Years ago while on deputation I started meeting with some friends for a Bible Study on Friday mornings. This was a time of encouragement and challenge from God’s Word, but there was one part that I absolutely could not stand.
After reading the passage one of my friends would look up and say “okay guys what do you think that means?”
I don’t have a problem with discussing the meaning of a passage, however this question (or more common “what does that mean to you?”) hands the interpretation over to every individual at the table. Focusing on our views instead of the passage itself can lead to many conversations that have NOTHING to do with the text!
Instead of screaming “I don’t care what you think!” when someone asks that interpretive question (in love of course) it’s better to explain the difference between meaning, and application
Meaning is what God wishes to say through the human author:
- This is determined by the human author instead of ourselves
- Pays close attention to the grammar, context, and background of the passage
- Clarifies interpretation is outside of ourselves (Scripture is a communication between author and ourselves)
- It does not change
Application on the other hand is our response to the Meaning
- Refers to specific impact upon the reader’s life
- Can be applied to different situations and backgrounds
- This is subjective (can vary from person to person)
Duval and Hays in their textbook “Grasping God’s Word” describes the meaning as a “Theological Principle” or core Biblical truth that can then be applied to daily life. The important thing is finding the theological principle first.
And in order for this to happen we must “what do you think that means?” out of its misery
Instead try using questions like:
- What is the meaning God intended in this text?
- What does this passage mean?
- How should you apply this meaning to your life?
- Or what is God showing us here?
These questions do still involve personal opinion (and can lead differing views) but they bring us back to the text itself as our foundation instead of a persons ideas. And never forget the greatest weapon against “what do you think that means?” is an open Bible, a confused look, and humble question…”where did you find that in the text?”