I hope the title caused you to want to read at least some of this blog! They have nothing in common except the following story! Check it out …
Once upon a time, six blind men lived in a small village. One day, their fellow villagers yelled, “An elephant is in the village! An elephant is in the village!”
These six sightless men had never experienced an elephant. The idea of an elephant raised their curiosity. Each man determined that since he could not ‘see’ the elephants, each would touch the elephant.
The first blind man grabbed the elephant’s tusk and exclaimed, “An elephants is a spear!”
The second sightless man rubbed the belly of the elephant and screamed,’An elephant is a huge wall!”
The third visionless man put his hands around the leg of the elephant and cried, “An elephant is a post!”
The fourth unsighted man wrapped his hands around the tail of the elephant and shouted, “An elephant is a rope!”
The fifth sightless man reached for the trunk of the elephant and squealed, “An elephant is like a snake!”
The final blind man felt the large ear of the elephant and bellowed, “An elephant is a big hand fan!”
These men began to argue about the elephant with each man insisting he was correct with his assessment of what an elephant was. The longer these men insisted each one was correct, the more agitated the each became. Finally, a bystander intervened and asked, “What are you men arguing over?”
Each man yelled as lough as possible, what they understood an elephant to be. These bling men were quite surprised when the man explained to the them that each man was correct with his interpretation of the what an elephant was because each man touched a different part of the elephant. The elephant was each feature described by the blind men.
The men stopped quarreling and felt happy that each had been correct in his own assessment of what an elephant is.
Now some interpret the moral of the story to be that there may be some truth to what someone says. Each person may have his own view of what is right from their own perspective. So, to avoid arguments, we need to say, “Maybe you have your reasons for thinking the way you do.”
When it comes to interpreting the Word of God – the Bible, we cannot and must not agree that each person can have his or her own view of what a passage means when kept in historical and literary context. If the author wrote with an intended message, the study of historical and literary context demands attention from would be interpreters.
To illustrate the importance of both literary and cultural context, the following story is shared:
A rather old-fashioned lady was planning a couple of weeks’ vacation in Florida. She also was quite delicate and elegant with her language. She wrote a letter to new campground and asked for reservations. She wanted to make sure the campground was fully equipped but didn’t know quite how to ask about the “toilet” facilities. She just couldn’t bring herself to write the word “toilet” in her letter.
After much deliberation, she finally came up with the old-fashioned term “Bathroom Commode,” but when she wrote that down, she still thought she was being too forward. So, she started all over again; rewrote the entire letter and referred to the “Bathroom Commode” simply as the “B.C.”. Does the campground have its own “B.C.?” is what she wrote.
Well, the campground owner wasn’t old fashioned at all, and when he got the letter, he couldn’t figure out what the lady was talking about. That “B.C.” really stumped him.
After worrying about it for several days, he showed the letter to other campers, but they couldn’t figure out what the lady meant either. The campground owner finally concluded that the lady was and must be asking about the location of the local Baptist Church.
So, he sat down and wrote the following reply:
I regret very much the delay in answering your letter, but I now take pleasure of informing in that the “B.C.” is located nine miles north of the camp site and is capable of seating 250 people at one time. I admit it is quite a distance way if you are in the habit of going regularly but no doubt you will be pleased to know that a great number of people take their lunches along and make a day of it…. They usually arrive early and stay late.
The last time my wife and I went was six years ago, and it was so crowded we had to stand up the whole time we were there. It may interest you to know that right now, there is a supper planned to raise money to buy more seats…. They plan to hold the supper in the middle of the B.C., so everyone can watch and talk about this great event….
I would like to say it pains me very much, not to be able to go more regularly, but it is surely not for lack of desire on my part…. As we grow older, it seems to be more and more of an effort, particularly in cold weather…. If you decide to come down to the campground, perhaps I could go with you the first time you go…sit with you…and introduce you to all the other folks…. This is really a very friendly community….
Three critical truths to direct our study of the context behind any passage under study:
Unless the text clearly demonstrates a reason to interpret the passage otherwise, each statement in the biblical text must be understood within its natural meaning in the literary context where it is found.
This context seeks to understand what the author sought to communicate in the context in which it is found. The integrity of the text is critical at this juncture.
Unless the text clearly demonstrates a reason to interpret the passage otherwise, any attempt to interpret the text without the context may lead to a pretext.
A pre-text may be defined as an interpretation that appears to be a valid interpretation of a passage but misses the real heart of the text understudy. Klein et al, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, p. 218 show how this can happen with a silly illustration of 3 texts taken out of context to “prove” one ought to commit suicide:
“Then he (Judas) went away and hanged himself.” (Matt 27:5)
“Jesus told him, “God and do likewise.” (Luk 10:37b)
“What you are about to do, do quickly.” (John 13: 27b).
Abandon the contexts of these three passages, and you can the result is disastrous. It is certainly permissible to quote scriptures to prove a point, but as students of the Word, we must ensure we consider the contexts surrounding our quoted verses.
This is more a caution, but it is worthy of remembering, “The smaller the passage under the microscope of interpretation, the great the possibility of a faulty interpretation.”
The shorter the passage the less information is available to inform the reader of the actual theme the biblical writer is intending for the reader to comprehend. Need anything more than Romans 8:28 or Philippians 4:13.
Whenever possible, seek to keep your study within the context of larger sentences and paragraphs to avoid pretexting a verse and passage. Seek to note how each sentences links itself to the whole theme of the passage, the paragraph, the chapter, the entire book or the entire Bible in order to avoid pretexting!
Help me build a list of pre-texts you hear people use or see on T-shirts or other media week.
William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard., Jr. An Introduction to
Biblical Interpretation: Revised and Expanded, Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2004.