My task in these pieces of writing has so far led me through a brief overview of biblical interpretation’s history, considerations of biblical interpretation, and the difficulties presented by the African context. I now want to focus on creating a paradigm for teaching biblical interpretation in Africa that will be sincere to God’s word and applicable to the continent’s modern context. To do this, I contend that the interpreter must work to close the enormous gaps that stand between him and the author before he can create an African framework for instructing biblical interpretation Blue and purple.
The Need to Bridge the Gap, Part A
Between the mind of the biblical author and the contemporary African interpreter, there is a vast chasm. The difference between the meaning intended by the original author and how it was understood by the contemporary reader has been primarily caused by this gap. Language, culture, history, and geography are a few of these gaps.
Hebrew and Greek were the original languages used to write the Bible in its current form. These languages have unique linguistic traits that are unique to them and have a strong propensity to obstruct the meanings they are meant to convey. It is sad to see that many theologians in Africa, especially those in Sierra Leone, lack adequate knowledge of the original languages. It would be challenging for the exegete to categorise the various biblical texts into their literary genre and to analyse the smaller units of traditional material according to the form or shape they have taken during the oral, pre-literary period when they lack knowledge of the original languages.1
Additionally, the interpreter’s language proficiency can aid him in identifying the puzzling textual obscurity of particular passages that may tend to obscure the meaning. The issue occasionally arises from the fact that most African interpreters focus exclusively on English texts rather than Greek and Hebrew texts. Knowing the original language is a requirement for being able to teach Biblical interpretation in Africa.
- Cultural Environment:
Moses and Paul, two titans in the field of biblical studies, each came from a different culture. Their understanding of God, the meaning of life, and the nature of man were significantly influenced by these cultures. Their writings that have been passed down to us reflect this. The impact of particular events in Jewish life needs to be examined by African interpreters in order to ensure that parallel lines of relationships can be drawn.
In his insightful remarks on how culture affects religion, John Parrat noted that “we approach the task of doing theology from within our own cultural heritage.”
3 When an African interpreter approaches a text from the Bible, he does so from the perspective of his own continent. This acts as a guide on particular issues that should be used in the African context.
- Historical Context:
A historical analysis of the developments of the Christian faith from the time of the early church fathers to the present day is another gap that the African scholar needs to fill.
The translator must be aware that the biblical narrative spans the entirety of Near Eastern civilization up until the year 100 AD. This time period was broken up by a series of significant transformations that affected how they understood Yahweh’s role in history. In order for us to properly understand the various periods of biblical revelation, it is crucial that we relate them to their appropriate historical context. Macleod adds the following:
Only after relating a biblical text to the circumstances of its own time will we be able to identify the timeless principles it contains. This will help us better apply the aspects of its teachings to the present.
We shouldn’t undervalue the significant influence that a people’s outlook, way of life, and religion are impacted by the climate and terrain. The geographic distance between the African interpreter and the autographs must therefore be filled.
According to Old Testament scholarship, the majority or all of the religious conflicts in Palestine had a connection to the local geography. Baal worship, for instance, developed in a place where rain was essential to survival. Baal was the storm god who fertilised the earth to the Canaanites, and Baal worship was a magical ritual designed to ensure consistent rainfall and abundant harvests. This equated to at the very least disbelief and at the very most idolatry in the eyes of the Jews. Geographical conditions have, in fact, been incorporated into biblical language to such an extent. For one to understand the language, one must have some familiarity with these circumstances (both literally and figuratively). Overall, the African interpreter should be aware that every passage in the Bible needs to be read in the context of its immediate verbal setting as well as the larger linguistic, cultural, historical, and geographical setting from which these writings emerged.
B. The Desirability of African Models
Language, culture, history, and geography have been identified as the main gaps that must be filled if proper exegesis is to be accomplished in the discussion above. These gaps cannot be understood without the context of the text, indicating that they must be read in conjunction with that context. One can only truly interpret the scriptures when this is taken into account.
There are several presumptions that must be made before developing an African model. The African interpreter must first take a sincere interest in African thought processes and how they manifest themselves in daily life. This will make it easier to comprehend how certain behaviours and practises affect both the individual and the larger community. Biblical truths are communicated through specific facets of African culture, such as the use of proverbial adages to express eternal truths. In order to create an interpretation that is accurate to both the Bible and the African context, contemporary African interpreters must use these tools.
Second, the necessity of contextualization is not without risk. African scholars occasionally become so caught up in upholding African customs that they allow them to cast doubt on the authority of the Bible. Harry Sawyer, for example, argued that the dead should be baptised because they are represented in the Apostles Creed’s “Communion of Saints.” 6 Such interpretational methods result in a complete denial of the Bible’s reliability as a whole.
The interpreter must now choose when to apply the literal meaning, allegorical meaning, anagogic meaning, and topological meaning after these two issues have been resolved. The African scholar must not overlook the intentionality of the text itself in any of these four approaches to interpretation, lest what the ancient author intended for readers to understand from his or her writing be grossly exceeded and overshadowed by almost uncontrollable mystical typological and moralising overinterpretations. 7
African scholars must take care to accurately reflect both the African context and the biblical text. This means that in order to ensure that all the meaning of the passage is brought out without any additional meaning being interpreted into it, our African model of biblical interpretation must be free of both over- and under-contextualization. This precludes the interpreter’s ability to approach the text without certain assumptions, but, to use Graham N. Stanton’s phrase: