How should faith and reason work together?
What is the purpose of the Bible?
In terms of methodology, the Hebraic method stresses that, in the first instance, we read Scripture … just like any book. Just read it as it stands, accepting the plain meaning of said words, as if we were reading any novel or textbook. This is called the p’shat method, implying straight reading of the text. Questions one should ask when reading the text in this way are: What is the text trying to say in its original context? What do the individual words mean? Why are certain words and phrases used rather than others?
This is just the first of four primary methods the Rabbis advise for Bible reading and interpretation. The others require us to look deeper into the text. By doing so, the following questions need to be asked. What is the meaning of the text and what is its relation to other texts? What are the hidden meanings of the text? Why does the text speak as it does? How do we relate to the text? In what ways does the text reflect or conflict with our own beliefs and values? What about the text do we find problematic or challenging?
Asking such questions may not give you all the answers you want, but they will certainly contribute to a deeper understanding of God’s Word, with the added benefit of sharing this journey with others and bouncing ideas off each other. Ultimately, with such an emphasis on questions and dialogue, the Beit Midrash can perhaps benefit you in ways that you don’t get from other forms of study.
Before we open the pages of God’s Word it is worth seeing how this fits into our developing theme of thinking differently. The first thing to consider is the form of the Bible, what does it mean to people? To some it’s a forbidding tome gathering dust in the bookshelf, alongside those other always-meant-to-but-never-read War and Peace and A Brief History of Time. To others it’s a good book to dip into occasionally. Or perhaps it’s a well-worn staple, always by your side? The function of the Bible reveals its true purpose, though. Although its perceived function may be as a glimpse into God’s purposes, or as a repository of fine stories, its real function from God’s perspective is as the primary means of communication to His people.
The Church hasn’t always got this and many within the Church have used the Bible as a rubber-stamp for their plans and strategies, through the age-old practices of scripture-twisting, quoting verses out of context and eisegesis, where one trawls through the pages of the Book looking for Scripture that seems to agree with ideas that have been birthed within the mind of man. Yet it’s an easy thing to get sucked into, as it’s our natural inclination to do things the wrong way round.
This is an extract from the book, Hebraic Church, available for £10 at http://www.sppublishing.com/hebraic-church-101-p.asp