In The Hermeneutical Spiral, Grant Osborne discusses the issue of ‘distanciation’ (the cultural gap that exists between biblical times and today. Preachers have devised a number of erroneous approaches, including:
Literalistic preaching assumes God automatically bridges the gap and preaches the text as if it were written for today. Normally this is accompanied by a lack of serious effort to understand the text, resulting in shallow, subjective sermons.
Allegorizing…assumes that beneath the literal, surface meaning lies the “real” meaning, such as the Song of Songs as a picture of Christ and the church.
Having compiled a couple of sets relating to texts in the New Testament, I thought I’d take a look at some commonly-misunderstood texts from the Old Testament. These are discussed more fully in the Bible Study Notes.
Here’s a start:-
Genesis 18 – Abraham’s three visitors. Christian piety, both old and new, has often seen in the story of Abraham’s three visitors a picture of the three persons of the Trinity. This conjecture has been fueled by the celebrated icon of Rublev, which plays a key role in Richard Rohr’s recent (2016) book The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. …
The Bible says many different things about God, at many different times and by many different people. It is all too easy (wrote Ian Paul some while ago) to simply read the words on the page and then decide whether we think we believe them or not.
Think of the passage in Numbers 15:32-36, where God says concerning the man who was caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath, “The man must die”.
The ‘trajectory’ argument, briefly, is that there are certain practices (such as slavery) that are permitted in Scripture, but Scripture itself sows the seeds of their eventual abolition. Conversely, there are certain practices (such as same-sex relations) that are forbidden in Scripture, but Scripture itself sows the seeds of their acceptance.
The Bishop of Bangor in the Church in Wales, Andy John, has invoked such a trajectory argument in his support of marriage for homosexual couples.…
In Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know about Them), Bart D. Ehrman writes about one of his ‘favourite apparent discrepancies’ in John’s Gospel:-
It ‘comes in Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” the last address that Jesus delivers to his disciples, at his last meal with them, which takes up all of chapters 13 to 17 in the Gospel according to John. In John 13:36, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?”…
Mark Ward comments on the (otherwise excellent) conference speaker who, referring to Titus 2:4, said that because phileo is ‘friendship love’, it’s important for husbands and wives, and parents and children, to be friends. Although there may well be some truth in this (Ward remarks), as far as the text in Titus is concerned, it is reading too much into the word; it is ‘overspecifying’ the text. Husbands and wives are to be lovers, and not just friends. …
Women who interpret the Bible find three challenges regarding language and gender.
First, there is the problem of the generic use of words such as ‘man’, ‘mankind’, ‘he’, ‘him’, and so on. It is argued that the continued use of such vocabulary, in contexts in which both men and women are in view, obscures the participation of women in the stories which the text relates. Some modern translations of the Bible strive to minimise this problem by using expressions such as ‘brothers and sisters’, ‘person’, ‘human being’, ‘humankind’, where both men and women are being referred to, or where the gender is not specified.…
Alison Lo notes that the Minor Prophets resonate strongly with our contemporary church and society, with their themes of ‘social justice, religious corruption, financial impropriety and social and political unrest’.
They offer rich material for the preacher, then, and the following principles will help. I summarise:-
Consider the historical and cultural context. Each prophet spoke into a specific situation: sometimes this is indicated by the heading of the book (Hos 1:1; Amos 1:1; Mic 1:1, etc.).