I recently had an interesting conversation with someone named Dan about the value of exegesis and the role of the Holy Spirit in helping us understand God’s Word. I made the argument that faithfully studying the context, author, purpose, audience, and even the languages can help us to more fully understand a text. This doesn’t negate the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the words on the page but I think these language and contextual tools are helpful.
I agree that there is certainly value in studying the original language and historical aspects of a text, but I would lean toward those being nonessential, because ultimately The Bible is nothing but words without God’s Spirit working in the heart of the reader/hearer.”
I wouldn’t say they are nonessential. I would even say that they are essential because without them we wouldn’t even have an English translation. Further, I would say that the more questions we ask of a text and the more we can use cultural and contextual and linguistic tools to help us answer them, the more faithful we are as students of the Word.
When we get a letter in the mail it’s helpful to know the author, the recipient(s), the subject, the purpose, etc. Why wouldn’t we also employ what we know about a biblical text to help us more fully understand the message? Especially since that text is from a culture years removed from ours today. There is a lot of insight that can be gleaned just from doing 5 minutes of research from a commentary or with a word study. Again, no seminary education necessary just a healthy desire to meditate on and study God’s Word.
One Sunday I was preaching on Hebrews 10:24-25. It starts with “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,”. There’s no doubt that this is a pretty straightforward verse but after meditating and praying and studying, God gave me some insight into this text that wouldn’t have come simply from the NIV.
Tool: Sentence Structure
First, as I looked at the structure of the sentence in Greek, I discovered that ‘one another’ is the direct object of the verb that is translated ‘consider’. So, ‘let us consider one another‘ rather than ‘consider how to…’ This makes it a people orientation rather than a task orientation. This text is telling us to think about the people, not the plans.
Tool: Word Study
Next I looked at the word ‘consider’ that can also be translated ‘understand’. So, let us understand one another. We need to spend time with one another to do that. We need to care about one another to do that. This is a passage about Godly fellowship.
Finally, I discovered that the author of Hebrews only uses ‘consider’ two times but in Hebrews 3:1 the NIV translates it like this: “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus…” So in chapter 3 he tells his audience to fix their thoughts on Jesus and in Hebrews 10 he tells them to fix their thoughts on one another. The parallel is obvious and it brings to mind the Great Command of Jesus to love God and to love one another. I love the idea that we should be fixing our thoughts on Jesus and on one another!
So, from this passage I get the following exhortation: Let us fix our thoughts on one another and really understand one another so that love and good deeds are provoked naturally. We don’t want to just come up with strategies and plans or a system to fit everyone into some sort of ministry structure, we want to fix our thoughts on one another.
Where was the Holy Spirit in all of this? He’s all over it. From inspiring the original authors, to preserving the text through the ages, to equipping faithful translators, to my own thinking, study and proclamation and everything in-between. So, can the Holy Spirit speak through my NIV? Of course, but the question is, are we using as many tools at our disposal to listen?
What do you think? Are Greek and Hebrew and archaeology and context and culture nonessential when it comes to understanding the Word of God? Aren’t these tools a form of listening and if we have access to these tools shouldn’t we employ them? Or do we reject them and just trust that the Holy Spirit will fill in the gaps of our ignorance?