Note: This post is a copy of a handout that I will be bringing to Rwanda to help teach pastors there. This handout is on basic Bible interpretation. One of the criteria for all handouts is that the pastors there typically have a 4th-5th grade reading level, so this handout is purposefully geared toward simplicity. I will also be teaching it through a translator, so simplicity works better!
A lesson I am learning about cross-cultural ministry is that different cultures think in fundamentally different ways. The people of Rwanda, and African people in general, think and process in narrative stories far more than in abstract ideas. With that in mind the handouts I am bringing are in narrative form, using a story to teach spiritual truth. This is one of Jesus’ preferred teaching methods, which we call parables.
I would love your feedback on what I have here, and I hope it encourages you!
The pictures and basic outline are from J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word. I know Scott from meeting him at ETS in 2007, and have permission from both he and Danny to use the images and the outline for my handouts. Please do not reproduce this for profit under any circumstances without clearing it with them and with Zondervan. Thanks!
You are reading the Bible, trying to understand it so that you can do what God wants you to do. This is a good idea! But you have a problem. You don’t understand what the message of Ephesians 2:1-10 is. You read it, but don’t know how to live from what it says. You want to be able to live by its words and help the people you love live by them as well.
Imagine that at this moment you receive a gift. You get to travel back to meet with the Apostle Paul! You travel to the city he was in when he wrote Ephesians. You are very excited to get to meet him, and ask him to help you understand what he was saying when he wrote Ephesians 2:1-10.
|Grasp the text in their town|
Paul is very glad to see you and invites you in to his home. He tells you that he is happy to help you know what he meant when he wrote to the Ephesian church. He also tells you that what he is teaching you will help you understand any book of the Bible! He shows you the steps that will work every time you want to be able to understand what God means in the Bible.
He begins by telling you what you must do to understand God’s Word. First, he says that you must understand what the writer was trying to tell his very first readers. When you understand that, Paul says, you will know what message he was giving them. This is very important, he says, because only when you know what he was saying to his readers will you know what he wanted to say.
You’re not sure how to find out what the writer said to his readers. So Paul sits beside you and you both open your Bible. Then he shows you the path. “First,” he says, “Look and see what I really said. You might be tempted to read quickly and get to what I mean, but resist! Stop and see what I was really saying. Observe, look closely. Look again! Really work hard to see what I actually said, because the words are important.
“Next,” Paul says, “Read before and after the passage you are studying. What is the topic I am talking about? What am I teaching on? This is called context, and it is very important. It will give you clues about what I am trying to say to people. Look in the whole book you are reading to see what my ideas and my purpose are. Then think about how this passage fits in with that whole idea.
“You also want to think about what you know about the person who wrote the words. Who is he? What did he do for a living? What is his passion? These can help you find the meaning. Think as well about the people he wrote to. Who are they and what are they like?”
|Measure the River|
You are not done yet though! Now you must find the road home from Paul’s house to your own. There is a river between Paul’s town and yours, he tells you. That river is made up of the difference between your town and Paul’s town. You may have a different culture, a different language, a different time, a different situation, or a different covenant than the first readers. He says that you may be very like them or very different from them, depending on which book you are reading.
|Cross the Bridge|
You don’t want to be stuck in Paul’s town. Now you need to get across the river and back home to your people! You think and think, and run out of answers. Just when you are about to give up hope of getting home Paul gives you an idea. “Why not build a bridge across the river?” Paul asks. He says that the bridge is made of the “big idea” in the passage that you are reading. It is the truth in the passage that any person at any time in any place can use to help them live for God. It is a timeless principle for God’s people.
Now, finally, you have a path home. Paul is very happy for you to head home to your town with the truth that God has taught in the Bible. Because any person can know this truth, you can use it in your home and in your life. In fact, all the people in your town can use this truth to help them live too! No matter who they are, they can take this truth and use it. You cross the bridge over the river and bring this truth home to your town.
|Grasp the text in your town|
“Now you know how to make the journey from my town to yours,” Paul tells you. “You can make it any time you want. This is the beauty of God’s Word; the journey is always there for you to take it.”