Imagine for a moment Jesus gathered with the twelve to take of the Passover meal. What mental image do you have of the scene? Does your image follow that of the painting of the last supper and all of them seated at a table and Jesus in the middle? What do you imagine when Jesus arose from the table to lay aside his outer garments and take a basin of water to go around washing their feet? I suspect we all imagine the scene being much like something we’ve seen in a movie or something in a painting that gave us a mental image of the occasion. Likely as Jesus gathered in the upper room with the disciples there was a low table without chairs and the fact that it says they were “Reclining at the table” means that they were leaning on their elbow as they reclined and ate while in that position. As Jesus arose to wash their feet, their feet weren’t under the table for them to move and allow him to bow at their feet but were sticking out as they were reclining.
What difference does all that make? Well it illustrates the point that we tend to read Scripture based on our background and what we’ve seen rather than seeing it from the standpoint of what was true in that time and place. It is easy to imagine their times of worship and praise to God as looking like what we see when we gather for church on Sundays. But we would likely be shocked if we could go back to meet with the church during the first century. Imagine gathering with other Christians in one of the members homes. Probably the church would be made up of a few families that came together in a home like that of Aquila and Priscilla who are mentioned several times along with the church that meets in their house. Perhaps the church would have twenty people and some of these would have been slaves who showed up, others would have been slave owners. Some of the group would have been wealthy for the day and others there would have been wondering where their next meal would come from. If we met with the church in Corinth there would have been women in the crowd that had been temple prostitutes before being converted to Christ. Imagine them all gathering around to study from a manuscript of the gospel of Luke or perhaps one of Paul’s letters to them such as I Corinthians. There wouldn’t be a copy for each person or family. But one who could read would stand to read from the manuscript as the others listened intently to what was said. As they took of the Lord’s Supper together it would have been a single loaf of bread which was passed among them for each to take a piece of and eat. The cup would have been a single cup passed among the for each to take a drink from as they remembered Jesus dying for them.
As the reading was completed there may have been one among them who would talk about what that Scripture should mean to them in how they lived this week. Definitely they would sing praise to God together and spend time praying for God’s blessings and guidance in their lives. Imagine them praying on their knees where all could hear and say “Amen” to the prayer. It is very unlikely that the scene of one person standing leading while the others waited anxiously for them to complete the prayer so the service could end was anything like what went on then. Because of the size of the group and the intimate situation the prayers were likely much more personal and powerful that we would think of now.
When I can read Scripture through first century eyes and see what is said from their culture and time, it then becomes much more meaningful as I apply the principles of that Scripture to our lives today. When we put ourselves and our times into the Scripture the result is often that we get things out of it that God never intended and the people then would never have understood. Jesus so often in his teaching or telling a story would end it by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” We can only have ears to hear when we see the Scripture as it really is, talking about the things that were really on the minds of those who wrote them to begin with. Correct interpretation of Scripture is when we see it as it is and take the things from it that were intended by the Holy Spirit to be there and then apply that truth or principle to our own time and situation. It is a corruption of Scripture to put things into it that have to do with out own situation and time and try to force it to fit what we wish.
Remember Jesus message to the religious leaders of his day was, “You search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life. But it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40) These religious leaders were studious in their reading of the Old Testament yet they had missed the main point of the Old Testament. They heard the stories and learned of God’s love for them as a nation, yet missed the fact the Messiah was coming and that his gospel message would be for the whole world. They never saw the fact that the Messiah would suffer, die and be raised from the dead so all people could be saved in him. Why did they miss the main point? It wasn’t what they were looking for. It didn’t fit into their view of what should be. How often are we missing the main point because it doesn’t fit what we have already determined is true?
It is worth thinking about!