Exegesis of Scripture
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
26 Dec 2016
How one reads the Bible parallels to how one reads philosophy where points being made may be interpreted by people in different ways based upon a number of factors (e.g. historical context of writers, cultural context of readers, originalism or experiences). There is, however, a distinct difference between items from Plato or Hobbes versus the Gospels or the verses of Isaiah. Canonization, levels of faith, Scripture as a living text, and emotions may also influence how we come to the Scripture. As well, we have to consider the congregation perspective. With the many influences upon the text, we can find more ways the Word can teach us.
Through my work as a Deacon and Stephen Minister, I have learned how people come to worship with different expectations and also how they come to faith and life challenges in diverse ways. This extends into Scripture hermeneutics. A minister may interpret the scripture with many things in mind, including doubt, which challenges prevailing interpretations of traditions and the Bible. Yet, we have to be able to relate that interpretation or challenge to the diverse experiences currently in and around the congregation. Then, we may question the congregation about aspects of the story that may have not been considered yet.
Therefore, we have to consider what the conditions of the congregation are, in addition to our own. For example, when the recent shooting took place in Orlando, we might need to see how a praising scripture lesson in the lectionary relates to people’s sorrow and bitterness. Whatever is closest in mind of people can have a dramatic impact to how that relates to the Word. Thus, nuances in the text in the Word might give comfort and be transformational to people in serious need.
By bringing the Word into current contexts, people can recognize the living Scripture and how God is still speaking rather than the Word being stuck in ancient times. We can see the canon reveal to us stories and ideas that transcend time, generations and culture. Transcendence becomes useful to relating the Word to the people.
My experience of attending two different Good Friday services shows this idea. One sermon interpretation was focused upon rhetorical symbolism of dying for sins, but the emotional and relevant impact was somewhat lost in the rhetoric. I did not feel what befell Jesus or understand the connection to today. The second helped to bring the torture and pain of Jesus into the room with us in attendance. In this interpretation, one could feel the horror and pain of Jesus on the cross and how that state execution story transcends to today. This presented the execution in terms of modern uses of torture as social devices to quiet revolutionary speech. With that day on the cross, we were taught a lesson (one often forgotten) about great missions that have powerful legacies. We were taught an ugly truth about humanity that wants to quiet (at all costs) great ideas that can free people from suffering.
Also, using story scenarios to vary the characteristics of the text helped to change the literal into something more culturally relevant. By using a scenario of a news reporter on a passage, I found a way to tell the story of the text in a way that I had not previously considered. This provided literal dialogues with the Scripture by asking characters in the story what they felt, heard or saw. There are potential reflections in the stories that may change over time and become more relevant to cultural contexts of today. Again, with the Good Friday lesson, what if we asked the people in the crowd witnessing the execution of their emotional impact?
These ideas help me to pay attention to aspects of the story described in the text. These characters, plot points and settings are specific symbols that people may also interpret differently. In addition, scholarly commentaries and dictionary references can help to find more paths from the text in order to expand views and contexts.
In writing a sermon looking at Isaiah 6, I found myself writing and talking about service, and I realized that I was describing aspects of my dad. It was challenging since this sermon was foreboding of the reality of my dad’s situation because I delivered a version of the sermon at his funeral vigil. With that, I had to tailor to the congregation in attendance (one, an interfaith group at a retirement home and two, a prominently Catholic group at the funeral). These groups understood and heard things in different ways, but the theme of service, Isaiah’s feelings of unworthiness, and calling by God were universal. The challenge was to maximize the themes for the greater benefit of all.
When reviewing the Scripture in Matthew 4, some of my knowledge of Asian traditions that have distinct parallels became relevant to the plight of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). There is a remarkable similarity in the path of awakening started by times of fasting by the Buddha, fasting by Moses, and fasting by Jesus. This is an important time in the mission of Jesus while he was praying and fasting to begin ministry where many lofty things were in reach, thanks in part to his relationship to God. Even more, this story of Jesus is similar to people facing ugly questions of life and temptations that make us consider the worthiness and reality of an easier, shinier path versus the right thing to do.
The Bible brings to us many stories, experiences and ideas about humanity that we are challenged to find the message of God that is speaking to us. The Scriptures may have been written centuries ago, but the message and the ideas live in us today. The question for us is how to make that inspire us and lift us while remembering the sacrifices of Jesus, the prophets and the Disciples as well as the importance of that message they sought to bring to us.