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Theological Term of the Week

biblical hermeneutics
The art and science of interpreting the Bible.1

  • From scripture: 

    Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

  • From The Interpretation of Scripture by J. I. Packer:
    Scripture yields two basic principles for its own interpretation. The first is that the proper, natural sense of each passage (i.e., the intended sense of the writer) is to be taken as fundamental; the meaning of texts in their own contexts, and for their original readers, is the necessary starting-point for enquiry into their wider significance. In other words, Scripture statements must be interpreted in the light of the rules of grammar and discourse on the one hand, and of their own place in history on the other. This is what we should expect in the nature of the case, seeing that the biblical books originated as occasional documents addressed to contemporary audiences; and it is exemplified in the New Testament exposition of the Old…
    The second basic principle of interpretation is that Scripture must interpret Scripture; the scope and significance of one passage is to be brought out by relating it to others. Our Lord gave an example of this when he used Gn. ii.24 to show that Moses’ law of divorce was no more than a temporary concession to human hard-heartedness. The Reformers termed this principle the analogy of Scripture; the Westminster Confession states it thus: “The infallible rule of interpretation of scripture is the scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture, it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” This is so in the nature of the case, since the various inspired books are dealing with complementary aspects of the same subject. The rule means that we must give ourselves in Bible study to following out the unities, cross-references and topical links which Scripture provides.
  • From the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (pdf):
    Article XV

    We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.

    We deny the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.2

    Article XVII

    We affirm the unity, harmony and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter.

    We deny that Scripture may be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that one passage corrects or militates against another. We deny that later writers of Scripture misinterpreted earlier passages of Scripture when quoting from or referring to them.3

Learn more:

  1. What is Biblical hermeneutics?
  2. D. A. Carson: Must I Learn How to Interpret the Bible?
  3. J. I Packer: The Interpretation of Scripture
  4. J. I. Packer: Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology
  5. Greg Bahnsen: A Reformed Confession Regarding Hermeneutics
  6. Daniel Wallace: The Holy Spirit and Hermeneutics
  7. Ryan Habbena: Ten Lesson Class on Hermeneutics (mp3s, power point slides, and pdf class handouts)
  8. D. A. Carson: Hermeneutics (mp3)

Related terms:

1From Must I Learn How to Interpret the Bible? by D. A. Carson.

2From Norman Geisler’s commentary on this article: 

The literal sense of Scripture is strongly affirmed here. To be sure the English word literal carries some problematic connotations with it. Hence the words normal and grammatical-historical are used to explain what is meant. The literal sense is also designated by the more descriptive title grammatical-historical sense. This means the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.

The Denial warns against attributing to Scripture any meaning not based in a literal understanding, such as mythological or allegorical interpretations. This should not be understood as eliminating typology or designated allegory or other literary forms which include figures of speech (see Articles X, XIII, and XIV).

3From Norman Geisler’s commentary on this article: 

Not only is the Bible always correct in interpreting itself (see Article XVIII), but it is the “best interpreter” of itself.

Another point made here is that comparing Scripture with Scripture is an excellent help to an interpreter. For one passage sheds light on another. Hence the first commentary the interpreter should consult on a passage is what the rest of Scripture may say on that text.

The Denial warns against the assumption that an understanding of one passage can lead the interpreter to reject the teaching of another passage. One passage may help him better comprehend another but it will never contradict another.

This last part of the Denial is particularly directed to those who believe the New Testament writers misinterpret the Old Testament, or that they attribute meaning to an Old Testament text not expressed by the author of that text. While it is acknowledged that there is sometimes a wide range of application for a text, this article affirms that the interpretation of a biblical text by another biblical writer is always within the confines of the meaning of the first text.

Do you have a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.


Thankful Thursday

I’m thankful that I’m going to be a grandma. Yep, sometime in September I’ll have a little granddaughter or grandson to cuddle.

How about you? For what are you thankful?

Throughout this year I’m planning to post a few thoughts of thanksgiving each Thursday along with Kim at the Upward Call and others.


Round the Sphere Again: Theology

In the Kitchen
I’m a little late pointing this out to you: Becky Pliego (Daily on My Way to Heaven) is hosting a month-long blog event called Doctrines in the Kitchen. Becky has invited some women to share in posts at her blog “about different doctrines, and you’ll see, God willing, how sweet it is to sit at the table and taste their goodness.” (More details here.)

As part of the celebration of women and doctrine, Becky is also giving away four books. You’ll want to stop by throughout the month of April to feast at the banquet.

Together with Ethics
in Philippians 2 (For the Love of God).

Clarified through Criticism
John Piper on the aseity of God (pdf). This is a piece written in response to the charge that his “understanding of God implicitly, if not explicitly, denies this important truth.”


Light Shining Into Darkness

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV).

Back at the very beginning of time, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light (Genesis 1:3).” From the empty darkness, God commanded the light to shine out, and the light obeyed his command. It was the first step, if we can call it that, in his creation of the universe out of nothingness.

But there’s another work of creation, too. It’s not accomplished by God calling light out of darkness; but rather, by God shining himself into darkness. He creates by shining into hearts that are dark, or, as the text said two verses earlier, into minds that are blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4). It’s a new creation that starts when God shines in to give light; not the light of daylight, but the light of knowledge. It’s the first step, if we can call it that, in the creation of spiritual life out of the nothingness of dark hearts.

What is the knowledge that arises from God shining in? It’s “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” God’s creative light discloses who Jesus is, showing that his glory is God’s glory, or to put it another way, showing that Jesus reveals God’s glory to us.

Jesus is God with a face that can be seen. No one can see the Father’s face and live (Exodus 33:17-23), but in his incarnation, the Son makes the Father known to us (John 1:18). The Son displays the Father’s glory in his healings and miracles, and especially when he is lifted up on the cross (John 12:27-28), where we see so much of who God is. It’s there that the power, wisdom, goodness, love, graciousness, mercy, justice, and holiness of God—and more—are revealed together. In the cross we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

It isn’t a surprise, then, that when we line up the parallel statement in verse 4 with this verse, we have, side by side, “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” with “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The display of God’s glory in the death of his incarnate Son is the very center of the good news.

Do you see the the power and wisdom and love of God in Christ’s death on the cross? Do you see the beauty of Jesus? Do you see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? Do you know and love the gospel? If you do, it’s because God’s new creation has begun in your heart. It’s because “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in [your] heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”


Status Report: April

Sitting…on a couch in the living.

Drinking…a can of green tea ginger ale.

Watching…the sun set.

Thinking…that I should be working on a more substantial post I’ve started, but I’m tired, tired, tired, triply emphasised. What is it about the longer evening light that makes me antsy and exhausted at the same time?

Liking…afternoon walks in the spring sunshine. Liking that it’s time to come out of winter hibernation. Liking that I can watch the Twins again, but wishing they’d have won a couple more games.

Also liking…the pale clover colour I painted the coffee table.

Listening…to my son cleaning his room. Last time he cleaned his room he found a roll of year-old Christmas wrapping paper. This time he keeps finding his sister’s t-shirts. I’m thinking it’s not her fault they’re in his room.

Experiencing…spring fever. It’s an excellent treatment for cabin fever.

Reading…two books that are too similar and finding it hard to finish either of them, even though I like them both.

Wondering…why God works the way he does. Wondering why he brings some of his children through so much suffering. In a lecture I listened to this afternoon, J. I Packer said that he thought God brought difficult things into our lives to prepare us to enjoy heaven, and that those who suffer more will enjoy heaven more. What do you think?

Pondering…the phrase “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” If you stick around for a couple days, you might find out why.