Interpreting Paul’s letters

October 17th, 2011

One of the things I have been thinking about lately is the way we sometimes interpret the Apostle Paul’s letters.

Sometimes we can read a passage or a few verses and take it as a prescriptive position for all churches and for all time. We can see it as a hard and fast rule.

One thing we need to realise is that often Paul was writing to a particular church or a small group of churches to address an issue that he has heard about.

We need to remember that when Paul writes it is often to a church he planted and he has left them and is giving them feedback, encouragement or correction.

For example, if today Paul wrote a letter to the church in Kings Cross Australia he might say that “A man should not join a club”. In the Kings Cross context that would be talking about “gentlemen’s” clubs where there are strippers ect.

Now if a church in Merredin read that letter the context for “clubs” would be very different. We have bowling clubs, sowing clubs, kids clubs and a footy club. We should not take it as prescriptive that we cannot join those clubs because they are very different to Kings Cross clubs.

I guess what I am saying is that when we approach the Apostle Paul’s letters we need to know as much as we can about the background of the letter and why it was written. What were the major themes and issues.

This is often only done by reading the whole letter. When we understand the themes and issues we can then go back to the passage or a few verses and see them as part of the bigger picture.

The other thing we need to do is to compare what we are reading to other passages of Scripture. What does Paul say on this issue elsewhere? Did Jesus talk about this in the Gospels?

When we do these things we have a better chance of really understanding what Paul was saying and how we can interpret and apply it to our life and churches today.

God Bless,