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3. The Best of Both Interpretative Approaches

We need to take the best of the historical and individual devotional approaches and marry them. If we end up with the historical approach only, we will not quickly find ourselves living in an erroneous story, which the individual devotional approach often provides. But, when we stress the historical approach only, we can end up with a study of ancient historical writings with information that may have no current usefulness to us. Congregants will grow weary of pastor-teachers who follow the strictness of this approach with cries of “who cares!” On the other hand, if we stress the individual devotional approach, we will often end up with a distorted message. Deformed messages from Scripture produce deformed followers of Jesus.

As an illustration: when a reader reads the word “hell,” she/he is much more likely to be influenced by the individual devotional meaning of “hell” that some Christian pop musical artist may have presented than the biblical meaning of “hell,” thinking that the first is the same as the last. To understand the word “hell,” a reader must turn to the biblical specialist, steeped in the historical method to discover what that word might have meant to the first readers. This will alleviate believing some unhistorical concept, which the text does not say. Because God gave his word to us in a specific historical period within a certain cultural timeframe, it seems best to honor him by interpreting the text within its historical and textural context. Being informed historically will help us be better devotionally informed. We need both!

We need to hear the text in the way the first hearers heard the text. To do so, we need to use all the tools available to us to accomplish that goal. Why is that important? Because whatever it meant then, it means now. The message does not change with time; neither does it present timeless truths. God did not present us with a multiple choice Bible. There are not multiple stacks of meaning hidden in the text waiting for each new generation to discover as if they were on a scavenger hunt.

Finding inspiration from the text is important, but so is comprehending what God has said so we can better live into his story in our current world. This may be best accomplished by the body allowing the parts of the body called to practice scholarship help all of us practice and find respect for each other.

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