Monday, August 16, 2010

Thoughts on Biblical Interpretation

The New Covenant Journal posted what I believe to be helpful little article on some principles to help you interpret the Bible.  

Which principle below is the most helpful for you in your study of Scripture?  
How should one interpret Proverbs 22:6 specifically according to proper interpretative principles?


[The following is an outline of a class I recently taught dealing with how to study the Bible. It's just a skeleton, but maybe it will provoke some thoughts for your contemplation.]

I. Biblical balance and tension

Principles and guidelines—
1. We must remember that the Bible was not written to give us a systematic theology or a scientific textbook. It is not to be read as a set of universal commands or absolute statements. Nor is it to be read as a book about God in some abstract sense. The Bible was written to teach us about Jesus Christ and His kingdom (with special emphasis on sin and salvation).

2. The Bible does not contradict itself, but there are things beyond our ability to comprehend or reconcile. Where the Bible does not bring reconciliation, we should remain cautious and humble.

3. The Bible uses rhetorical speech. (When my wife privately tells me about a special occurrence with the kids during the afternoon and I ask, "So, did anything interesting happen today?" I am not betraying ignorance but seeking to accomplish a purpose in our relationship)

Examples:
• God asked Adam, "Where are you?"
• When God repents or expresses sorrow, He is not responding to something of which He was previously unaware.


4. We must never allow our understanding of a biblical text to force another text to mean what it cannot mean or say less than what it says. (In other words, if we find two texts contradicting each other, our understanding of one or both texts is faulty.)

Examples:
• Paul's teaching that justification is by faith alone; James' teaching that justification is not by faith alone.
• Passages which reveal Jesus' deity do not nullify or minimize His request in the garden for the cup to pass.


5. Just because you read it in a book, or a famous person said it, or many Christians have believed it for centuries does not make it the correct interpretation. (We should be thankful for gifted teachers, present and past, but not accept anyone's interpretation uncritically.)

6. We must discern the intended point of each passage. (Context is king!)


II. More examples and test cases
1. Compare Matt. 6:7 and Luke 11:5-8. Should we repeat prayers or not?

2. Compare Gal. 3:28 and 1 Tim. 2:12. Does the Bible distinguish between men and women or not?

3. Compare Luke 14:26 and Eph. 5:25. What should be a husband's affection be toward his wife?

4. Compare 1 Cor. 7:8 and Prov. 18:22. Is marriage something to be pursued or not?


III. Cultural Considerations
1. Look up Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thes 5:26. We do not obey these commands. Why?

2. Look up John 13:14-15. Why do we not practice regular foot-washing?

3. The Bible does not present a broad doctrine of head coverings (1 Cor. 11 is the only occurrence), but it does teach a broad doctrine of men/women as heads/helpers. It does not present a broad doctrine of foot washing, but it does teach a broad doctrine of humble servanthood toward others


IV. Proverbs

Proverbial statements are not intended to be universal absolutes.

Examples:
• He who is not with Me is against Me (Mt. 12:30); whoever is not against us is for us (Mk. 9:40).
• Do not answer a fool according to his folly; answer a fool according to his folly (Prov. 26:4, 5).
• Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6).


V. Doctrinal tensions
1. God's omniscience and answered prayer (James 5:16b-18).

2. God's sovereignty and man's freedom.

3. God's holy transcendence and His nearness.

4. The certain perseverance of the elect and the warnings against apostasy.

5. If words mean anything (the Bible affirms them all), then these issues are real and compatible: God knows all, and yet He responds to the prayers of His people. God is in predestinating control of absolutely everything, and yet the choices of men are their own choices. God is not limited by time and space, and yet He draws near to those who draw near to Him. Not one of those given to Christ will be plucked out of His hand, and yet those who jettison their faith will not be saved. These things are gloriously beyond our ability to fully comprehend, and yet they are true and profitable for us.

6. It is important to grasp the pastoral concerns of the Scriptures:
     • A licentious person needs the warning passages.
     • A works-oriented person needs justification by faith alone.
     • A fearful person needs to know God's omniscience, sovereignty, and nearness.
     • A spiritually lazy person needs to hear of rewards for good works.
     • A man who regards God casually needs to see His resplendent holiness.
     • We all need to fathom the depths of His grace, which is only found to be gracious when juxtaposed.

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