In this follow-up post I will start with some examples of erroneous Bible interpretations that could have easily been avoided by asking one question:
What did the original writer intend for his hearers/readers to understand?
And whatever that answer is, the meaning for us today will certainly not contradict that intended meaning. While our application of the meaning, here in our own cultural context, might look somewhat different, the essential meaning will NOT be different.
Here’s a text of Scripture that is a great example, from a real life situation I faced less than one month back.
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me…” (1 Cor 11:23-24, emphasis mine)
There are people who teach that this passage of Scripture teaches that the only acceptable time to observe the Lord’s Supper is in the night. They argue that this is clearly what the Bible teaches. The original Passover meal was to commence with the slaughter of the lamb “at twilight” (see Exod 12). The first Passover was clearly an evening occurrence. Jesus and His disciples observed the supper in the evening as well. Those who believe that this is important teach that anyone who does the Lord’s Supper on a Sunday morning is desecrating the meal and contradicting the words and practices of Christ.
You may be laughing at this point. But can you at least see that someone could “use” the Bible to make a case for the Supper occurring only at night? It is not really debatable that the Lord and His disciples took the Supper at night. It was not, “The Lord’s Lunch”!
But is this the meaning that Paul was trying to impart when He wrote to the Corinthians? Was he concerned with the hour of day or the amount of light in the room? Is it at all possible that the Corinthians read his letter and came away thinking, “Paul wants us to make sure to do the Lord’s Supper only at night. If anyone is doing this before dark they need to be corrected before God disciplines them?”
If a creature from Mars (humor me on this) landed on Earth and found a Bible, and read our passage, is it possible that he would come away thinking that the writer is concerned with the actual hour of the Lord’s Supper? Not a chance. No objective reading will yield that concern.
One only has to read the larger context of the passage to clearly see what Paul was so grieved at. The Corinthians were being divisive in the way in which they were doing the Supper. Some were coming early and eating with their special friends. Some were drinking all the wine and eating all the bread before others could participate. Paul said that they should wait for one another and that the rich should share their wine and bread with those who had none.
Paul’s concern had nothing to do with the time of day and everything to do with the lack of love and consideration the people were showing for one another.
I hope you can see the irony in all of this! By focusing their attention on the phrase, “in the night”, the false teachers are actually falling prey to the Corinthian error that Paul was rebuking! They are turning the Supper into a divisive thing rather than a unifying meal! Paul’s intention was to get everybody to wait for one another and to share with one another. He said it would be better to have your bread at another time in your own home and not even do the Lord’s Supper at church…if you can’t all agree to take the Supper together.
By the way, do you know why most churches observe the Lord’s Supper on Sunday mornings? Because that is the hour that the greatest number of believers can be found gathered together in one place. And that’s what Paul (and Jesus) is most concerned with!
I hope you are seeing how discerning the author’s original intent helps to avoid many possible false interpretations. We will look at more examples in the next posts.