Interpretive Essay

The purpose of this interpretation assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to practice and hone your skills of biblical interpretation. The focus of this project is the New Testament letters. Duvall and Hays explain and illustrate the four steps of the Interpretive Journey for New Testament letters in Journey into God’s Word: Your Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible (pp. 100–102). However, you really have to get a good grasp of chapter one before moving on, because it is in chapter one that the authors give a detailed explanation of the Interpretative Journey. After reviewing chapter one, and after carefully reading pages 100–108 in Duvall and Hays, you should be ready to apply the four steps of the interpretative journey to Galatians 5:16–18.

Step 1: Grasp the text in their town. During the first step of the interpretive journey, you will use your observation skills to read the text carefully and discover what the text meant to the biblical audience. During this step you will need to read about the cultural and historical background of the passage. For our purposes here, a good study Bible along with Bible dictionaries and commentaries will give adequate background information on the text under consideration (Gal 5:16–18).
During step 1 you will also identify the literary context of your Gal 5:16–18. You will need to read the entire letter to the Galatians. It is preferable to read the letter in one sitting. After all, that is how the NT letters were intended to be read. As you read through the letter, try to ignore the chapter and verse divisions and read it as a literary unity. Think in terms of topical paragraphs as you read the letter. You will then summarize the text in 100–125 words. In order to understand the literary context of Gal 5:16–18, you will need to summarize the main point of the paragraph that precedes it (i.e., Gal 5:13–15), the paragraph that contains your text (Gal 5:16–18), and the paragraph that comes right after your text (Gal 5:19–26). You will notice that different Bibles versions divide the paragraphs a bit differently, but go with the divisions I have given here. After this exercise you will be able to state what your text meant to the first-century audience.

Step 2: Measure the width of the river to cross. Step 2 of the interpretive journey is discovering the differences between the biblical (original) audience and us today. We are separated from the biblical audiences (whether OT or NT) in time, culture, language, situation, etc. These differences create a divide, a river as it were, that prohibits us from making a direct move from the original context to our context. Consequently, step 2 is an essential process in which you will discover the significant differences between our situation and that of the biblical audience (Duvall and Hays, 16). You will also identify the unique aspects of the situation that is depicted in the biblical passage. You will write, in 50–75 words, a description of the differences that define the width of the river you need to cross.

Step 3: Cross the Principilizing Bridge. In light of how our situation is similar to and different from that of the biblical audience, try to identify the theological principle or principles reflected in the text. The theological principle will rise naturally out of the biblical text. It will be part of the meaning of the text and not something you read back into the text. In order to decide whether you have truly discovered a theological principle, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is this theological principle clearly reflected in the biblical text?

2. Is it timeless rather than tied to a specific situation?

3. Is the principle culturally bound?

4. Is it consistent with the teaching of the rest of Scripture?

5. Is it relevant to both the biblical audience and the contemporary audience?

If you can answer “yes” to these 5 questions, then you have found a theological principle. Review the example in Duvall and Hays, pages 19–20. Write out the principle(s) in 50–75 words using present-tense verbs.

Step 4: Grasp the text in our town. Now it is time to apply the theological principle that has been derived from the biblical text to us today. While there may by only one theological principle in a biblical passage, several applications may be appropriate. Ask yourself how individual Christians today should apply the theological principle(s) in their lives. In 100–125 words, write out at least two real-life applications of each principle. Follow the three elements below when deciding on these applications:

1. Identify the key elements present in the intersection between the principle and the text’s original situation.

2. Consider a scenario in contemporary life that contains all the key elements of the principle.

3. Make an application to today, keeping it specific. The application should be both faithful to the meaning of the text and relevant to the contemporary audience.

It will be important to review chapter 8 in Journey into God’s Word in order to complete step 4 in good fashion. Duvall and Hays provide an excellent example in this chapter of all four steps of the interpretative journey using Phil 4:13 as the destination text.