When I attended Biola University as a Bible major (and seminary at Trinity later), the Bible came even more alive for me. What made the difference was not simply being told what passages mean, but understanding how one arrives at the meaning. Many of the passages I had previously misunderstood became clear after I learned about the culture, background and language being employed. Sometimes, it was merely a matter of understanding the context better (some of these have been discussed on this blog).For the rest, click HERE.
What has deeply troubled me in many of my interactions with other Evangelicals is also something I have been warned about by almost every professor I have had whether from Biola, Westminster or Trinity. The problem is a subjective reading of the text. While this is obvious in questions like “what does the text mean to me?” it is also prevalent in a fundamental misunderstanding of the doctrine of the “clarity of Scripture.” This mentality can be summarized as follows: I can open up my Bible and understand its plain meaning on whatever topic. This is a simplistic understanding of the text that ends up distorting rather than understanding the text.
To begin with, the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not mean the Bible always says things “plainly” in a literalist fashion or that everything can be easily understood. The true doctrine says that the Bible is clear on what is necessary for faith and practice. In other words, you can open it and understand how to be saved and to be in a right relationship with God. The finer points however, are not always understood. Why?
Ex 1: One example of this is in how we interpret the parable in Luke 11 where a friend knocks on the door of a neighbor because a guest came late at night and food is needed. The friend inside gives the excuse that the door is shut and it will wake up the children if he was to get up and help. Many westerners do not get the joke here—the person inside is giving ridiculous and laughable excuses. It is the whole villages responsibility and not helping will reflect poorly on all of them there is a strong communal sense of responsibility. Jesus is making a “how much more” argument here. Would this ever happen? No! How much less likely that God would do such a thing! Consider the next parable where He asks what father would give his child a serpent when he asks for a fish!? Not catching this nuance often paints the incorrect picture that perhaps one has to pray and pray and pray in order for God to be roused to help.
- There are major cultural differences that prevent us from understanding an otherwise apparent reading.