Sunday, March 30, 2008
Preserving Bible Times Seminar
On Friday night and Saturday morning, we spent several hours at Lake Murray as part of a great seminar put on by Preserving Bible Times. The subject was "Engaging the Bible in its Context" and the thesis for the four-session seminar was "If we are going to connect with the fuller meaning of a passage today, we first have to know what those words meant to those we meet in the Bible." The theme was (phrased two ways): "Context rescues biblical truth from the familiar" and "When reading the Bible, we see what we know but do not always know what we see."
Preserving Bible Times has assembled one of the finest archives of Bible Times related images in the world, including thousands of high-quality aerial and land photographic images of Bible Times archeology, culture, geography, as well as hard-to-acquire museum pieces. These images and contextual elements allow the Scriptures to increasingly come alive for 21st century people as they did for 1st century hearers. The contexts that we have to pay attention to the historical, cultural, literary, and geographical elements.
We first studied Bible Geography 101, looking at flyover filming of the Galilee District (Galilee, Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, Nazareth, Cana, and Megiddo) and the Central Hill Country (Jaffa/Joppa, Jericho, Bethany, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem). Very cool. Next we studied some familiar Bible passages and their meaning to 1st century Christians, like "the land of milk and honey," the barrenness of Elizabeth and Zechariah, John the Baptist, village culture in the Prodigal Son story, the raising of Lazarus, the Last Supper and the Tri-clinian Table, and the last words of Jesus. We also learned the idea of a "remez": hinted meanings that hearken back to a certain phrase or story earlier in the Old Testament. Modern examples of "remez" are if I start out "Mary has a little lamb," you're going to give the next line, "and his fleece was white as snow," or if I sing, "O beautiful, for spacious skies," you'll sing, "For amber waves of grain, /For purple mountains majesty, /Above the fruited plain." Just a word or two hearkens to something in our culture, and we can finish the line, verse, song, etc. But in the 1st century Jewish culture, everyone knew the Old Testament so well that every young man at his Bar Mitzvah had memorized the entire Old Testament! So just as we can finish a nursery rhyme or a song, the people of the first century could hear a phrase and immediately put it in its context. For instance, the "Son of Man" phrase that Jesus calls Himself over and over refers back to the prophecies of Daniel 7 which tell of the Messiah that is coming. So "Son of Man" equals "prophecies of the Messiah" to the Jewish audiences of Jesus, and they knew whom He was claiming to be. The rabbis and Bible writers were able to use the "remez" 'shorthand' and still invoke the longhand meaning, but as our culture does NOT memorize the entire Old Testament -- and many Christians have never EVEN read the Old Testament at all -- the "remez" intended by the original writer's meaning is lost. There are at least 250 direct uses and many, many more indirect uses of "remez" in the New Testament.
Many of these "shorthand" phrases were explained to us, plus we looked at the entire Middle Eastern Worldview of a Biblical passage, including the history, literary form, linguistic composition, village life, religious culture, Roman culture, Messianic prophecy, the climate, topography, proximities, physical site, and agrarian life. But for us trying to read the Scriptures twenty centuries later, we have a hard time as we've lost the vast majority of the context and instead of gaining a first century eastern mindset, we end up trying to filter the Scriptures through a set of western paradigms: evangelical mindset, churches, denominations, experiences, achievement, and more. So we need to learn how to rightly handle the Word of Truth so that we can be transformed by the Scriptures, and we are to do so by reading the text, adding in original context, kinetic visuals, and cultural insights.
So the Content Restoration Sequence is to: 1) Start with the MACRO CONTEXT (the Really Big Picture OF Scripture), then put in place the 2) MICRO CONTEXT (Prior Conext Assumed by the Writer), then examine the 3) SPECIFIC Context of the chapter/Passage being studied, then 4) Retell the Narrative with Imagination, discern the 5) Original Meaning of the Passage, then discover the 6) Purpose and then Applications of the Passage, then marinate your heart and mind with the passage by use of the 7) Spiritual Disciplines (think Richard Foster), as you alow the Spirit 8) to Transform YOU. In other words, TEXT + MACRO/MICRO/SPECIFIC CONTEXT + RETELLING WITH IMAGINATION + AUTHOR'S INTENT, PURPOSE, MEANING to INFORMATION (reconstruct the narrative) to PENETRATION (spiritual disciplines) to TRANSFORMATION (head, heart, hands = knowledge, understanding, doing).
Next we examined the REALLY BIG PICTURE OF SCRIPTURE, The Five Story Lines of Scripture found in Genesis 1-12: 1) God, 2) Adversary, 3) Mutiny, 4) Human Condition, 5) Rescue and Restoration. After we read a chapter or portion of Scripture, we need to ask ourselves five questions: 1) What do we learn about God and how He does things in the passage? 2) What do we learn about the adversary and how he does things? 3) What have we learned about the nature, character, and consequences of mutiny (rebellion against God/sin)? 4) What have we learned about the essence of the human condition? 5) What have we learned about God's eternal plan of rescue and restoration?
On Saturday, we examined some examples from Scripture in context and asking the above questions after we first learned about parallelism in Hebrew literary forms within the Bible. First we looked at Luke 4 when Christ teaches from the Isaiah scroll and the inverted parallel structure (like "When the GOING gets TOUGH, the TOUGH get GOING"). We discovered that Jesus was a Pharisee (something I had never realized), for only a Pharisee would be allowed to read and teach in the synagogue. He then preached an inverted parallel structure from Isaiah: Proclaim good news(proclaim, P) to the poor; He has sent ME to proclaim release to the captives (social justice, SJ), the regaining of sight to the blind (compassion, mercy, CM), Set free the oppressed (SJ), and proclaim the year's of the Lord's favor (P). So the entire structure is P, SJ, CM, SJ, P -- inverted parallelism. Then we discussed Jesus' encounter with Simon in Luke 5 1-11, Jesus and the Leper (Luke 5:12-16), Jesus and the Paralytic in Luke 5:17-26.
It was a very interesting weekend, one that I won't forget easily, and I would love to do more studies like this one. Context is everything -- which is why I preferred the New Historcism to the Formalism and other brands of literary criticism that ignores the context of a work that will fully inform the meaning. I intend to use many of these tools in our Inductive Study of 2 Peter as well as in my readering n Leviticus. Very cool stuff! We also watched so many cool flyovers of the different geographical areas of Israel, many of which were filmed from helicopters over areas in Palestine that have now been paved over by development.
I took oodles and oodles of notes; in fact, I had to refill my fountain pen between the first two amnd the second two senses. There were many resources also for sale at a table in the foyer, but we could barely afford the admission fee ($25 apiece) so the extra materials were not a possibility right now. My hand is still a bit tired from all the handwriting, even though the fountain pen makes it much easier on my back. About 50 people attended, most of them from Lake Murray, and it was a revolutionary way to look at Scripture (at least, I hope it will be!)