Tag Archives: contextualization

Scripture Engagement & Context

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

God is a revealing God, his Word is his revelation of himself and his purposes to his world. It is wonderful we are invited by God to meet him, know and love him, through the Scriptures. As we answer this invitation and engage with Him in His Word, it is helpful to acknowledge we are a diversity of peoples, times and contexts. How we approach, view, interpret, understand and connect his Word to our lives is a question we must address with faith and with faithfulness.

Just look at Acts 3:12-26 and Acts 17:22-31 as classic examples of taking the context and those people’s questions seriously when presenting the good news.

When the working group met to reflect and discuss this issue, we thought it would be important to focus on how our contemporary context affects the way we read, interpret and live out God’s Word. We do this in the wide variety of contexts we come from where we seek to be faithful to the Lord – ‘correctly handling the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15) having our thinking, speaking and behaviour transformed by God through His Word and by His Spirit.

Through fostering a growing reflection and exchange in our global fellowship about “Scripture Engagement & Context”, we hope to better recognise our blind spots – those things that because of the milieu we live in/ have grown up in we do not see: about God, His purposes or ourselves. Through mutual learning in our international fellowship we hope to avoid some possible risks: a selective hermeneutic determined by culturally defined questions leading to ethnocentrism and relativism; or cultural ‘imprisonment’/bias leading to a poor reading of Scriptures even leaving out parts that don’t seem to be relevant (in our own eyes). For an extreme example of this see what King Jehoiakim did in Jeremiah 36!

We believe it is important to both grow in how we engage with the Scriptures from our own times and contexts, and at the same time become increasingly aware of how the Word ‘reads’ and engages with us. As we read and are ‘read’, as we participate, God transforms us and our context/community.

When engaging with the Word, we believe we are engaging with God himself in the Scriptures, with Jesus, the Living Word. We can therefore expect that he will engage with us – an experience that will not leave us or our communities the same.

Our different contexts raise a variety of questions which we should pay careful attention to when engaging the Scriptures. At the same time, the Word of God often raises other questions or gives answers that we would not have expected. Scripture reveals agendas and poses questions that people may not be asking. Thus, engaging with the Word will often disturb, question, and challenge what may be fully accepted in our context.

The reader of the Word is therefore not only personally challenged and transformed but challenged to be agents of change and transformation in the context and community within which they live.

In the end, when we are dedicated to a serious study of the Word, it should lead us to discover the heart and mind of God for our world: the Lord who is missionary, who is transforming and reconciling the world to Himself through Christ.

We pray that when paying more attention to the contemporary context we all live in, we will grow to become a better global hermeneutical community, learning from each other and faithfully giving witness to the Lord across the world from each of our contexts.

IFES Eurasia Scripture Engagement Coordinator (no name as in sensitive country) and Ricardo Borges (IFES Associate Secretary for Scripture Engagement)

Invited into God’s Mission

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (…)
(…) As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
John 17:18; 20:21

These two small verses changed my life. It happened when I joined the student group of ABUB Brazil on my first day at the University of Sao Paulo. I had just started to study Agronomic Engineering.

I was already a Christian believer. Actually, it was my privilege to grow up in a family whose faith gave me love for the Lord through the Scriptures. During all my childhood and adolescent years, I remember well the family tradition of reading the Bible and praying together before going to bed. My dad was a pastor for more than fifty years; as soon as I was able to read, he would ask me to read the Bible in the frequent pastoral visits he did to so many families.

Yet going to university in another city, away from my family, when I was only 17 confronted me with some big challenges. In this situation, the student group of ABUB Brazil became the place where my faith grew and connected to mission, particularly to God’s mission in my context. Together with my Christian brothers and sisters, I grew in the love of our Lord.

Slowly, but continuously, three key truths began to grow and take root in my life. Firstly, God is the origin of our mission; it is his mission in the first place and a great privilege for us to participate in it. It somehow touched me deeply to understand that first Jesus was sent into the world and then he sent us, giving us his own mission as a model. Secondly, that in order to understand what God wants from us, we need to enter more deeply into a personal and saving encounter with Jesus through the Scriptures. Thirdly, that obedience to God’s call means being sent by him to fully connect with the world around us, with our own context, with the people and the challenges we face in our reality.

God is the centre and origin of mission. Jesus is both our Saviour and the paradigm for us in mission – modelling for us a mission that connects deeply with the people and the context around us. These small, yet deep lessons have been an important part of my life and obedience in mission throughout these years.

Ricardo Borges, Ricardo.Borges(at)ifesworld.org
Associate Secretary for Scripture Engagement

A Targum for Today

(written by: Yohan Abeynaike, General Secretary FOCUS Sri Lanka)

After a few generations in exile, the Jewish leaders faced a serious problem. Hebrew was being replaced by Aramaic as the common language of the people. With the change of language and context the leaders wondered how to communicate the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures to the next generation in a manner that was easily understood. This was the beginnings of the Targum.

SriLankasmallInitially, the Targum consisted of a simple paraphrase of the Scriptures in Aramaic. Later, it started to include explanations and expansions of the text so that the listeners could clearly see the relevance of the Scriptures in their context. In December, members of FOCUS Sri Lanka, decided to try their hand in writing a Targum using Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). We began by dividing the song by phrases and then developed each phrase more broadly in the explanation to achieve different aims. Here are a few examples of the aims we sought to achieve:

1. Understanding the conflicting thoughts and feelings of Mary and seeing her through modern eyes. (Lk 1:48-49)

“I cannot believe it! Thousands of Jewish women throughout history have wanted to be in this position. In the years to come people from everywhere will read and hear about my story. They will play my part in dramas and movies, they will preach sermons about me, they will sing songs about me. So many would wish they were me… but who am I? I am nothing…

…But, I am scared sometimes. I don’t know what the future holds for me. What will my relatives say about the pregnancy? What will the neighbours say? Will they mock me, ignore me or stone me?”

2. Applying the implications of a text broadly. (Lk 1:51)

God laughs at the boastful claims of the knowledge producers in our society. Can the scientist uncover all the mysteries of life? Can the economist satisfy all the people’s needs? Can the lawyer make a society more moral? Isn’t the claim that ‘all truth is relative’ – an absolute claim in itself? Why are they puffed up? Don’t they know that human knowledge will always be limited? It is only God who knows all things.

3. Using phrases and situations familiar to people today. (Lk 1:52)

All that is hidden will be exposed. He is the divine Wikileaks. The dark web will be lit up. The hate speech and tweets will be silenced.

The full text of our Targum for the Sri Lankan context can be found here.

The whole process was creative and fun. More importantly, it helped us to see and apply the text in fresher ways. Why not try it?

Yohan Abeynaike, yohan(at)focus.lk