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Epistles Case

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Since the epistles are easily deceptive, their historical and literary contexts are very important to properly understand and interpret them. In order to correctly understand the epistles we must assess the historical context to find who the author is speaking to and what the situation is that is being addressed. Part of assessing the historical context, we must first read the letter in one sitting to get a feel for what is going on. After the initial reading, go back and re-read the letter dividing it into logical parts so that each part can be studied in depth; remember to take notes so that you can reconstruct the problem.

To gain a good understanding of the literary context we need to question the meaning of the letter by "thinking in paragraphs."(Fee & Stuart, pg. 64) "One question that we need to ask over and over again is, what's the point?"(Fee & Stuart pg. 65) With the literary context you want to explain the content of each paragraph as it relates to the entire letter and try to determine why the point is mentioned at that particular time.

There are basic hermeneutical principles to apply when determining what these texts mean. The basic rule states "a text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or his or her readers." According to the second rule, "whenever we share comparable particulars with the first century hearers, God's Word to us is the same as his Word to them." (Fee & Stuart, pg. 74 & 75) Beware of getting caught up in problem areas such as having the text apply outside of the first century setting, comparing the epistles that speak directly to the first century or have a broader meaning that can apply to today's century, and finally to fit the text into cultural relativity and task theology. "Our immediate aim is for greater precision and consistency; our larger aim is to call us all to greater obedience to what we do hear and understand - and to an openness and charity toward others when they differ with us." (Fee & Stuart, pg. 87)

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