I'm told I should take the Bible literally and personally, but clearly there are times the Bible is clearly speaking to one man or one country. How do I tell when it is to me?
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by approaching the Bible through its various revelation points the simplest way to look at it and maintain clarity is to follow Paul. When he speaks of "times past" you know he talking about a previous revelation, "but now" lets you know these are are marching orders as believers today and "in times to come" are instructions for the future. so if we follow Paul's instructions from Romans thru Philemon we know what God has done, what He is doing and what He will do. when you take what Paul says from the KJV without interjecting what ANYONE else says (Galatians 1:8 tells us ''if anyone preach a Gospel other than this let him be accursed") you are able to use the Scripture to walk fully in the Grace the Lord provides for us today. because we are blessed as no other time in human history.
I would agree that there are portions of the Bible in which God was speaking to specific nations or individuals with messages that had the most relevance to them at a specific time or under a particular set of circumstances. However, to me, even passages that might appear to have no application whatsoever to people or conditions of today, and that can seem difficult to personally benefit from (or even to make the effort to completely read) were given for a reason -- not only in the context of the time in which they were written, but for humanity in general. (The Bible itself -- speaking through Paul's words in 2 Timothy 3:16 -- states, "ALL [emphasis mine] Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.") In this regard, I have found a good commentary to be a useful asset and companion in reading the Bible. By now, people of faith have had thousands of years of personal experience (including devoting whole lifetimes in some cases, as well as right up to the present day) in learning how the narrative of Scripture (from Genesis all the way through to Revelation) fit together, and applied to the time in which they were living. Many of those people have provided verse-by-verse records of their insights, placing passages into the larger context of history, and showing their relationship to one another, and the common thread that ran through them all (Jesus, even if He did not appear by name). (As Jesus told the Jews of His day, "You search the Scriptures [what we would call the Old Testament] because you think that in them you have eternal life, and they testify of Me." (John 5:39)) And the internet makes those commentaries accessible to anyone with a computer. I have found that just gaining insight into the secular history behind the events of the Bible has been absolutely fascinating, and has, in turn, strengthened my faith in how God has used (and continues today to use) those circumstances to achieve His purposes.
There are some helpful rules of Bible interpretation generally accepted by Bible scholars. One is that the reader should always review the passages before and after the verses that come into question to ascertain the context. Another factor is: To whom is the verse speaking? For example: 1 Co 10:32 indicates the three people groups with whom God deals: the Jews, the Gentiles (also translated as the world or the nations) and the Church. Some parts are about the Jews specifically and others about the world. Some portions apply specifically to the Church. (When a Jew receives Christ as his savior, he then becomes part of the Church.) A lot of confusion and end time questions could be cleared up by ascertaining to which people group the scripture is referring. One Bible teacher admonished helpfully that all of the Bible is for the church, but not all of the Bible is about the church.The New Testament letters from Paul and the apostles are particularly to and about the Church, of which every born again believer is a part. Along with this, the Holy Spirit's interpreting presence throughout our reading is profitable for our edification at all times and in all parts of His recorded book.
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