Summary: Some quick hints for sound biblical interpretation. Also, discussion about Jesus’ earthly ministry being to Israel first and everyone else second.
A Christian couple from the south decide that they want to get a dog. As they are walking down the street in town, they notice that a sign in the pet shop is advertising "Christian Puppies." Their interest piqued, they go inside.
"How do you know they’re Christian puppies?"
"Watch," says the owner, as he takes one of the dogs and says, "Fetch the Bible." The dog runs over to the desk, and grabs the Bible in its mouth and returns. Putting the Bible on the floor, the owner says, "Find Psalm 23." The dog flips pages with its paw until he reaches the right page, and then stops. Amazed and delighted, the couple purchase the dog and head home.
That evening, they invite some friends over and show them the dog, having him run through his Psalm 23 routine. Impressed, one of the visitors asks "Does he also know ’regular’ commands?"
"Gee, we don’t know. We didn’t ask," replies the husband.
Turning to the dog, he says, "Sit." The dog sits. He says, "Lie down." The dog lies down. He says "Roll over." The dog rolls over.
He says "Heel." The dog runs over to him, jumps up on the sofa, puts one paw on the owner’s forehead and bows his head.
"Oh look!" the wife exclaims. "He’s PENTECOSTAL!"
Any way you look at it, our passage today is shocking. A woman comes to Jesus for help, and Jesus brushes her off calling her a dog. Further, Jesus heals a man in a very unusual way – touching his tongue with his own saliva and placing his fingers in his ears. I don’t know about you, but when I’m reading my bible and I come across a section like this I am taken back by the apparent lack of mercy from the Jesus. I read a passage like this and I think to myself, “Wait a minute. Did I read that right?” Some passages are more difficult to figure out – that is just the nature of biblical interpretation.
A lot of times we read passages like this one can attempt to interpret it, to make sense of it with an assumption or two. We might start with, “Jesus must have been having a bad day” or maybe, “I’m not reading it right, perhaps Jesus really didn’t call the woman a dog”. To some extent these type of guesses are ok, they are a good place to start. Sometimes we have to start with our best guess, but we cannot stay there because a guess is only a guess, it is speculation. Speculation is not interpretation. We want to know the truth don’t we? So first we need to know that it is ok to take a guess about the meaning of a passage, as a place to start, but to treat a guess as solid information, that is where many times we first go wrong.
If we are not sure about something in a passage we need to look for help. The first place I would start would be with a verse cross reference. Some bibles have, over to the side, or on the bottom have a verse cross reference. This will give you another verse, or several other verses, in the bible that are directly related to the verse you are looking at. You just look to see if the verse you are having difficulty with is listed, and you look up the references. Many times this first step solves the mystery. The best type of biblical interpretation is when scripture interprets scripture.
Next, if cross referencing leaves you in the dark look at your footnotes. If you have a study bible you will have brief explanations about the verse. If you do not have a study bible, I would highly recommend getting one, there are several excellent ones on the market. As a rule, most of your difficult verses will have some sort of an explanation in a study bible – simply because the editors of the study notes know what verses are difficult to understand.
If you need more information look in a good bible commentary. A commentary will given you a much more expanded explanation than the brief notes a study bible can. We have some in our library, that would be a good place to start if you have never used a commentary.
If your are still stuck, ask a friend who knows the bible better than you. You can always ask either Ted or I, we answers questions about scriptures all the time.
However, most of all, I would encourage you to pray before you read you bible. True biblical interpretation comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that will lead us and guide us to correct interpretation.