Why is it so important to search for the original meaning of biblical passages?

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God in his wisdom chose to reveal his word in specific historical contexts over hundreds of years. God gave his word to prophets. God gave his word to his apostles, and his word was communicated to the living audience of that day. For example, the apostle Paul, when he writes to the Ephesians, God's word comes through that thinking, feeling person, Paul, such that Paul is instructing them, and he's warning them, and he's passionately pleading with them. And yet, the very words that he's using in his letter are the exact words that God wants chosen.

Now, as we look at this, we seek first to understand what the original writer, the inspired writer of Scripture, was intending to convey to that original audience. What was Paul seeking to teach the Ephesians? What error was he correcting? What truth was he impressing upon them? And then, that sort of makes a channel, a channel in which all legitimate implications that we have flow today. A wrong approach to Scripture is just to kind of jump down into it and, "Oh, this makes me think of this," or "Suddenly I feel this," as opposed to, saying, well, you know, God gave his Word in history and to particular persons, particular times, for a reason. And we respect that channel, even as we see there are many implications, countless implications which flow out of that channel of meaning for our lives today.

Answer by Dr. Robert Plummer

Dr. Robert L. Plummer is the Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.