Paula Deen is an expert on fried chicken. As a bona fide, down-home, down-South chef, she can also teach you how to peel a shrimp – and how to make sweet potato balls without getting marshmallow all over your hands. Some of Deen’s best recipes are the timeless ones we all love.
Thomas (not Timothy!) Keller of Napa Valley won Best California Chef in 1996 and Best Chef in America in 1997. Keller served as a consultant for the Pixar animated film Ratatouille, and in the process designed a fancy layered version of – you guessed it – ratatouille (“confit byaldi”) for the characters to cook. Again, timeless proved best.
When asked about the ten most timeless recipes ever, freelance recipe tester Kemp Minifie included an Asian pulled pork burger and a double-chocolate layer cake on her list. Ruling out even the French coq au vin,“timeless is not the same as classic,” concluded Minifie.
My friends, the Bible is timeless. But one of the things that can get in the way of our right interpretation of a passage is that we are not.
As much as possible we must rid ourselves of our 21st century cultural (and other) trappings and – to the best of our ability – attempt to interpret a passage in the light of the original situation in which it was written. The cultural and historical gap is a major difficulty in sound interpretation. So as interpreters our task becomes to uncover and understand the cultural intention of the author before we try to translate the passage into a more contemporary context.
Carefully look for cultural elements in the text. Are there references to specific people or events or customs or social practices? If there are, dive in and do your homework. Are there important geographical references (cities, towns, rivers, mountains, and the like)? If we put our nose to the grindstone, perhaps we can make much of a political or social context that will shed important light on the meaning of a Bible passage.
When we understand the history behind a passage, we are well on our way toward building a foundation upon which to understand a text of Scripture.
As we feed on God’s Word, we need to ask ourselves – regularly – these types of questions:
- Why is this worded in this specific way?
- What historical factors lie behind the form of this text?
- Is this wording customary or atypical?
- In the original cultural setting, was this ordinary or unusual?
- Why was this written?
- Why was this written like this?
- Who were the original recipients (or hearers) of this?
- What did this mean to the people to whom it was written (or spoken)?
- What did the writer intend to say in this particular context?
Just for fun, chew on these specific examples: Why were the Galatians easy victims for the Judaizers? Why did the church at Corinth tolerate sexual impurity? What kind of church received the Epistle to the Hebrews?
We’re cooking up a storm now, friends! I’m so glad that you’re in the kitchen with me.