Since the 1st Wednesday of August (2022) I have been conducting weekly Bible studies at a Baptist Church in south Florida on Reading the Bible Meaningfully. We have been exploring the basics and beyond to help the brethren make better sense of their Bible reading and Bible study.
Basics such as, though the Bible is a sacred book it is primarily a piece of literature and must be approached with an awareness of what I call the 5Ws in my Bible Made Simple course.
What are these 5Ws? Who. Whom. What, When, Why, that is, who wrote the book to whom, what was written(kind/genre and text), when and why. The kind of literature needs to be ascertained since the proper reading approach will depend on that.
Having a grasp of biblical idioms and figures of speech is critical though easily overlooked by Bible readers.
Just as easily forgotten by Christians as well as Bible critics are the writing conventions of the era in which the texts were written and the more than basic point of the nuances of the biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) for proper interpretation.
An ongoing bone of contention/controversy is the genre/type of literature that the Old Testament book of Genesis is, especially in the first two chapters. Readily assuming that these early chapters are explanatory or origin myths is too facile and based on English language literature because a Hebrew narrative/historical account is marked by certain linguistic features that are evident to one familiar with the Hebrew of Genesis 1-2, even if one disagrees with the intent of the author(s.).
The late celebrated Oxford University Hebraist, James Dunn, based on his theological outlook disagreed with the authorial intent of Genesis 1-2 as history but acknowledged that intent based on the peculiar markers of a historical narrative in Hebrew. Such markers are not easily explained here, regrettably.
Barr said in a letter to David C.C. Watson, 23rd April 1984: “ … probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:
- creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience
- the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
- Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.”
It is regrettable that so very few trained/degreed clergypersons have done a basic course in Hebrew and most of the few if they did Greek have forgotten most of it.
Small wonder then that congregations are clueless on how to read the Bible meaningfully and the unchurched are befuddled at the plurality of conflicting interpretations of the Bible.