple graphic for interpreting a lot of the Bible. It doesn’t answer all the questions you might have but it should help with a number of them.

Let human history be the baseline.  In the green line we can see God’s grace all through history. He has been engaged with humanity in a positive way for the whole of its existence despite humanity’s rebellion against Him.  At one point He provided a set of laws for governing a specific people group (Deut. 4:44) whose collective assignment was to make Him know to the world. These laws were not intended to govern church life. They were replaced by a new covenant (Hebrews 8:13, 9:15) which established the church (Acts 2).

The implications might be clear to you. What was done under the Mosaic Law is not prescribed for church life. This is the reason we do not have, practice, or require any of the following:

Animal sacrifice
Restricted access to God
Circumcision (many practice it even outside of Christianity, but  it is not a requirement for church participation.)
Land sabbath
… and may more

There are exceptions, of course. But by and large this is the case. These are broadly accepted by 99% of the Christian community. For instance, in Romans 1 where Paul discusses the matter of aberrant sexual behavior he does not appeal to a call for capital punishment but instead discusses redemption. Likewise in his first letter to the church in Corinth he spoke of this behavior in the church as a past item from which they had been cleansed by Christ.  There was never a call for punishment but instead for propriety in church life.

The principles of operation that God used in dealing with a developing humanity at one time were adapted as He readied the world later for Jesus’ arrival (Per Case #4). Thus the language he used with a tribal nation (Case #1) differed from the language he used later with the church.  He gave the world what it needed at the right time (Case #3). And He did so as an act of His lovingkindness, His grace, to all of humanity (Case #2), when the time was right.