Monday, January 23, 2012

The Hunger Games

About a week ago, I started reading The Hunger Games.  Last night, I finished the final book in the series.  This was one of those stories that you simply cannot stop reading once you start.  The story moves quickly and constantly keeps you wondering what will happen next.

The story takes place in a distant future where humanity has warred until our population is dangerously low.  America is now known as Panem and consists of twelve districts and the capitol.  About 74 years prior to the beginning of the story, the districts rebelled against the capitol and lost the war.  Every year, as punishment for their rebellion, each district must offer a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in the Hunger Games.  24 contestants enter an arena where they struggle to survive the wilderness and each other.  One contestant gets to leave.

I was surprised to find these books in the young adult section.  They lack profanity and sexual activity, but they are quite violent.  The story gets very dark and stays that way right up to the end.  It shows the devastation of war and how our fighting hurts all of us, while simultaneously showing that something must be done to stop a tyrannical and oppressive government.

This was the best trilogy I had read in a long time.  If you have not read it yet, I strongly recommend you get started.  The movie comes out in two months.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

WBS 1: Crash Course in Hermeneutics

Quite a while ago, my brother asked for some help in understanding the Bible a little better.  I certainly don't know everything, but I figure this bible college education is worth something.  So, I agreed to try my best to help out by sending him some Bible study stuff.

More recently, I talked to him about posting these Bible studies on my blog.  He is okay with the idea, so here is the beginning of what will hopefully be many Bible studies.  In each post, I'm just going to examine a section of Scripture and break it down.  Many of the people who read this blog are Christians and many of them have an understanding of the Scriptures that I respect.  So, I hope most of you will take the time to read these studies and post your thoughts on the passages and topics being discussed.  Also, if you're not a Christian, feel free to join in the discussion.

These Bible studies will be under the label, "WBS," so they can be easily located.

Before we launch into studying the Scriptures, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss how we interpret the Bible.  The fancy word for "how we interpret the Bible" is "hermeneutics."  An appropriate approach to interpretation is absolutely necessary if we want to understand what the Bible says and how it affects our lives.

Why do we study the Bible?  We study the Bible to see what God has to say to us.  If we do not have a solid hermeneutical approach, we can easily slip into the habit of interpreting scriptures according to what we want them to say.  To put it simply, we must strive to read God's intended meaning out of the text and avoid forcing our meaning into the text.  There are two words commonly used when people discuss this sort of thing.  You should probably be aware of them.  Getting the intended meaning from the text is "exegesis."  Forcing our meaning into the text is "eisegesis."

When we read the text, understand its meaning, and apply it to our lives, we are performing exegesis.  Though there are a number of situations in which people perform eisegesis, it most commonly occurs when they try to find a scripture to use as proof of something they already believe.  An example of this is the usage of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 to oppose tattoos and piercings.  The passage says, "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price.  Therefore glorify God with your body."

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard Christians use that verse to condemn people around them for tattoos, piercings, and a number of other things related to our outward appearance.  This is often the go-to proof text for that debate.  However, if we look at the verse in context, we find that it has nothing to do with that argument.  

Verses 14-20 say, "Now God indeed raised the Lord and he will raise us by his power.  Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?  Should I take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?  Never!  Or do you not know that anyone who is united with a prostitute is one body with her?  For it is said, 'The two will become one flesh.'  But the one united with the Lord is one spirit with him.  Flee sexual immorality!  Every sin a person commits is outside of the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price.  Therefore, glorify God with your body."

So, all the way up to the verses in question, Paul writes about the importance of sexual purity.  If you look at the passage following the verses in question, Paul starts the next chapter with a continuation of his discussion of sexual purity.  I find it highly unlikely that Paul took a break from his discussion of sexual purity to write a couple of sentences regarding tattoos and body piercings.  The debate of whether those things are right or wrong can be had, but this passage obviously has nothing to do with it.  This passage is focusing on the importance of sexual purity.

Seeing that our bodies are temples can help us see the importance of living holy lives and this can encourage us to avoid immoral behavior.  However, this passage does not describe any behavior not connected to sexual immorality.  Although lying and killing are wrong, this verse can not be used to say those things are wrong; there are other passages that make those points.  Likewise, we cannot use this passage to confront people who are doing something we don't like.  We must consult other scriptures.  If there are no other scriptures, we must acknowledge that the Bible is silent on the issue.

Hopefully, that lengthy chunk of blog demonstrated the importance of proper interpretation and the difference between exegesis and eisegesis rather than muddying the waters even further.  Now that we see the importance of proper interpretation, how do we go about interpreting the scriptures properly?  This task basically consists of two steps.  First, we must determine what the text meant to its original author and recipients.  Second, we must figure out how that original meaning should be applied to us today.

Determining the original meaning of a text is all about context.  In order to understand the original meaning of a text, we must understand the historical and literary contexts of the passage.  The historical context includes all of the data relating to the time and place of the document's writing and its intended audience.  This can consist of time of writing, culture, geographical setting, and the author's reason for writing the document.  Every piece of historical information relating to the text can make the historical context clearer to us.  We must also consider the literary context.  One aspect of the literary context is the genre of the writing.  Is the passage narrative, prophecy, parable, law, letter, or poetry?  Another aspect of the literary context is the context of the passage within the larger writing.  Our 1 Corinthians 6 example from above demonstrates this clearly.  Only by looking at the verses surrounding the misinterpreted verse were we able to arrive at the passage's original intended meaning.  Many times, it is also helpful to understand the original language  of a passage.  Even if you do not know Greek or Hebrew, there are a number of helpful tools to assist you.

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth1, does an excellent job of describing the most important part of context:
"The most important contextual question you will ever ask-and it must be asked over and over of every sentence and every paragraph-is, "What's the point?"  We must try to trace the author's train of thought.  What is the author saying, and why does he or she say it right here?  Having made that point, what is he or she saying next, and why?"
Always approach the text with that question in the front of your mind.

Once we understand the original meaning of the text, we must bring that meaning to our context.  How does the author's point apply to us now?  We must determine the original meaning before deciding what the text means to us now in order to avoid eisegesis.  Without relying on the original meaning to determine our interpretation, anyone can make the text mean anything.  Remember:  A text can never mean what it never meant.

As I start posting Bible study material on this blog, I will strive to adhere to these hermeneutical principles.  Correct interpretation of the Bible is of eternal significance.  If we loosely decide what a text means to us and ignore the intended meaning, we risk not only misunderstanding God's Word, but also misleading others who strive to understand the Scriptures.  In matters involving our souls and salvation, that is a risk we simply cannot afford to take.  In order to understand God's word more clearly and to follow God more closely, we must make proper interpretation of his Word a priority.