When we read a passage from the Bible, we are not the first ones to have read it. “Well, that’s obvious, Glen.” I know, I know. But sometimes, we are not always aware of what is obvious. So, what I mean is this: the books of the Bible were written first to those who were the original recipients. Now, this may not be such an important thing to remember if we were reading Shakespeare or Molière. But since God has deemed that his inspired Scriptures are to be applied to ourselves just as much as the original recipients, it is helpful and important to try to understand just what they meant and how they were applied in the very beginning; otherwise the danger of a subjective interpretation is present. Thus, we encounter an interpretive rule of thumb: the text can never mean (for us) what it never meant (for them).
Reading a Biblical passage is often like listening to one end of a telephone conversation. If you happen to overhear the juicy details of a cell phone call, you may begin to wonder, “Who is he talking to?” “Just what are they talking about?” or “Why would she say that?” These are similar questions that we must ask of the text. Finding answers may require reading other books that deal with the history and background of the Bible, but learning as much as we can about the answers to these questions will help us to discover just what the original situation was like, and how much it was (or wasn’t) like our current day situation, either individually or collectively. Knowing these specific similarities and differences, then, we can better discern the core of the message that God was speaking to his people then, and, thus, the message that God speaks to us.