In India this week, I offered a 5-day class to G.O.D. India cooperatives on biblical hermeneutics. While we all interpret the Bible on some level as we read through it, there are valuable tools which can be learned in order to guide that process. Learning an approach to Bible study enables an individual to truly know the LORD for themselves.
I taught our Indian cooperatives a 9 step method which guides the reader through a thorough study of any Bible passage. The steps include things like noting the genre of a book, the author, the intended audience, the speaker, etc. Students then learn to take note of literary cues like repeated words or phrases, and keep those in mind in order to determine the key themes of any passage. They practice asking questions that arise out of a text, then outline in a detailed way, and ultimately, make statements about God, humanity, and the world, that are timeless truths.
Manohar Paul, Sneha Purti and Anil Panthi spent all 5 classes working through the story of Cain and Abel, in Genesis 4. They practiced each of the steps, and on the last day produced impactful statements, which led to wonderful conversations about how to apply them. Sneha noted one lesson which this story captures, which is, “People often practice religion in order to gain something from God.” She took this from the early part of the story, where Cain brings an offering to God that God did not ask for, and then becomes angry when his gift does not result in the favor he was hoping for. This statement about why we practice religion is both true, and should provoke every Bible reader carefully examine their own hearts, so that religion is more than a transaction.
Other themes that were discussed had to do with a parent’s role in teaching children how to talk about their emotions, especially anger. In Indian culture where discussions about one’s emotions are not at all common, this lesson is profound. Manohar arrived at another beautiful statement about how “God does not turn his face away from people, rather they leave his presence by their actions.” This statement is drawn from the Genesis 4 story where even after Cain has committed murder, God offers protection and tries to offer him instructions.
The classes were full of rich discussion, and in the end our employees testified that having these steps to guide their study of a text was going to be very helpful for future studies. There is nothing more satisfying and inspiring than empowering others to understand God’s word!