The Bible: New Testament Interpretation (Essay Sample)
In your paper, I would like you to speak about what roles each of the following aspects of interpretation should play when one is “making sense” of the New Testament:
Historical context (1st-2nd centuries): In what way(s) should we attempt to place the texts of the New Testament “in their original historical context”? To what extent are these texts historical documents and what bearing should that have upon their interpretation today? (Ehrman’s book will be a valuable conversation partner here.)
Reader's (that is, your) personal beliefs/convictions: Do you have to “believe in” the content of the New Testament in order to understand it? Why? Or why not? How do your beliefs about what is real and possible influence your interpretations? (Think about Adewuya's article here.)
Community (scholarly/academic, church, or other): In what ways are interpretations not simply individual interpretations, but rather communal interpretations? What expectations (perhaps those set by academic scholarship or a church community) are placed upon what is considered a "good" interpretation? How does the community in which you do your interpreting (including in this class!) impact the kinds of interpretations that you produce? (Wilken might be particularly relevant here, as well as Bielo.)
Social context: In what ways do your own social history and position influence how you regard and, therefore, interpret the New Testament? Reflect on your role not simply as an "individual," but as a someone who is gendered, comes from a particular nation, and shares in a socio-economic class. How ought these social realities impact your interpretation of the New Testament? (Think about the readings from Nicaragua here.)
New Testament Interpretation
The Bible is regarded as the foundation for the Christian faith as it contains texts that are considered ‘holy’ and used to guide Christians from around the world. Despite the Bible containing similar texts, there are various interpretations which are as a result of various factors that influence both the readers and the audience. The Bible texts have long been studied and interpreted by Christians with the primary objective of providing evidence for the foundation of the Christian faith. On the other hand, scholars have long studied and interpreted the Bible with the intention of understanding its origin, historical context, purpose, and circumstances surrounding its development. The New Testament has long been studied and interpreted differently based on factors such as historical context, readers’ personal beliefs, community, and social context. The New Testament has received much attention as it lays the foundation for the birth and spread of the Christian faith.
The New Testament contains books that provide historical accounts of events that describe the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christian faith. Scholars have long tried to interpret the New Testament based on the historical context but due to numerous inconsistencies the task has been challenging and daunting. Therefore, a section of scholars have adopted the view that the events described in the New Testament can only be regarded as myths due to the lack of sufficient evidence to support the accounts (Punt pg. 115-117). This is largely based on the fact that the books of New Testament were written approximately 40 to 60 years after the death of Jesus Christ. As the inconsistencies and lack of evidence plague the Books of New Testament, it is challenging to place the texts in their original historical context. Therefore, reading and interpreting the New Testament as a myth removes the need to place a historical context and rather leaves the texts open for different interpretations. In most of the texts in the New Testament, the life of Jesus is their primary focus and this is largely provided in a narrative form of the events that took place (Ehrman pg. 1379). The different authors who wrote about the life of Jesus used their own interpretation to provide an account of what took place. Therefore, based on the personal interpretation provided by the different authors, it would be challenging to rely on them as historical documents. However, to some extent some of the events and locations mentioned have been discovered, the New Testament still remains less relied as a historical document and more of a myth.
The understanding and interpretation of the New Testament is solely based on the purpose of its reading and the expected outcome. In the case of a believer, the text will be regarded as spiritual and will therefore, be looking for spiritual uplift and guidance. Therefore, in reading and understanding the New Testament, a believer will interpret the texts along the contexts of their faith and will not consider aspects such as facts or reality. On the other hand, a scholar reading the New Testament with the purpose of understanding it without the attachment of faith will view it from a different perspective (Punt pg. 116). A scholar will therefore, question aspects of facts and reality which will influence their interpretation of the text. Therefore, one does not have to believe in the content of the New Testament for them to understand it, but rather will rely on their purpose of reading and the expected outcome. From the perspective of Christians reading the New Testament, the aspects of reality and possibility are not considered as important. Believing in the text indicates that one accepts the supernatural aspects and therefore, things that seem unreal or impossible are easily categorized as the work of the supernatural. Therefore, in the interpretation of the New Testament, Christians rely on their belief to understand events that question the reality and possibility of some occurrence. However, the same cannot be said of scholars who lack the belief and will quickly dismiss events or accounts that are identified as unreal and impossible under normal circumstances. Therefore, the belief or lack of belief of the reader influences their interpretation of the New Testament.
Community impacts how one interprets the New Testament as they provide a foundation for their understanding of the Bible text. In most scenarios, Bible teachings are often carried out in a group where an individual is given the responsibility of reading and interpreting the texts to the audience (Stroope pg. 581). Therefore, in this case, the audience in attendance will have a similar understanding and interpretation of the Bible. Even in early Christianity, the priests were the only people who had access to the Bible and they could read and interpret it to the audience. These settings do not foster individual interpretations but rather a communal interpretation of the New Testament. In each setting of communal Bible interpretation, there is a consideration for what can be described as ‘good’ interpretation. In a church setting, a good interpretation is considered if the reader believes the supernatural workings as stated in the texts. On the other hand, in a class setting, good interpretation is considered to be the one where facts and reality are brought into question with the aim of understanding the events as described in the texts. There are various communities that influence one’s way of interpreting the New Testament. In the case that the different communities do not share the same purpose in their interpretations, an individual may be forced to seek individual interpretation to better understand the texts. For example, the church and class setting may have different interpretations of the New Testament which might cause confusion to the individual caught up between the two communities. Therefore, individual interpretation is encouraged but it rarely occurs due to the communal interpretations that exist around an individual.
Social contexts are great influencers of how the New Testament is read and interpreted by individuals. A person’s social history and position is considered important in the interpretation of the Bible. A person born in a religi
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