Monday, January 8, 2024

Context and Meaning (2 Peter 1)

"And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed …" (2 Peter 1:19).

While our study of biblical interpretation is hardly exhaustive, we want to highlight some general rules to help you as we study 1 and 2 Corinthians together this year.

First, you must read the Bible like any other book. If you begin reading in the middle, you lose necessary context that helps you understand the whole. It is helpful to read the Bible from the beginning. If you choose to begin with James or John, etc., study the context of these books as they relate to the Bible as a whole. The same principle applies to verses. Study the verses in the context of the chapter, book, and the Bible as a whole.

Second, you must interpret historical narrative or poetic passages in light of didactic passages. “Didactic” means to teach or instruct. Much of Paul’s writings is didactic in character. It has been said that the gospels tell us what Jesus did, and the epistles interpret the significance of what He did. This does not set the apostles’ teaching against Christ’s. All of Scripture is God-breathed, to be taken as a whole. Christ gave apostles to the church for them to explain further His ministry and teaching.

Third, and closely related to the former, is that you must interpret the implicit passages by the explicit ones. If a particular passage is unclear, its context questionable, its audience unknown, its grammar confusing, its literary form debatable, then go to a clearer passage for insight. If you interpret an unclear passage in a way that contradicts a clear passage, your interpretation is certainly wrong. Many people have fallen into error because they have refused to bend their understanding of an unclear passage or a single verse to those passages that are much more explicit.

Lastly, be careful to determine the actual meaning of words. This is where it is helpful to know the original languages, or at least to have access to an expository or theological dictionary. When studying a word, you need to know how that word was used in that culture at that time and the structure of the word itself. Some words have multiple meanings (such as know) so we must pay attention to how it is used in the context. You will avoid many pitfalls if you pay attention to word, meaning, customary usage, and context.

Read Matthew 17:1–13; Mark 9:1–13; Luke 9:27–36; and 2 Peter 1:16–21. What do you learn about the transfiguration from each account that you would now have known with just one? What does Peter’s letter add? Using a concordance pick another theme to study (e.g., tongues, reading Acts 2:1–4, followed by 1 Cor. 14).