Sunday, January 2, 2011

Reading the Right Scriptures, I of II

Reading the Right Scriptures, I of II
January 3, 2010
Jeremiah 29:11 "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

For anyone reading scriptures from the Bible, it is important to perform some due diligence to truly understand the author's intended meaning. Yes, the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but it was written by men, across thousands of years, all of whom had different writing styles. It requires interpretation, when reading the Bible, to understand what God wanted to originally communicate through His words. Interpretation is not always easy and sometimes the same scripture could be interpreted many different ways by many different people. And yes, Christians can and do interpret scripture incorrectly at times.

For instance, King Solomon declares in Ecc. 2:4, "'I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.'" At first this seems pretty straight forward, suggesting that Solomon was the one who built the houses and vineyards for his own enjoyment. But it is extremely doubtful and improbable that a king actually picked up a hammer to literally build the house. There is limited reasoning to suggest that a king grabbed a shovel and physically planted his own vineyard. In this instance, a literal translation of the Bible is not valid because Solomon most likely employed people to build and create for himself; he even had slaves. If he had slaves, why would he dig a ditch to plant some grapes in rocky soil? Yes, Solomon could take the credit for having the houses built, but not for the physical construction. The Bible is not trying to lie and deceive us, but it is easy to read things incorrectly. In this instance, you and I probably do not presume to be fooled that Solomon was the actual laborer in the task, but it is a point we should all consider when reading other Scriptures.

There is a particular Scripture that is often misquoted or misinterpreted by Christians and pastors and preachers alike. It is Jeremiah 29:11, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" When reading this scripture and applying it, many people decide it means God wants to physically prosper anyone who reads it. I've heard many preachers quote this verse from the pulpit to parishioners, leading many people into believing this scripture was written and directed toward them. In fact, this scripture was written to a very specific group of people who were taken captive from their homeland and were fearing probable extinction in a foreign land. But God had other plans for them; He protected them and allowed them to be fruitful as a people group. It was from that original small band of people that Jesus Christ descended. Jesus as the Messiah, from their bloodlines, was the "hope and a future" God was talking about when He spoke those words to the captives through the prophet Jeremiah.

While God may or may not want to prosper you, He does not want you to get the wrong understanding from reading Jeremiah 29:11, or any other verse for that matter. If you read Jeremiah 29:11 and think God was writing this verse specifically for you and wanting to prosper you through it, then He would also like you to build a giant Ark out of Gopher bark and fill it with two of every kind of animal for a pending flood. This sounds silly, but we can't read the Bible both ways, only when it is convenient and pleasant for us. If we did this, we could pick and choose what we wanted to understand about God and His Word for our lives.

Understanding Scripture is not always easy; learned men can come to many different understandings of the same verse. I've been wrong on many occasions, throughout my life, in trying to understand God's Word. But this will not stop me from seeking answers to life's tough questions within the pages of God's precious Words. I would encourage you to do the same.

1. How would you interpret Jeremiah 29:11?
2. How can you ensure you are understanding and interpreting Scripture correctly?
3. What additional sources do you consult when trying to understand the Bible?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Ecc 2,Jer 29, Acts 8:26-40, 2 Tim 3:16

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