Do not pick out a raisin, or How to read the BibleDo not pick out a raisin Give out headphones Ask questions Understand all the words Read in context Only at the beginningAdditional materials
Don't pick out raisins, or How to read the Bible
Hello brothers and sisters!
13 years ago, I moved from the Seventh Day Adventist Church to the Orthodox Church. My habit of reflecting on Scripture on my own has played a significant role in this. I did not agree to the ready-made answers and interpretations that Adventists offered me, and drew attention in the Scripture not only to what they were talking about, but also to what they were silent about.
That is, I was led to Orthodoxy by a thoughtful reading of the Scriptures (a similar story happened to a group of Protestants in America in the 1970s and 1980s — this is told in the wonderful book by Peter Gilkvest).
Therefore, I am particularly offended when in the Orthodox environment I encounter an incorrect — that is, simply inattentive — view of Holy Scripture, which often leads to some wild interpretations. And I meet with them often, because for more than 10 years I have been leading evangelical groups for Orthodox. Today I want to share the skills of correct reading of Scripture, which, of course, led me to Orthodoxy.
There are several important conditions necessary for understanding the Bible: it is the grace of God that enlightens us, it is our inner state, and this ability to understand the text as it is written. We will talk about the inner state, as well as about the various patristic approaches to the Scripture in the next issues, and today our topic is how to read as written.
Do not pick out raisins
There are often passages in the Bible that we don’t like. Sometimes the words of Scripture expose us, sometimes they confuse us, sometimes they disagree with our ideas about how the world works. And this is not surprising, because “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways are My ways, says the Lord. But as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts ”(Is 55: 8, 9).
Depending on their Today, it is common for people to choose “raisins” from the Scripture text — what suits them, and not pay attention to everything else. And each "raisin" will have its own.
For some, it is so important that God loves everyone, that he does not see the warning “the ungodly Kingdom of God does not inherit”. For some people, on the contrary, it is so important that the wicked be punished, that he does not notice the words of Christ: “Those who are not healthy have a need for a doctor, but the sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance ”(Lk 5:31, 32). In order not to pick out the raisins, internal honesty is very important. And yet – the ability to see the text as it is, that is – in its own context.
Take out headphones
The importance of the context was well written last time by Volodya Shallar. I can only add that we always perceive any text in context. The problem is that this is often our own context: the context of our experience, thoughts, passions, upbringing, the situation in the country and in the world, and the context of the church culture in which we exist, including the interpretations we read. This is where picking raisins appears. All this prevents us from seeing our own context of the biblical text, just as the music sounding in the headphones prevents us from hearing the person appealing to us. Therefore, the first rule of reading the Bible is to take the headphones out of the ears. To get the most out of my own context, to hear what God says to me through His Word.
To ask questions
A vivid example of “unworn headphones” is a typical reaction of readers to the commandment of Christ: “I tell you: do not resist evil. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him ”(Matthew 5:39). As a rule, after reading these words on the Gospel group, the conversation immediately goes to discussions like “if enemies invaded the country, then they must be repulsed, and in general Sergius of Radonezh blessed Dimitri Donskoy for the battle with the Tatar-Mongols, pacifism is wrong, Leo Tolstoy is betrayed anathema, Ilyin must be read. " However, Christ said this in a world where Sergius of Radonezh and Leo Tolstoy were not yet, and if He Himself is important to us, we need to try to hear and understand Him. Let's try to do this with questions addressed to oneself.
1) So what does it say here? This is the first question to ask yourself about any biblical text you read. Usually you just need to retell the text as close as possible to the text, only to translate direct speech into indirect speech. For example: “In this passage it is said that one should not resist evil, and that if someone hits me on the right cheek, one should turn to him the other as well.”
2) Do I understand correctly? Are all the words I understand here? It often happens that without understanding one or several separate words, we misunderstand the general meaning of a passage or verse. In this case, I do not understand the specific meaning of the word "evil."
3) What do I think about this? This question is needed in order to separate your own context from the biblical. If you do not ask it yourself, "remove the headphones from the ears" will not succeed. In this example, I understand that the commandment to turn the cheek goes against my life experience – I was always taught to give back.
4) Why is it said this and that way? This stage often slips. It is necessary to think about the meaning of what was said in the context of this chapter, the book, the whole of Scripture (a stage that often skips over). Why does Christ give such a strange commandment, what is the point?
5) To whom do these words refer? The question of the limits of applicability of the commandment. In this case, is the commandment to turn my cheek only to my private life, or to public life too? (to the question of the Tatar-Mongols).
6) How does this relate to my life? Ultimately, for the sake of this issue, we read the Scripture
Understand all words
The very first stage, as you remember, was a retelling. Thanks to the retelling and the difficulties of retelling all the incomprehensible places are revealed. At this stage, the mysterious word “evil” rushed into my eyes. So, you need to look at different translations and dictionaries. In the Church Slavonic translation it is said: “Az, do not oppose evil to you with the verb.” The modern translation of the "Good News": "But I say to you: do not revenge the one who caused you evil. If they hit you on the right cheek, turn the left one too. ”
I look in the Greek text. There is the word πονηρός, which means “bad”, “evil, hostile”, “scoundrel, cheater, rogue”, “evil” in general, and also – a surprise! – "evil, that is, the devil." Which value to choose? In my opinion, this is exactly the situation when it is worth turning to patristic interpretations.
Watching the interpretation. John Chrysostom is sure that this is the devil. Efrem Sirin does not dwell on this question, but it can be concluded that he means just an evil person. Theophanes the Recluse believes that this is every kind of evil. Jerome Stridonsky interprets this both literally and allegorically, in the second case he means a heretic as evil.
But it is absolutely clear what it means to "do not resist." The word ἀντίστημι is translated as “resist, resist,” and as “fight, defend.” So, the general meaning of this verse is: “do not resist, do not fight evil, be it an evil person, a devil or evil in general”. Go to the context.
Read in context
The biblical context is of four types: the immediate context of the text, the context of a particular book, where the words we read, the context of the whole Scripture and the cultural-historical context are located.
1) Nearest context. Immediately after the commandment to turn the cheek, the words go: “Whoever wants to sue you and take your shirt, give him your outer clothing; and who will force you to go one mile with him, go with him two. Give to the one who asks from you, and do not turn away from those who want to borrow from you. " Here we see something in common between the commandment of cheek and the subsequent commandments. This common thing is that you do not have to resist when you are hurt or harmed, but you have to give a person more of what he wants to take. Does he want to hit one cheek? You offer him another. Want to take a shirt? Give and outerwear. Makes go one career? Go two. Perhaps, after the words "do not resist evil" there should be a colon and in general they relate to all these situations, and not just to the situation with a blow to the cheek
The question of what is the meaning of all these actions becomes even more insistent.
2) Biblical context. Christ says: “You have heard that it was said: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, Do not resist evil. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. ” The words "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" are spoken in the law of Moses, in the Old Testament. And, in theory, this is the commandment of God. But Christ emphasizes that He says something else. Immediately the question arises – who, if He, makes Himself equal to the God of the Old Testament? Since He is equal to God, then He is God. So we came to an absolutely Orthodox view of who Christ is (this may be useful to us if we ever decide to enter into a discussion with Jehovah's Witnesses). Although, if there was no faith in us and we would not like to recognize Him (on the issue of purity of the heart), we could come to the same conclusion as the Pharisees – that Christ blasphemes.
On the other hand, we can recall the story from the Old Testament about how King Saul pursued David, and David refused to kill Saul and his people (1 Tsar 1-13). We see that already in the Old Testament the behavior of the righteous is consistent with the commandment of Christ. And the Lament of Jeremiah also says: “Good to man, when he will bear the yoke from his youth. He gives his beating to his cheek, he is satiated with disgust (from others) ”(Lamentation 3:30). The Old Testament and the New Testament are one.
3) The overall context of the book. If you read the Gospel of Matthew completely and read a little about him, the situation will become clearer. We will find out and see that Matthew wrote for Jews or Christians from a Jewish environment, and his goal was to explain to them that Christ is God and the very Messiah they were waiting for. Therefore, the Gospel of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Christ, which embeds Him in the Old Testament context; therefore at every turn it says there that this and that happened “let the Scripture be fulfilled”; therefore, in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, it is constantly emphasized that Christ speaks differently than in the Old Testament, while in the parallel place of the Gospel of Luke there is nothing of the kind. (All this can also be told to Jehovah's Witnesses, although this is unlikely to help. It’s not customary for Jehovah’s Witnesses to reflect on Scripture on their own, but to make use of ready-made interpretations and pull quotes out of context).
4) If we take the historical context, interesting things will come to light. For example, that the words about the double field had a very specific content. Judea of the time of Christ was under the authority of the Roman Empire and was occupied by the occupying Roman troops (like many other countries). In Judea, many did not like it, so uprisings against foreign invaders constantly broke out there. And there was a law that any Roman warrior can take any person from the occupied territories and force him to carry him, a warrior, a burden for one field (1000 double steps).
So what does Christ say here? And what does he not say? He does not say that the enemies of the Fatherland cannot be loved. He says that it is necessary to build a relationship with an invader forcing you to something as well as with a person who causes you a personal insult (cheek) or commits a criminal offense against you (clothing). And it completes this thought (context!) By loving the enemies.
Just the beginning
See how much we have learned from one verse, when we began to look at him and to his own context. Meanwhile, we have not yet discussed:
context of verse 40: “and whoever will sue you and take a shirt from you, give him your garment” (Matthew 5:40); context of verse 42: "Give to the one who asks from you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (Matthew 5:42); the context of the whole chapter, as well as the whole of the Sermon on the Mount; the cultural context of the commandment of the cheek; why the Jews, compared with all other nations, did not particularly like the rule of the Romans; why and why Christ gives such scandalous commandments – because then they sounded no less crazy than they are now.
I suggest that you yourself look for information about all these contexts and think about why and why Christ gives such commandments, what is their meaning. This can be done both independently and with the help of patristic interpretations. I would be glad to read about your findings and ideas in the comments.
Scripture in our life
I also propose to think about the last question – how does all this relate to our life? With reference to this verse, questions can be specified. What evil is there in your life now and how should you react to it in the light of this commandment? How do you react in life to evil? As a result of my research and reflection on this verse in the process of writing a letter, I saw that I always strive to fight and resist. This is my first and typical reaction – "we must fight." A lot of effort is spent on this, and the result is almost zero. Therefore, now I will try to change my approach and vice versa – not to resist and give more.
Information about the biblical context can be found in the parallel verses of Scripture (available in almost any Bible, including online). I especially recommend the AllBible resource, where when you click on a verse, a window opens with different verse translations, the ability to see the meaning of the words of the verse in ancient Greek and Hebrew, as well as parallel places. Various patristic interpretations of the verse can be viewed on the website "Exeget". And for general acquaintance with the historical and cultural context, I would recommend:
The textbook "Four Gangs" by Archbishop Averky (Taushev); The book "Christ and the Church in the New Testament" by the priest Alexander Sorokin; The book "On the Bible and the Gospel" by hieromonk Louis (Buje); A course of lectures by Abbot Iannuarii (Ivliev) on the theology of the New Testament; cultural and historical commentary on the New Testament.
The approach described by Tanya can be used both for individual reading of the text and on the group reading the Scripture. Since I am lazy and uninteresting, participation in gospel groups for me is the main place where I can learn to better understand the Scripture. And I was very lucky to participate in these groups together with Tania and see the implementation of this approach in practice.
If something from the above seemed to you interesting, important, or, conversely, vague and controversial – please, speak in a blog. Both Tanya and I will be very happy to discuss this article with you.
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