Interpreting Scripture

Most readers of the Bible acknowledge that understanding the historical context of the original writers is useful, if not critical, to glean meaning. This means that we would be wise to try and learn who wrote it, what was happening in their world as they were writing, and to whom they were writing. However, we should acknowledge that some biblical texts, like the inspiring poetry of many of the prophets, can legitimately communicate a meaning to the original audience and yet inspire a reader from a different time and culture to find a different meaning appropriate to his or her worldview. For example: In Chapter 7 of the book of Isaiah, the prophet is warning King Ahaz of the dangers of pursuing alliances with foreign nations and suggests that he seek a sign from God such as the hopeful perspective of a young woman who would select for her newborn child a name that means “God is with us.” First century messianic Jews who believed that Jesus was the long-awaited messiah saw in these words a prediction of how Jesus could embody the very nature of God in their midst. Today, during Advent, we read these verses and sing our hymns calling for Emanuel to come to us, recognizing that both interpretations consistently testify of a God who longs to be present in our lives.