We talked about one of the dangers of improper interpretation as stemming from the improper reading and application of narratives. To review, here’s what you may see:
- People may take a description (the narrative) and turn it into a prescription of what you are to are not to do.
- God records much history in the Bible to show us the progression of His redemptive story.
- He also records much history to show us the line from Adam to Jesus, and how Jesus isthe prophesied and rightful heir to the throne.
- Some narratives are not the kind of thing you want to practice!
- E.g. David, in I. Samuel 18 was told by King Saul to bring him 100 Philistine foreskins and he would give his daughter to David to marry. David brought back 200 foreskins!
- Is this the sort of thing we would require of our future son in-laws? (NOPE!).
- Matthew 11:11 tells us that there are none greater than John the Baptist. Well, in Matthew 3 we are told that he wore a camel’s hair coat with a leather belt, and ate locusts and honey for food.
- Would you follow a church or pastor that said you had to live like John the Baptist if you wanted to be as great as he was? (I doubt it).
- Some narratives do not tell us much, but people interject ideas not found in the text:
- Genesis 4 does not tell us that Abel’s sacrifice was better than Cain’s because it was of sacrificed flocks. Besides, Mosaic laws had grain offerings which utilized no animals.
- In I. Samuel 17:40 David went, gathered up 5 smooth stones, and then confronted Goliath, killing and slaying him. How many people have you heard tell you that David grabbed 5 stones so that he could go and kill Goliath and his 4 brothers? But, does the text tell you that? Nope. Maybe, like any good soldier, he just wanted to go into battle with a full magazine of rounds. David was probably not engaging in Barney Fife warfare (with only one bullet in his pocket), but was taking 5 stones for combat. Me? I would take a few hundred.
So, this week as we went through Genesis 4, we read the narrative of Abel, Cain killing Abel, and then of Cain’s banishment concluded with a list of some of his descendants. We must be careful to not impose the Mosaic Law to his actions (there’s nothing written in the text that killing was a sin, or that he had to bring a particular sacrifice). We do see that he was warned about sin crouching at his door and instead of mastering it he let it master him. We do see that he wasn’t repentant, wasn’t sorry, and only worried about his life and prosperity. We do see that he lied to God and seemed to know he was guilty. We can certainly draw principles out of the story, but as with any narrative, we must ensure we do not impose on the text what is not there.
Lastly, some stories tell of problems without referencing earlier regulations, but those earlier regulations can be applied. For example, the Jews were warned that they’d want a king someday, and were told that the king is not to be polygamous. So, when you read of David’s and Solomon’s polygamy, the Bible may not say much against it at that point, but the Mosaic Law had already forbidden it, so it is then that we may reference prescriptive applications since an earlier principle had been given.
- Re-read Genesis 4. Look at the story and think about questions you have about the story that are not clearly indicated in the text: ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
- Now, pull out your physical or digital concordance and search some of those things and see if there’s any other information in the Bible about them. Then, if you have a Bible dictionary, search there as well (in fact, that may hold more information to glean from).
- E.g. One question many often ask is where did Cain get his wife. We talked about this Sunday, but a good Bible dictionary will explain that the early human race had to populate from amongst themselves. This means he probably married a sister or niece.
- Dr. Rosscup at Master’s Seminary (now retired) used Columbo as an example of good reading (for those of you too young to remember it, Columbo was an early 70s TV show that had various episodes up until 2003). What did Columbo continually do which annoyed the show’s murderer? He kept asking probing questions by turning around and saying, “Just one more thing…” Thus, keep asking those probing questions as you read a text. Maybe even write them down. By the time you finish reading the whole Bible you will find many questions will be answered.
- We also read The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Sunday. Looking at that parable, we discussed one of the issues in this parable which is the faithful son who actually despised his father while hating his brother whereas the Prodigal was repentant and loved his father. But, read the whole chapter and the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. Many parables were listed in threes in the Gospels and would interrelate with each other on one primary theme thus reinforcing it. What do you see that primary theme/lesson being for all three parables: ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
This is it for today (I don’t want to overload you). Basic Bible interpretation requires one to be saved (I. Corinthians 2), to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to do the careful work of studying the passage. This week we discussed narratives and some principles for reading and interpreting them. While parables are in some ways a different beast (Jesus gave parables so that the Jews of His day wouldn’t understand or believe Him, oddly enough—Matthew 13:10-16), you can still understand them if you dig in carefully.
Brothers & sisters: Be Good Bereans and search the Scriptures daily to ensure what I tell you is true!