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HERMENEUTICS


Before explaining hermeneutics two questions will be addressed briefly – Why Read and
How to Read the Bible.
 


Why read the Bible?
 

The Bible is not one book but a library of history, law, songs, poems, tracts, prophecies, stories, biographies, letters, written in different languages over thousands of years. It is about the nature and purpose of mankind, and the restoration of his relationship with the Creator, leading to reconciliation between individuals, families, nations and also the physical world in which we live.

It is therefore essential reading - God speaks to us through it and reveals Himself and Jesus Christ.

We learn about the history of this reconciliation process, Salvation, and how to receive it.

God gives us guidance, principals to follow for every aspect of life.

Specifically concerning the topic of Development the opening chapters of Genesis, the Old Testament Law and the ethical teaching of the New Testament give many principals concerning development. Even in passing the rest of the Bible often has passages which are also relevant to development.
 


How to read the Bible
 


It is therefore important to read the whole Bible, and this can be accomplished in one year by reading about three chapters per day. However to begin at Genesis chapter 1 and read through to Revelation chapter 22 is very hard going and not helpful.

A good way to read the Bible is to take three passages per day, one from the Old Testament Law, and one from the Prophecies, interspersed with psalms, and one from the New Testament. This is much easier to read and gives a balance of reading from the beginning. An outline Bible reading schedule is given in the bibliography.

As well as for its spiritual value the Bible is an important part of Britain and Europe’s cultural history, development and heritage, and the basis of our legal system.

At some time or other the question of how we interpret the Bible comes up, and how to apply it, not just to our personal and church lives, but in politics, medical ethics, world development and even architecture.


SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY
 
 


In applying the Bible to architecture, or indeed any other topic, there are two ways of learning from the Bible. We can consult it for answers to our questions or we can read it systematically to see its teaching on the theme.

Using the first method we look up verses containing words related to our subject. But this can miss important relevant passages which don’t contain those words or ideas. Or we can read the whole Bible on the look out for anything which seems relevant to our question or subject. Obviously this takes longer, and may take a year! You will not find substitute mothers or dysfunctional families in a concordance (Bible index) but it is all there in Genesis.

To take a simple case to illustrate this someone may ask if it is right to murder another person. A quick word search brings up the ten commandments with its prohibition on murder. Other verses may be found which allow or even call for killing, but are not found under murder. And because there are many translations verses may be missed, for example where James writes about people killing/committing murder to obtain what they want/covet. The ten commandments do not make this point of coveting leading to murder. Reading the whole Bible would reveal these and other related passages.

Nevertheless we can still misunderstand the Bible’s teaching. An example relevant to architecture is Ellul’s book The Meaning of the City. Ellul argues that God takes man’s invention of the city, something therefore evil, and baptises it. Rather it is something good from God which man misuses as Satan corrupts it. These two concepts of the city are almost opposites.
 


HERMENEUTICS
  at last!

 


This brings us to the subject of hermeneutics, how the Bible is interpreted. While there are legitimate varied interpretations on minor matters, it is vital that the great themes of Creation, Fall, Redemption and the Kingdom of God are correctly understood.

The first and greatest commandment is not to accept interpretations which contradict other passages. This is not as easy as first appears as there are apparent contradictions, sometimes made by taking things out of context; but often because there are complementary passages to be held in tension.

We should approach God’s word prayerfully and ask His help in understanding it in depth. Passages should be read in more than one translation and first be understood in their original context before applying them to today. The underlying principles are more important than the particular story or law which may be culturally specific and not of universal application. Ask whether other passages and Christian history support your interpretation.

Secondly every theologian, every Christian, interprets the Bible from their own cultural background. One valuable result of foreign travel is to realise that there are equally valid ways of doing things, and of language study that there are different ways of thinking.

For example Indians eat with their fingers because they know where they have been – do you know where the cutlery has been?

The Marxist interpretation of Exodus in South America as a paradigm for political liberation may not have been correct theology, but did remind the European church of its Eurocentric theology and of the need social justice, particularly in the treatment of developing countries. The Old Testament, especially the prophets and Proverbs have much to say on the topic.

The Book of Revelation is most prone to misinterpretation, particularly if the sequence of visions is taken as then, then, then…. a sequence in time. It makes much more sense if then, then, then…. is understood as a series of visions making the same point. This book is relevant to architecture, not necessarily for its picture of the New Jerusalem, but for our understanding of building God’s kingdom.

Finally the parables which mention architectural themes, building on rock not sand, or counting the cost before starting, are taken as self evident truths which Jesus uses to make spiritual points. Much about architecture is found from the Old Testament ethical teaching in the Law, Proverbs and Prophets. The New Testament takes this as given and does not repeat it.

Arxitecture’s Mission Statement is about the purpose of architecture in its cultural and social justice context, not directly about its constructional or technical aspects. Much of it is derived from the Old Testament, and promotes an ethical approach. As with politics Christians may/should agree on their aims but often differ in the technical means of achieving them.



 


Recommended books
 
The Bible - a reading schedule
January – March
April – June
July – September
October – December


Why Trust the Bible by A Orr-Ewing, IVP 2005

The Word Illustrated Bible Handbook by E P Blair, Word Publishing 1987

Essential 100 – Your Way into the Heart of the Bible by W T Kuniholm, Scripture Union 2004

The History of Christian Thought by J Hill, Lion 2003

www.bible-interpretation.com
 

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