Category Archives: interpretation

Interpretive challenge: Luke 14:26

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (NASB)

At some point in many small group Bible study leaders life, they will run into this verse. Or maybe someone in your group will ask you about it when they read it in their personal reading of the Bible.

How do you respond?

Recall the key to interpretation is context. In this case there are two types of context that helps guides our thinking: (1) the literary context and (2) the textual context.

By literary context, we mean that Jesus as a master teacher employs various methods of teaching. He gave pithy sayings, used similes/metaphors/analogies, engaged in question-answer, shared parables, spoke in hyperbole, etc.

In this case, Jesus utilized hyperbole to make a point.

And what was the point?

Looking at the textual context in and around this “hard saying,” we find out Jesus is talking about the cost of discipleship.

If the context of his teaching was honoring your father and mother, this statement in Luke 14:26 would be contradictory. One would suspect Jesus would explicate honor your parents in a completely different way using different words and teaching devices.

However, in the context of teaching about the cost of discipleship and taking into account the literary device of hyperbole, we catch Jesus meaning: God first – “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (NASB) Luke 14:27


What is the Fruit? John 15

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John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (NASB)

In the typical small group study, the question will be asked by either the group leader or a participant, “What is the fruit being talked about here?”

There are two likely answers people will come up with:  (1) the fruit of new believers as a result of our testimony and (2) the fruit of a changed life.

So what are some rules to guide interpretation – determining the meaning of a particular portion of the Bible?

One step to consider is how similar words/ideas are used elsewhere in the Bible.

Fruit of a changed life is a fairly easy interpretation to offer since Paul uses the imagery of “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control …”

Sticking with the idea of using Paul’s terminology of fruit we should also look at Colossians 1:3-12 where fruit is used twice.

We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit. For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

In this case, the idea of fruit of a changed life could be extended to fruit of good works. However, in the earlier usage in the Colossians passage, the context of the advancement of the gospel points to the fruit of new believers in Jesus Christ.

Another step is to look at the immediate context – things before and after the Bible verse in question.

There are two striking features in the immediate context here.

One is the linking of ideas:
1) abide -> fruit (v. 4)
2) bear fruit -> prove to be my disciples (v. 8)
3) abide in my love -> keep my commandments (v. 10)
4) this is my commandment -> love one another just as I have loved you (v. 12)

As you can see in 1 & 2, abide leads to proving to be my disciples and in 3 & 4 abide in my love leads to loving one another.

And if you go back to John 13:35, Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The other is the “word play” of vv. 2-3:
pruneAs you can see, these three Greek words look/sound similar though they have slightly different meanings. The experience of abiding means the Father prunes us (v. 2). The reality of abiding is that the words of Jesus cleans us (v. 3).

Taking all of these things together would suggest the fruit is a changed life and in particular changed toward loving one another.

What do you think?

Interpretation – When are the “last days?”

One challenge we face in the interpretation of the Bible is that sometimes we may jump to certain ideas about what the Bible is saying based on some preconceived ideas about what things mean.

Think of the phrase, “the last days.”

What comes into your mind?

For many, the thought is “the last days” equals “the end of the world just before Jesus returns.” As such some would say “the last days” is still in the future. Or some might say, “the last days” are just beginning now.

What does “the last days” mean in Acts 2:17-21?

‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.
‘And I will grant wonders in the sky above
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
‘The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.
‘And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (NASB)

The first rule of Bible interpretation is: context, context, context.

And so what is the context of this passage?

Take a look at the material just before it in Acts 2:1-16.

Briefly, the context is the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the gathered faithful and they began to speak of the mighty deeds of God in various languages. Some of the observers were amazed at this event while others thought those speaking were drunk with wine. Peter responded in Acts 2:14-21 saying the people aren’t drunk as it is 9AM in the morning and instead what is happening is a fulfillment of a prophecy in Joel.

And so when is “the last days” in this passage?

It was actually the very moment of Pentecost nearly 2000 years ago!

Thus, in some Bible verses, the last days are not the end of the world just before Jesus returns but rather the era of time marked by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which happened at Pentecost and continues to this day for any who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus the Christ for salvation.

While we are at it, go to Hebrews 1:1:-2.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (NASB)

Here the last days are the times marked by God speaking through His Son.

Thus, perhaps, in some passages, “the last days” is the time in salvation history inaugurated by the first coming of Jesus?

What do you think about this possibility?


What to make of the Genealogies of Jesus?

In the video below, Professor Craig Kenner of Asbury Theology Seminary discusses the significance and meaning of the genealogies of Jesus.

Interpretation – translations and context and the meaning of words?

In Bible study, observation is gathering the facts about a Bible text one is looking at. Interpretation is figuring out what it means. One key thing to do is determining the meaning key words in the text. Sometimes the Bible translators will help out with that task.

Let’s take a look at Colossians 2:18-23 (NIV) …..

18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. 20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Let’s take a look at Colossians 2:18-23 (NASB)

18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. 20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence .

As you can see here, the NIV translation uses two different words while the NASB uses only one word.

What is going on?

The Greek word in question is: σαρκὸς. This is Strong’s Greek word number 4561 sarx. Thus, in the Greek text, there is only one word in question. Depending on context, that word could have different shades of meaning. In v. 23, the meaning is “the animal nature with cravings” while v. 18, the meaning is “the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence.”

As you can see the two translation teams made different choices in terms of English words. In the NASB case, they opted to stick closer to the Greek word and used the same English word. While the NIV opted to get at the meaning of the word and thus used two different English words to render the one Greek word. This is a decision that is constantly in front of Bible translators to balance translating the thoughts and the words.

As such, it is always a good idea, if possible, when studying the Scriptures, to have two translations at different points of the spectrum of the word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation spectrum. And, if you feel ambitious, be ready to go to the internet and find the Greek or Hebrew behind the English translation!spect

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