I just updated the reviews for my upcoming course on biblical interpretation (side bar to your right). So I guess it makes sense to talk about that topic here, on this Friday evening when I want to just put my feet up and relax!
But I do love talking about biblical interpretation… and it’s so deep a well to venture into that one can talk about it for a long time!
So let’s pick a verse and see what happens….
I’m preaching this Sunday so here’s verse 8 from Romans 13 in the NRSV: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
If we’re going to interpret that verse, we might start by reading it in several other translations. In the NIV, it reads: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.
In the KJV, it reads: Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
In the CEV, it reads: Let love be your only debt! If you love others, you have done all that the Law demands.
And in the CEB, it reads: Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law.
There’s some difference there, isn’t there? Like who it is we’re to love? Is it “another,” “others,” or “each other”? Is it enough that we love one other person – will that fulfill the law? Or is it plural – others – how many? all the others? Or is it each other – only those who love us too?
We might also go to some commentaries or research articles. I found a research article that said this verse is the start of a section designed to shake us out of our complacency. And another that said Paul intended this to be ironic! Another said that this verse supports the obedience of the law because doing that is how one shows love to another. And another said that it is part of a political argument Paul is making!
So now instead of one question, we have five! Maybe now we start asking some friends for help. What do they think this verse means? And, if we are blessed with a diversity of friends, we might find even more questions come up. Someone might say this is clearly a recommendation to avoid financial debt while another might think it is clearly a denunciation of Judaic law!
By now you are wishing I had chosen to put my feet up this evening, aren’t you?
Seriously, while it may sound a little daunting, this is just the start of a fascinating and deeply enriching process of biblical interpretation. The process where we start with words on the page but go beyond our own limited understanding of them. And where we can find ourselves encountering God along the way!
If you are thinking about signing up for this course, I strongly recommend reading the rather challenging book before the course begins on September 14th! And I hope to see you there!