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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: The Reader’s “Social Location,” by Craig S. Keener

Scientists can engage in “applied research” or “basic research.” In “applied research,” a scientist may be seeking a particular solution, say, a cure for cancer. They are more likely to find a cure specifically for cancer sooner than someone doing “basic research.” But “basic research” is simply pursuing all available knowledge, which will provide more various cures along the way, as well as providing information that may prove necessary to cancer researchers. Basic research thus yields a larger profit in the end. In the same way, studying the Bible regularly to learn all that one can learn from it will yield more than simply searching the Bible for an occasional topic. One can only learn so much about a topic before one runs out of material; if one knows the Bible well, however, one knows where to turn to find material relevant to that topic. One also can research deeper into any given text if one has a broader base of biblical knowledge from regular study.

To practice study oriented toward application one can start, privately or in a group, studying passages to determine their original meaning and then asking, “If the original writer were here today, how would that writer apply this text?” (See, for example, the case of Mark 2, treated when we discussed getting lessons from narratives.) Since most texts were originally meant to be applied, although in a different setting, thinking about how to apply them is the right way to approach them. Of course, as noted above, some can be understood and applied only by the way they fit into the larger book as a whole.

In the end, we must understand the Bible well enough to understand the points and principles the writers were communicating in their setting, so we can recommunicate them properly for our own setting. The Bible is a very practical book, but getting to all the treasures of its practical message demands of us some serious work. Scripture admonishes us to seek wisdom and understanding (Prov 2:2; 4:7), to work hard (Prov 4:23; 10:4), and to start our search by fearing God (Prov 1:7). It is when we fear God that we become least inclined to read our own desires into the Bible and more willing to hear there God’s message to us.





Editor’s Note
Professor Craig S. Keener originally designed this course on Hermeneutics for use in Nigeria and not for traditional publication. Desiring to make it available to a wider audience, he has granted permission to publish this course in the Pneuma Review. Dr. Keener grants permission for others to make use of this material as long as it is offered without cost or obligation and that users acknowledge the source.

Portions of this course follow these recommended works: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (Zondervan). Revelation, NIV Application Commentary by Craig S. Keener (Zondervan, 1999).


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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2006

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story.

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