Interpretive tradition vs original context

Which is more important to biblical interpretation? Obviously, given my Jewish/Noachide beliefs I personally think sacred tradition is divinely inspired, so I hold it to a higher regard, which is not to say I don’t value the original meaning of a text, whilst a consensus in Judaism and make and change laws, I don’t think it can change the original meaning of what was written.

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The original context helps you get at what the original meaning was. The interpretive tradition helps inform what we are supposed to do with the meaning. In many cases interpreters of the past were closer than we are to the original context in history and culture, so their interpretations can help shed light on the original context. But at the end of the day, we have to figure out not just what the Bible meant in the past, but how it is to guide our own beliefs and behavior in our cultural and historical context. For that neither the original context or interpreters who have gone before can do all the work for us. We need to be guided by the Holy Spirit and look for consensus in Christian community.


It’s also valuable to recognize sociological distinction that forms when one group splinters off from another. The two groups will emphasize differences over affinities and similarities. You can see this in the Didache, in which the author emphasizes fasting on different days from those of the Jewish practice. It didn’t take Christianity very long before it became “Greek and not Jewish,” and so a lot of what was Jewish about the earliest Christianity was dismissed, rejected, and forgotten.


I’d go as far as to suggest that scripture is formed by the divinely inspired tradition, hence in Judaism the Oral Torah can grow and evolve. For more information, I am writing a blogpost, where I explain how such an idea works.

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