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Meaning and Application

Do you remember how we defined the terms meaning and application in the last unit? Meaning refers to what the author intended to communicate through the text. Because a text’s meaning is tied to the author, it will be the same for all Christians. The reader does not determine meaning, nor does meaning change from reader to reader. As readers, however, we do need to respond to the meaning God has placed in the text. We use the term application to refer to the response of the reader to the meaning of the inspired text. Application reflects the specific life situation of the reader and will vary from Christian to Christian, although it will still have some boundaries influenced by the author’s meaning. Thus we should ask, “What does this passage mean and how do I live out or apply this meaning to my life?” rather than “What does this passage mean to me?” The distinction between meaning and application is an important one.

Let’s make sure we understand where meaning and application fit into the Interpretive Journey.

Step 1: Grasp the text in their town. What did the text mean to the original audience?

Step 2: Measure the width of the river to cross. What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?

Step 3: Cross the principlizing bridge. What is the theological principle(s) in this text?

Step 4: Consult the biblical map. How does our theological principle fit with the rest of the Bible?

Step 5: Grasp the text in our town. How should individual Christians today live out the theological principle(s)?

Steps 1–4 deal with the meaning of the text. Through Scripture God communicates to his people both the immediate concrete expression for the biblical audience and the theological principle for future audiences. This is the meaning that we seek to find in our Bible study. After we have identified this meaning, we can begin to ask how we should live out this meaning (Step 5).

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