Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Biblical Interpretation: Day 1

I know I really enjoy biblical classes and I thoroughly enjoyed the biblical interpretation class today. Compared to the Christian Theology class I attended, I think I can conclude that I enjoy biblical classes more. I will think of a reason why later. Right now, I am just too exhausted, especially after spending about 3 hours on our daily assignment on a textual criticism of Luke 10:1 and Ephesians 1:1.

Here is a gist of what I have learnt today:

There is a tendency these days that Scripture is wrongly applied and even abused. We therefore need to sharpen our skills in biblical interpretation in order to be more in the alert when we read, when we are in discussion with others on biblical texts and even when we sing songs. Songs take a very important and crucial part of our lives – for example it is during our hard and difficult times that songs stay close to our heart. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the songs we use are at least theologically sound. An example, KarYong, our lecturer gave was this song entitled, My All in All. In one of its verses, there is this line which says, “taking my sin, my cross, my shame”. We will have no problems with the first and the third, but the second is questionable since we are required to take up our own crosses. When we sing this song, it seem to imply that we do not even need to bear the cross anymore because Christ has taken it.

When we read the bible, there are many gaps we encounter: linguistic, cultural, geographical and historical. In reading the bible, context must first and foremost be established.

We all come to the bible with our own presuppositions, be it our culture, our church tradition, our social upbringing, our values. These are the elements that we bring along when we read the bible, which will greatly influence what we read. We have our own lenses when we read the bible and we need to be aware of the lenses used by ourselves and others.

For example, just imagine putting together a Methodist, an Anglican, a Brethren and a Presbyterian to study the Eucharist. It will definitely be quite an intense debate.

The questions for reflection thrown at us are these: what are my own presuppositions? What is my view on the authority, the inspiration, the sufficiency of the bible? How can the Word of God be relevant to me?

This is relevant for me because I do have a friend who is more inclined to the Pentecostal tradition and the Prosperity Gospel. I have come to a stage where I decided to still regard her as a good friend even though both of us use quite different lenses in our biblical and theological understanding. But do I need to go further than just accepting it, that we just use different lenses and that’s it? And what will happen if I go forward to "correct” other her lenses? Do I have a right to do it in the first place, to decide my lenses are better than hers? This rings in the same tone some questions I had during one of the Christian Theology classes.

We also did some work on observation of several texts. We were broken into several groups and our group was given Acts 1:8. We were required to produce 50 observation points from just that one verse. It was not easy but I think we managed it, albeit barely. Kar Yong however, commented that he can get 100 observations from just that one verse! I am not sure if I can even muster more than the 50 we did, it was even questionable that we even did 50 because we did not really number them! But it was a really good exercise.

Textual Criticism
Then came the more technical side of biblical interpretation: textual criticism. I learnt quite a bit here as I discovered how to read the footnotes in my Greek bible in identifying the manuscripts that accounts for the variants in the reading.

Kar Yong gave some examples of textual variants and one that interests me most is this one on 1 Cor 11:24.

The KJV reads, “And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me,” while the NASB version reads, “and when he had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” All my life as a Christian, this phrase “broken for you” has been deeply imbedded in me. If I am not mistaken, it is in our Methodist communion readings (I have to find out to confirm if this is true) and I have been singing this song, “This is my body, broken for you, bringing forgiveness, setting you free, take it and eat it and as you do, do it in love for me.” On top of that, during communion, the minister who gives out the bread, in the form of wafer, literally breaks it before giving it out to us.

And now I am being told that the phrase “broken for you” should not be there as it was added onto the later manuscripts which KJV was based on. I would agree because Jesus was not broken. John 19:36 reads, “For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.” Even though we may say that the bread is broken, Jesus’ body is not. The phrase “this is my body, broken” would imply that the verb broken would modify “body” and not “bread”. I am convinced.

We concluded with Kar Yong blessing us with an assignment on textual criticism. We were required to conclude based on external textual data evidence (those variants provided in the Greek text) and on internal evidence of the text whether Jesus sent out seventy or seventy-two disciples (Luke 10:1) or if “in Ephesus” was an original text or a later addition? It took Lee Mei and I three hours to get these done, but it was fun, at least for me.

More Work
Not forgetting also that in the morning, we were given some Historical and Cultural Context Study questions to choose from and I chose this:

Read 2 Timothy. How does it provide clues for the season for the writing and Paul’s imprisonment condition? Find out facts about Roman prison.

More tomorrow.

Picture from


  1. Pearlie, It sounds like you are in your element. You are learning some interesting things. I never thought of this - the form we use for the Lord's Supper says "At his last supper, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.'"

  2. I checked it today as we did have chapel today and communion as well and it is without the word "broken" but I am quite sure it was there before though.