Mining the truths of God's Word requires that we interpret it accurately
Studying the Bible and mining the truths of God's Word requires that we interpret it accurately, that we do the hard work of studying it the way God intends us, so we come out with a meaning that He has intended, so that we can apply that meaning to our lives.
Today we want to talk about the foundation of Hermeneutics Good Bible Interpretation, and that is observation. And observation answers the question, “What does the text say?” “What is the agenda of the passage?” “What is the subject of the passage?” And we start by asking the right questions of the text.
Consider the Genre
The first thing we have to do though when we come to a passage is consider the genre of the passage. Genre means type of literature. When we come to a passage we need to take note of what kind of passage are we reading? There are really seven different types. You can divide this a little differently, but basically seven different types of literature in the Bible. All is of God's Word, but He speaks in human language, and human language is rich in different types of literature.
In the Bible you have the dominant type of literature is that of narrative. Most of the Bible is God telling stories of events that actually happened, but the Lord, through His human author, inspiring him to include the precise details He wants to include, and the things He wants to leave out. The way He tells the story has a message for us. Narrative, that's the first literary type that we see in the Bible.
The second is law. Early in the Bible we have a lot of passages devoted to just legal requirements as God gives His law in Exodus, and Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. So that's the second type of literature.
Third is Psalms. That is songs of praise. We have a whole book, 150 Psalms of praise that God wants His people to understand and to apply.
The fourth type of literature in the Old Testament is wisdom literature. Things like the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Wisdom—applying God's principles to our lives. That's the wisdom section of Scripture.
The fifth section or type of literature you have in the Old Testament is prophetic/apocalyptic. Isaiah all the way to Malachi are the prophets of God, speaking forth the Word of God and also foretelling the future. A New Testament book that is more prophetic is Revelation. It falls under that genre of literature.
6) The Gospels:
The sixth type of literature we see in the New Testament we see in the gospels, the stories of Jesus' life. There are elements of narrative about the gospel, but then you also have things like the parables of Jesus and the sayings of Jesus. It is usually regarded as having its own unique type or genre, the gospels.
Then the final, the seventh type of literature in the Bible is epistles, that is the letters. Paul and the other apostles wrote letters to churches, to individuals, telling them in more of a teaching or didactic form, what they wanted them to understand. So it's a different genre.
Each different type of literature calls for us to approach it a little differently. You approach an epistle differently than you approach a narrative passage. Epistles are much more straight forward, and so you look at the syntax and the sentence structure, and what's the main point he's trying to get across, the apostle, in the way he structures the paragraph? What's his main emphasis? When you look at a story like you have in Genesis and much of the Old Testament, you ask the questions differently. What did the author want me to see and major on as he tells the story? So we have to come to the text with the right questions.
What I want to do in the time we have remaining in this particular teaching time is focus on some general principles that really apply no matter what genre you're dealing with, though they have to be tweaked a little bit. Here are some general principles of correct Bible interpretation.
When you come to the Bible, one of the things that you want to look at is the syntax of a passage. That is, how do the sentences, the paragraphs, the phrases, the way the words are put together in sentences, how is God intending us to understand that? We need to consider the way the clauses are stressed, or the word order, and that will often give us clues as to what God wants us to remember.
Another issue is the words themselves. After you understand the flow of a paragraph, the flow of a sentence, then you want to look at the words. What can I learn from a word study on this particular word? Or how does the author use this word? Is it repeated a lot? So the flow of a sentence, the flow of a paragraph, and then word studies.
Perhaps one of the most helpful things to do is to learn how to ask questions of the passage as you observe it. One of the ways that I've seen to be effective and very helpful is to use the ‘5 W&339;s and an H’. Ask questions of the passage: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? When you study a passage, who are the characters, or who is talking? Who is being addressed? Where is it happening? When? What's the timing? How do the events unfold? Those are the kinds of questions that help us understand what God is saying. What I like to do is look at a narrative passage of scripture and begin to observe the text. Let's do that together. Genesis 50:22-26, the last passage in the Book of Genesis.
Now Joseph stayed in Egypt, he and his father's household, and Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. 23Joseph saw the third generation of Ephraim's sons; also the sons of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born on Joseph's knees. 24Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” 25Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.” 26So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.
– Genesis 50:22-26
When you come to a passage like this you realize, “I'm reading a story.” The Lord has inspired Moses to record for us the story of Joseph's death and final instructions he gives to his brother, and to nephews, and the family about how they are to deal with his bones. We must carefully look at the words of the text. What does the text say? What are words that are repeated? What are the answers to those ‘5 W's and H’?
Who is this about? When you look at this carefully, you see the word Joseph, the name Joseph occurs seven times in these five verses. The author seems to want us to see Joseph very clearly. There seems to be some intentional repetitions. For instance, Verse 22:
Now Joseph stayed in Egypt, he and his father's household, and Joseph lived one hundred and ten years.
– Genesis 50:22
Did you hear that? He could have said, “…and he lived one hundred and ten years,” but he wants us to see the name Joseph. Joseph is who this passage is primarily about. Also, his brothers are talked about, his father, and of course God. The name of God occurs twice in the passage, once in Verse 24, once in Verse 25. So that's the question, “Who?”
The second question we can look at is the question, “When?” Are there clues about when this happens? We don't have a dating of the passage explicitly, but we do implicitly. We are told twice in the passage that Joseph died at 110 years of age. Look at Verse 22:
…and Joseph lived one hundred and ten years…
– Genesis 50:26
Whenever you have repetition like that, you have to ask yourself, “Why did the Lord tell me that, I already know he was 110 years old.” It's to emphasize time, “When is this happening?” So careful observation takes note of the things that the Bible is trying to apparently emphasize, and you make notes about these things as you're answering these questions, “When?” Joseph is 110.
Now, next question, “Where?”
Now Joseph stayed in Egypt,…
– Genesis 50:22
In the last words of the passage, Egypt is echoed again.
he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.
– Genesis 50:26
So Egypt brackets the passage and we're reminded, “Wait a minute. Joseph is in Egypt. All of the Nation of Israel is in Egypt.” So that is the “Where?” of the passage. They are not yet in Canaan, they're in Egypt.
Now, “What? What's the passage about?” When you look at the passage and you read it carefully, it's always good to read the text several times, you see it kind of breaks down into two basic parts concerning what it's about. After the introduction in Verse 22 where we find out Joseph lived 110 years, then you have the first part, Verse 23, we find out about Joseph's sons. Look:
Joseph saw the third generation of Ephraim's sons; also the sons of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born on Joseph's knees.
– Genesis 50:23
The word ‘son’ occurred three times in that one verse. The author wants us to think about Joseph's sons: Ephraim, Manasseh, and their sons and grandsons. Then in Verses 24 and 25, you have Joseph's words. Look at Verse 24:
Joseph said to his brothers,…
– Genesis 50:24
And you have quotation marks.
“I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land…
– Genesis 50:24
Whenever you have quotation marks in a story, in a narrative, the speed of the narrative is slowing down. When someone tells a story, you can tell the story in a very fast-paced narrative. I can tell about my life and say, “I grew up in the Atlanta area. I married my wife. We moved off to seminary, and then we came back.” I just covered 30 years in two sentences. But if I say, “I was walking down the street and someone said to me…,” and I give you a quote, you see the speed of narrative slowed down to real time. That's a clue that God wants you to see and He's emphasizing the words, He's emphasizing the actions that are happening that have been slowed down like a slow-motion replay on television. The folks are wanting you to look at that very carefully. The Lord is doing the same thing in this passage, the words of Joseph.
When you look at the words of Joseph, you see some interesting parallels. You have two statements that He makes, one in Verse 24, one in Verse 25, where he says almost identically the same thing. He says in both places: …God will surely take care of you and bring you up… …God will surely take care of you and bring you up… This means that's a very important thing that we need to consider so you make note of that. Those are words and concepts we need to see, …surely take care of you… repeated twice. …bring you up… …carry up from here… There is a parallel that would need to be examined. Observation just takes note of these things and says, “These are things I'm going to have to consider in interpretation,” but it seems that these are the things that God is saying.
God wants me to see, “Who?”—Joseph. “When?”—At the end of his life. “Where was he?”—In Egypt. “What did we need to see?”—First of all his sons and then his words. Those are the emphases that the passage seems to be calling our attention to. That's answering the question, “What does the text say?”
Next we're going to talk about interpretation. I hope you'll join us for that as we continue to look at this passage and not just what God is saying, but what is He meaning in the passage. I hope you will join us for that.