Theme: What does it say and how do you read it? – Jesus (Sunday 11 October, 2020)
Series: Reading the Bible for all It’s Worth
Bible Reading: Luke 10:25-37
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
This Service will be run in Hybrid mode … both in person at the church and on our Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/turramurrauniting/live/
Ever feel that the Bible is this old, mysterious book that is hard to work out what it is actually trying to say? This week Night Church returns to Hybrid Worship (both fully online and in-person) as Phil shares with us some tips and tricks on getting the most out of reading the Bible and applying it to your life. When Phil attended Theological college his bible lecturer challenged him to not only learn some of the tools to get more out of the Bible, but to share these tools with others.
I wish to share a story … and to be honest, I am not sure if I have used this analogy here before, but it is a good analogy and sets up this whole sermon series perfectly, so even if I have used it before, I am going to share it anyway.
At the beginning of one of our biblical studies classes that I was in at Theological College, the lecturer came in and showed us a painting which largely looked like this… [show blue painting]
And he said, “Tell me about this painting”. As I was such a quick thinker and so insightful I said, “It’s blue”. My lecturer said, ““Yes, Phil, you are correct … it is a blue painting” … but then he asked us to come closer … and when we studied it more, we could see that it was much more than just a blue picture. There were different styles of brush strokes over the picture, and the blue was actually different shades of blue with even some specks of red as well.
Our lecturer said, “It is often the same when we come to read the bible”. He said, “Often when we read a passage there is an obvious lesson of message from the passage that jumps out at you – like the Good Samaritan story tells us that we should love and care for all people, regardless of who they are. One glance at a passage and it is as obvious as saying that the painting is blue.” But he went on to say that in his experience, he had discovered that when we look closer at a bible passage, when we think about it from different perspectives, when we take note not just of the colour, but the brush strokes and styles … then we might see some other insights that are also within God’s word.
That’s not to say that the first observation is wrong … the picture is still blue … my lecturer was encouraging us to go in deeper, to explore more, to be inquisitive and maybe we might discover additional insights and revelations from the Bible.
And that is what we did during our biblical theology classes. We learnt a whole stack of tips and tools and ways that we could get more out of reading the Bible. We learnt about exegesis and eisegesis, character perspectives contextual, historical, canonical and literary criticisms. We learnt about the Bible’s original languages Hebrew and Greek and heaps of other stuff. And I remember my lecturer saying to me one time … we teach you all these tools to get the most out of the Bible, but not many ministers go on to teach them to their congregations. He challenged me to teach these things to you … and this is one of the main reasons why we are doing this series. Not because saying the painting is blue is wrong … the painting is blue. I just want to show you what was shown to me … that there is more to this blue painting than just being blue.
You see, we believe that the Bible is an amazing book in which God speaks to all people and all ages through. The Uniting Church in its key foundational document – The Basis of Union – says that we believe it is through the Bible that we “hear the Word of God and by which our faith and obedience are nourished and regulated”. Actually in the same paragraph it says, “The Uniting Church lays upon its members the serious duty of reading the Scriptures…”
So we as a church not only believe that this is the Word of God and that God can speak to us and nourish our faith through this … we also as a church say that it is our serious duty as followers of Jesus to read the Bible.
And yet if we are honest, many of us just don’t read the bible enough. We lead busy lives and it not that we don’t think it is important, it is just we often don’t get around to it.
So today … and over the next few weeks I would like to encourage three things:
- I wish to encourage all of us to read the bible a little more. After all – this is one of the key ways that God can speak to us and that we can grow in our faith.
- I am going to encourage us as we read the Bible to not just see the blue picture but show you some tips on how we can have a closer look and maybe discover some greater insight.
- I am going to show you some resources that are around so that you can read the bible for all it’s worth.
Sound good? Let’s jump into this.
In our Bible Reading for today, Jesus himself gives a lesson in reading Scripture and it is such perfect teaching that this text is often used in any introductory Bible course.
Luke 10:25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Note that the person who is asking the question is an expert in the law … which back then was the religious law, the Mosaic law … the first 5 books of the bible. So, this bloke really is a biblical expert. He should have already know the answer … but to test Jesus he asks the question “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now one might expect that Jesus should have given a clear answer of the gospel. Maybe explained the four ways to live, or used the gap analogy for the way that sin separates us from God. Jesus was asked a significant life question, you would think for those who are listening and those who would be later reading about this in the Bible … Jesus would have given a clear answer. But he didn’t. In a sense, he wanted the expert to do the hard work himself.
What did Jesus say? He responds with two questions:
- What is written in the law? How do you read it?
Note that these are two different questions.
The first is about the text itself. Go back to Scripture and see what is written. What is context of these words? What is happening in the passages around it? Is there a cultural understanding that we need to know? But most importantly, focus in on the words themselves. What is written in the law? There is a word for this approach – Exegesis – the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture.
But Jesus second question is different – “How do you read it”? This is not just about the words in the text, but how do we understand them. We come to the text with our own experiences, our own influences … how do these speak into the text and how does the text speak to us in our own situations. How do we read it? The word for this approach is eisegesis … when a person “reads into” a text and applies it to their own context.
Jesus is saying … if you are going to get the most out of reading the bible … here is the starting points. What is written in the text and how do you read it? Exegesis + Eisegesis
Or in today’s language, Jesus is basically asking…
- What does the Bible say?
- How do you understand that? How does that play out in your life and experiences?
So … how does the expert in the law answer these two questions? Verse 27… He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
Which approach did the expert use? Exegesis OR Eisegesis? It was all exegesis. He literally quoted the text from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. And while Jesus affirms the answer in verse 28, “You have answered correctly”, Jesus also wants to highlight the importance of Eisegesis by saying to the expert, “Do this and you will live”. Don’t just quote me the words … DO THEM. Work out what these words mean when they are lived out in your situation. Exegesis is important and critical but is worthless if you don’t also Eisegete. Knowing what the text says is important but we also need to apply it to our own lives.
Maybe it might be helpful to use the example that Jesus went on to use – the parable of the Good Samaritan. How might we apply this approach of Exegesis and Eisegesis to this parable?
Let start with the Exegesis … what is written? What is the context? What was Jesus trying to say with these words.
Exegesis is about understanding the context. Things like:
- The road from Jerusalem to Jericho at the time was a dangerous place where people got mugged.
- At that time, the Jewish people and the Samaritans hated each other because of a disagreement 500 years before. They were related to each other (think like cousins) but wanted nothing to do with each other – hence the idea of the Samaratian helping would have been shocking.
- There were Jewish laws written that banned the Jews from associating with any Samaritan and definitely not helping them. (Think about the surprise when Jesus – a Jew – was speaking with a Samaritan woman at the well).
- There were also laws about becoming unclean if you touched a dead body or the blood of a person … so if the Priest and Levite might have been legally correct by avoiding the injured man.
Now you might be thinking … How did you know all this? You might be thinking … Fine for you, but if I am reading the bible, how do I find all these contextual information? Great Question.
At Bible College, our bible lecturer taught us an approach called “criticisms” … not in the way of being upset and complaining but rather approaching a passage critically. These tools ask questions of the text which help us understand the context more. These criticisms cover areas such as textual, literacy, source, form, and historical criticism. [This is also where the Greek and Hebrew stuff come in … but I will talk more about that next week.]
20 years ago, when I was at Bible college, to do some contextual criticism on a passage required you to go to the library and do some serious reading using commentaries and other source books to find some information on the context.
The good news is that in 2020, we have Google. Seriously, it only takes a few minutes on google to get a good understanding of the context of a Bible passage.
- Context of the Good Samaritan
- Cultural Context of the Good Samaritan
- Exegesis of the good Samaritan parable
- What did Jesus mean Luke 10:25-37
- Luke 10:25-37 Commentary
[Note … it is the internet, so don’t always trust everything that is written. Repetition is good. Pray for God’s guidance]
Or the other great resource is “cheat notes” Bibles that you can get now which give you the contexts of different verses and passages in the notes section below a text.
If you want to read the bible for all it’s worth … it is probably worth investing a few minutes when you are reading a passage to just google the context … have a closer look and see what insights and revelations you can get.
But as Jesus encouraged us, it is also about Eisegesis – how do we read it, how do we apply this parable of the Good Samaritan to our own situation. In one sense, you can actually Google this too … but because Eisegesis is so subjective … it is about you and applying the text to your individual situation … that we need some other tools to do this.
I will talk more about this next week, but I wanted to show you one tool today which helps us apply a text to our own situation, and that is character identification. This involves reflecting on a few questions:
Who in the story is closest to you in your current life situation? Are you the man beaten up? The Priest or Levite? The Samaritan? The innkeeper or Robbers or the donkey? Note that we often have a bias to see ourselves as the hero of the story – of course we are the Good Samaritan. But if we are honest … who are we closest to? If the priest is rushing by not because they are uncaring but because they are so busy and just don’t have time for this … then I think in my current situation, that’s me. I don’t want it to be – but just me confessing that has made me think about what I would need to change to not be the priest. And that is how Eisegesis work. The Bible text is supposed be confronting and make us ponder … we believe the Bible text does speak to us and can be life-changing.
Or another way is that we can put ourselves in the place of a character and see the story from their perspective. Imagine you are the person who is beaten up. Who are the priests and Levites in your situation? Who is the one who stops? Where is the safe place where you recuperate? Or imagine you are the Priest. Who are the people in your situation that need your help but you are passing by? Or imagine you are the Samaritan. Where are you going to take the injured? Who is your donkey, the one who is carrying your load when you are helping others? What is the cost of helping for you?
Can you see how this works? It is a simple tool to apply a text to your own personal situation.
If the correct answer to inheriting eternal life is about loving God and loving others … then how are we reflecting this answer in our lives?
Maybe for homework this week, we can create a simple list … two columns …
- What am I doing at the moment to love God? What more can I do?
- What am I doing at the moment to love others? What more can I do?
Can you see how this works because you can do this with any text of the Bible you read. Choose a passage, spend some time googling the context or some objective insight into what the writer is trying to say, and then spend some time tyring to identify how you or your situation might fit into the passage and what the text is saying to you. We are only talking about an extra 10 minutes on top of reading a passage, but it will make the text come alive … and through it, I am sure that God will speak to you.
I am going to leave this here, but I just wanted to mention one last thing. About 3 months ago, I introduced an idea called TUC121. A simple idea where we paired up two people to spend 10 minutes a week reading a small piece of the bible together – 10 to 20 verses. We had about 30-40 people take up the idea, and got some great feedback. Some people read the text together on the phone, some on zoom, some even face to face.
After they read the text out loud, I suggested two questions to reflect on. They were:
- Is there anything that jumped out of the text?
- One way that might I apply this passage to my life this week?
Sound familiar? What does the text say and how do you read it!
If you missed out on this initiative last time – or you would like to change partners … then I am willing to do a re-launch. If you would like to be paired up with another person for the next 6 weeks … to spend 10 minutes a week reading the bible together and reflecting … 10 minutes that’s all … then either send me an email or message with the words “Pair me up Phil” or something like that … or even write in the comment section … and I will make it happen.
And I have added 4 new reading guides on our website too
So … my encouragement.
Find a few minutes to read the Bible – by yourself or in a pair … just open it up and read (or use one of the 121 guides). Just do it. And if you can find a few more extra minutes to google some context and reflect on how it applies to you … even better. As I said before, if we make the comment to open ourselves up to god’s word … I am sure that God will speak to us. Amen.