Approaches to Biblical Interpretation (Methods)

Discussion in '2005 Archive' started by untangled, Apr 17, 2005.

  1. untangled

    untangled
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    Hello All,

    This hit me the other day. I always knew different people saw the Bible differently - that's nothing shocking. However, among Baptists I have seen a wide variety of approaches to the Bible. Which way do you interpret scripture?

    1. Letteral
    2. Literal
    3. Allegorically
    4. Existentially

    I've noticed a trend lately in the Existential and allegorical approaches. Myself, I approach scripture literally.

    In Christ,

    Brooks
     
  2. PastorSBC1303

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    literally first
     
  3. David Michael Harris

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    I try to to take it to heart [​IMG]

    David
     
  4. Craigbythesea

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    I pray, everyday, for God to teach me His truths and to protect me from error. When I read the Bible, I trust God to do precisely that.

    [​IMG]
     
  5. danrusdad

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    I take a passage by itself and try to undersand the plain sense meaning of it in it's immediate context. If there are concerns, then I will go to other passages to try to flesh out the differences (if any). So, literal, for short.
     
  6. Ed Edwards

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    I find most people i know, whatever the
    basic approach to Biblical interpretation
    might be -- they will call it 'literal'.
     
  7. Gold Dragon

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    Generally, I encourage the use of the grammatico-historical hermeneutic that tries to interpret the bible based on the linguistic, historical and cultural context of its original authors with the understanding that we will never completely grasp that context.

    The literary genre of some parts of the bible are allegorical and intended to be read as allegorical. The literary genre of some parts of the bible are letters and should be interpreted as such. The genre of other parts are historical narratives and should be interpreted as such.

    However, I also keep in the back of my mind that scripture is also the work of the Holy Spirit who indwells meaning into the words of the authors that may have been beyond the original intent of the human author. Examples would be some of the OT verses quoted by NT authors that were fulfilled by Jesus in ways that the OT author could not have possibly intended based on the context of the verses.

    So while the academic pursuit of finding the meaning of scripture based on the literary, historical and cultural context of the original authors is invaluable, it does not capture all of the meaning that God intended in those inspired words.

    A good introduction to the grammatico-historical hermeneutic is by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart:
    How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
     
  8. untangled

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    Thanks for the post Gold Dragon. Good insight.

    Thanks Ed.
     
  9. IfbReformer

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    Gold Dragon,

    This is an excellant point you make. I try and take a literal approach to the scriptures as well but often times Old Testament verses are used in the New Testament in a way that could not have been forseen by the original authors who were guided by the Holy Spirit to write them.

    I would also add that I think this is one of the most important - if not the most important rule of correct Biblical interpretation. The Bible many times(in fact most of the time) interprets itself.

    If we see something that is difficult to understand in one passage, other passages will come at the same topic from a different angle and we will see the meaning.

    The clearer passages intrepret the less clear passages.

    For instance, many refuse to take a literal approach to the book of Revelation and say that the entire book in symbolic - while there may be some imagery in it, it has many literal sections that cannot be ignored.

    I even find some of my friends who believe they interpret the Bible literally, writing off some sections of Revelation, especially towards the end because it does not match up with some preconceived ideas they have from other passages.

    I am not trying to get this into prophecy, so please no one hijack this. We are talking about interpretational systems. But I find among all the schools of interpretational thought that it all comes down to how we interpret Revelation, because our system will flow out from there to the rest of the Bible.

    IFBReformer
     
  10. Gold Dragon

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    I don't like to use the word "literal" when I talk about hermeneutics because usually those who say and think that they interpret literally don't do so in practice.

    The "plain meaning" or "literal meaning" more often than not is actually eisegesis or "what the text means to me" even though the user of the word "literal" doesn't believe that is what they are doing.
     
  11. IfbReformer

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    Literal - but in what order? That is critical.

    I choose to start with Revelation and work my way back.

    It is my understanding of progressive Revelation which leads me to this method:

    Revelation interprets The Epistles
    The Epistles interpret the Gospels
    The Gospels, the Epistles and Revelation interpret the entire Old Testament

    The Old Testament Prophets and Wisdom books interpret the Penetuch and the History books.

    So practically speaking here is a common occurence that happens in Biblical interpretation:

    A literal passage from the Old Testament seems to conflict with a literal passage from the New Testament - how do we resolve this? For me there is no question, the New Testment literal passage always interprets the Old Testament literal passage. God has the right to interpret his Word as he sees fit.

    Think of it, a good portion of the New Testament is Old Testament quotes, and it is Christ and the Apostles interpeting those passages and applying them sometimes in ways no one could of have imagined - but I accept their interpretation.

    What about when we see two New Testament passages, say one from the Gospels and one from the Epistles, that seem to conflict? Again the principle of progressive revelation dictates for me that I allow the Epistles to interpret the Gospels.

    You get the idea.

    The easiest way to summarize this is that later revelation interprets previous revelation.

    IFBReformer
     
  12. IfbReformer

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  13. Gold Dragon

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    That sounds like a hermeneutic that is designed to minimize conflict in the text and not one that reads the text for what is there. I believe that a lot of the apparent conflicts in the text are there because of a tension or balance between apparently opposite concepts that God wants us to have and understand.

    1) Jesus being fully God and fully Human.
    2) Obeying God's Law and freedom from the Law.
    3) The justice and mercy of God.
    4) Justification by faith that results in works.

    The list goes on.

    I believe an overemphasis on Revelations is a more common problem in evangelical Christianity than the opposite problem of underemphasizing it.
     
  14. untangled

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    IFB,

    Thanks for your input. What I mean by literally is generally interpreting that as a rule. I know there is symbolism in Revelation however I don't think it should be taken allegorically (i.e. The Whore of Babylon is symbolic for sin and the coming of Christ is symbolic for revival, etc.). I know you don't interpret it that way, but do you see what I'm saying?

    The thing that got me thinking about this is a friend of mine that recently became a Christian (he used to be catholic) and went ahead and enrolled in the same undergraduate program I graduated from (which is actually liberal, shamefully). He heard about other ways to interpret scripture and wa-lah, his whole view of the Word of God is ruined. I pray that if he does not see the truth that God will not allow him in a pulpit.

    I have seen alot of this even in Baptist circles these days. Examples of interpretations:

    1. Genesis is a copy of ancient mythology so the Jews could create their own history.
    2. Revelation was a letter to scare the early church into obedience and has no meaning for anyone else of today.
    3. When looking at scripture as long as the outcome makes you a better human then that is what the Bible is meant to do.

    The list goes on and on..... These are interpretations by Baptists and others.
     
  15. Gold Dragon

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    Sometimes it takes a shattering of our rigid worldviews to be more in line with a biblical worldview or a Christ-centred worldview or a truthful worldview.

    I pray that your friend will one day be able to see scripture again in a light that doesn't follow strict man-made formulas that can easily be shattered and broken, but as a dynamic and transformational interaction with God where we don't always know what we'll find.
     
  16. untangled

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    Thanks Gold Dragon. I pray the same.
     
  17. IfbReformer

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    I know there are some for whom tensions need to exist for them to believe they are completely giving each Biblical text its proper attention.

    The thing is this, the Scriptures were not written in a vaccum. When the Old Testament Prophets wrote they had the Torah and the History books at their disposal, they new full well the previous revelation of God and wrote as his Spirit directed them. So when they interpreted something a certain way from the law, which may or may not seem the natural way to interpret, they were right and inerrant in their application.

    The same goes for the New Testament writers, when each of the Gospel writers penned their Gospel, they knew full well the Old Testament and made inerrant interpretations and applications of the Old Testament.

    When Paul penned his epistles, he knew full well of the Gospels that had been written(as well as the epistle of James written before hand) and penned his famous theology of justification by faith alone with all these other inspired writings in his mind. Paul's epistles were an interpretation and clarification of the Gospels and other epistles such as James.

    When John penned the book of Revelation he knew of the entire New Testament revelation of Gold, from the Gospels to the Pauline epistles as well as Old Testament prophecy and his book was the conclusion and culmination, and interpretation of all these things.

    Yes there are difficult things to understand in Revelation as in Paul's writings, but it is a critical bookend to the Bible.

    So for me, there are no tensions when I look at the scriptures from the vantage point that each of these writers in progressive order knew of and God used the previous revelation in inspiring the new revelation he gave them.

    By the way, on you four areas of tension I see none.

    1) Jesus being fully God and fully Human.(The Bible states both very clearly, and sometimes in the same passage)
    2) Obeying God's Law and freedom from the Law.(we obey God's law out of love, as Christians
    we are free from penalty of sin(which is breaking the law) which is eternal death).
    3) The justice and mercy of God.(God could destroy everyone and rightly so, but he has decided to show mercy to some while leaving others to their just punishment)
    4) Justification by faith that results in works.
    Justification by faith results in works - but the amount and progression of these works will vary.

    I am not saying that there are not things that are hard to understand, like how Jesus could be fully God and fully man, but that Bible clearly teaches this.

    Understanding the soverignty of God and the free will of man is also hard to understand from a human perspective but the Bible teaches them both. Where the lines are is sometimes hard to see - there I will agree.

    You may think my approach over-simpflies things but I really think it is the only thing that makes sense - God's word must be interpreted with progressive revelation at the forfront of our minds or we will always go astray.

    About the book of Revelation, I am not saying it has all the information about all topics, for instance the Pauline epistles would be more of the authority on Church structure(Pastors and Deacons). Revelation does not get into these things. What I am saying is this, the last revelation on any topic, whether it be the Gospel, the church, holy living and prophecy has to be my starting point.

    In the Gospels we here almost nothing about the structure of the New Testament church and how its officers are to be appointed - we here about discipline in the church and some other issues. Later progressive revelation given to the Apostle Paul tells us these things, he is the last and final authority on that subject.

    IFBReformer
     
  18. Gold Dragon

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    Yes, the context of what scripture and teachings were available to the author and what they were aware of must be kept in mind for good interpretation. While I agree with this observation, I disagree with how that impacts our hermeneutics.

    If we are to understand Revelations, we need to understand all that came before it and that influenced John in the writing of it. So my order of understanding is almost reciprocal of yours.

    God's later revelations may clarify or expand on His previous revelations, but I think your hermeneutic causes us to read future revelations as "corrections" that "override" his previous revelation.

    I completely disagree with this point. That was not the intention of John' Revelation to be a culminating interpretation of all of scripture that was written before it. John was sharing a series of visions that he had.

    You are welcome to feel this way and I hope I am welcome to disagree. [​IMG]

    I think the overemphasis of the idea progressive revelation to rationalize apparent conflicts has clouded the hermeneutic of many Christians.

    I'm sorry but that makes no sense to me. The last revelation on any topic is the last revelation on any topic. The starting point should probably be the first revelation on any topic and from there we can see how it has "progressed" through time.

    To me, giving greater authority to the "last revelation" is like saying that to understand the theology of the first baptists we need to start by understanding the theology of current baptists. That baptist theology and everything historically baptist must be redefined by the most current thing the baptists believe.

    [ April 20, 2005, 02:02 PM: Message edited by: Gold Dragon ]
     
  19. Dr.Tim

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    ahhhh Pink Dragon, where hast thou been?
     
  20. Gold Dragon

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    Cheers, mate! [​IMG]
     

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