Working through a Pre-Understanding of the Text

shutterstock_214176775 We all have our general ideas about Scripture which often can include preconceived ideas on a given passage. As I researched my book, I always began with prayer. I asked God to help me to look at the passage in a fresh way, so that any previous teaching I had heard would not influence how I interpreted the passage myself. Of course it is impossible to "get rid of" the things you already "know." But we must do our best to let the passage inform our understanding, rather than our understanding inform our view of the passage.

In his book, The Hermeneutical Spiral, Grant Osborne states: "The problem is that our preunderstanding too easily becomes a prejudice, a set of prioris that place a grid over Scripture and make it conform to these preconceived conceptions. So we need to "bracket" these ideas to a degree and allow the text to deepen or at times challenge and even change those already established ideas. As readers, we want to place ourselves in front of the text (and allow it to address us) rather than behind it (and force it to go where we want). The reader's background and ideas are important in the study of biblical truth, however, this must be used to study meaning rather than create meaning that is not there."

I used to joke in seminary: "I love it when Scripture backs me up." It was funny to us all because it was a preposterous way to view Scripture, and we all knew it. The beauty of approaching Scripture "fresh" is that now we are open to wonderful new ideas that might not have been found had we stuck to a more superficial reading of God's Word in our assumptions. It is a struggle: even now I find that when I am assigned a passage for a Sunday morning sermon, I still have a tendency to begin by thinking what the applications might be before I even open the text. By the time the assigned Sunday arrives, however, my sermon looks NOTHING like my preconceived ideas. Letting the text guide our understanding opens our hearts to God's leading. It is so very worth it to let Scripture drive our interpretation.

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About juliecoleman

Julie Coleman is an author, teacher, and speaker, focusing on Biblical study and women's ministries. Besides speaking at women's retreats and conferences, Julie has written two books - Unexpected Love and 15 Minutes a Day in Colossians.

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