The Who, Why, and How of Interpretation

Preparation: The Who, Why, and How of Interpretation

In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul tells Timothy to be a minister who “correctly handles the word of truth.” God’s word is truth, and this truth gives eternal life (John 6:68). Therefore the importance of correct biblical interpretation cannot be overstated. It is often a temptation to come to the Bible with our own preconceived ideas of what the Bible says or what it means. To some degree we can’t avoid it. Yet if we are not careful, we can often read our own experiences and ideas into the Bible (eisegesis) instead of carefully and faithfully drawing out the truth expressed in the Bible (exegesis).

So how do you rightly handle the word of truth? The starting place is actually different than what you might think: It starts with the shaping of your own posture before the text. By this we mean three things: First, the biblical interpreter must be characterized by humility. We must stand “under” the authority of the Word; we must humbly receive what the Lord gives us through his word. Second, the biblical interpreter must pay careful attention to the word and study it perceptively. In our book Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, we say: “In a time when listening is largely a lost art, and many are approaching Scripture primarily for the purpose of validating their own predetermined conclusions, this is a much-needed reminder” (63). Finally, the biblical interpreter must be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led (1 Cor 2:10b–16).

The Hermeneutical Triad

The foundational message of our book is that the proper task of biblical interpretation is epitomized by the “hermeneutical triad” of literature, history, and theology. A proper study of any text needs to include an understanding of the historical setting, the literary dimension, and the theological message. First, “Since Christianity is a historical religion, and all texts are historically and culturally embedded, it is important that we ground our interpretation of Scripture in a careful study of the relevant historical setting” (66). Second, the tenets of Christianity are written down in literary form, and literary and linguistic analysis is necessary in order to retrieve the biblical material. Finally, “since Scripture is not merely a work of literature but inspired and authoritative revelation from God, the goal and end of interpretation is theology” (66).

An Interview on Biblical Interpretation

In conjunction with our new course on biblical interpretation at The Gospel Coalition, I was interviewed by Fred Zaspel at Books at a Glance. In Part 1, we discuss the importance of hermeneutics as I expand upon the hermeneutical triad. You can listen below:

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