How should we understand the letters of the New Testament?

Hermeneutics (How we study the Bible)

–  contextualization process for the epistles  (moving from the ancient text to our modern application in the letters of the New Testament):

 

How can we read ancient letters in the Bible and find their meaning for us today?  That’s what these following steps seek to help us do.

The letters written in the New Testament were written to a specific group of people (often within a specific city) at a particular time and dealt with issues that were current for them at the time of writing.  And, while we live in a different context and deal with other issues, the message of God to those first recipients has powerful truth and guidance for us today as well.

The problem is: how do we get to that timeless truth in the midst of a time specific written letter?

What’s here is not necessarily easy or quick, but it is a good way.  And hopefully it will help keep us from falling off on the side of literalism (trying to mimic life in first century Roman/Greek/Jewish culture) or the side of skipping passages we don’t understand what to do with.

As always, I encourage you to do this with others.

 

  • Historical – “what it meant”
  1. Determine the surface message – the original meaning of the passage to its ancient context/audience.
  2. Study the underlying theological message – not systematic theology, but theological exegesis.
    1. What deeper theological truth is Paul articulating through his surface message?
  3. Study the situation that caused Paul to emphasize his points in the text.

 

  • Contextual – “what it means”
  1. Seek to find parallel situations in the modern world – those areas that fit what is behind the text.
  2. Decide if the text should be understood as principle – generally.
  3. Or if the passage is to be understood as specific – just as the surface text.

 

Basic Rules:

  1. A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or his readers.
  2. Whenever we share comparable particulars (for example, similar specific life situations) with the first-century setting, God’s Word to us is the same as his Word to them.

 

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