PRINCIPLES of BIBLE INTERPRETATION
Dr. Vic Reasoner
TABLE of CONTENTS
I. The Contribution of Hermeneutics to Preaching (where it fits in the process)
II. The Process Illustrated
III. An Introduction to the Textbook
IV. The Nature of the Book
V. Methods of Interpretation (Which Hermeneutic Do We Use?)
VI. To What Extent Is Bible Criticism Legitimate?
VII. Principles of Interpretation
VIII. Types of Biblical Literature
IX. Steps in Interpretation
X. Special Literary Forms:
XI. Tools for Interpretation
XII. Twenty Ways the Cults Misread the Bible
Introduction - A definition of hermeneutics
"Hermes" was the Greek god who allegedly interpreted the message of the gods to humans. The verb hermeneuo is used in Luke 24:27
where Christ interprets or explains the Old Testament. It means to verbalize, translate, and explain. This word, in various forms, is used in Matthew 1:23; Mark 5:41; 15:22,34; John 1:8, 38; 9:7; Acts 4:36; 9:36; 13:8; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:28;
The task of hermeneutics is to ascertain what God has said in Scripture; to determine the meaning of the Word of God. We must handle rightly the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15; orthotomeo
means to cut a straight line; to guide the word of truth along a straight line). Hermeneutics is the rules by which we interpret or exegete ("exegesis" refers to the process of "bringing out" the meaning of a biblical text - the Greek verb eksegeomai is used in Luke 24:35; John 1:18; Acts 10:8; 15:12; 14; 21:19. English words "seek" and "sage" are also related to the Latin word "sagire" a related word).
John Calvin said, "It is the first business of an interpreter to let his author say what he does say, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say."
I. The Contribution of Hermeneutics to Preaching (where it fits in the process) (Back to the main outline)
The first level (or starting point):
Biblical Languages - Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek (Koine Greek - not supernatural, but the language of everyday life - which is an argument for modern translations; not Attic which was the dialect of drama and rhetoric - see research of Adolph Deissmann, Light
from the Ancient East (1908).
Textual criticism - establishment of the text
Bible Introduction - historical backgrounds, cultures, philosophies
The second level:
Hermeneutics - interprets the text accurately. Hermeneutics is the rules of exegesis.
Exegesis - tells us what the text says and what it means. Exegesis is the practice of hermeneutics.
The third level:
(all of these disciplines may illuminate the text)
Systematic Theology - must be based on biblical exegesis and not the reverse
Philosophy of Religion
The fourth level (or finished product):
Bible Exposition (including homiletics)
Exegesis is like a diver bringing up pearls from the ocean bed; an expositor is like the jeweler who arrays them in orderly fashion and in proper relation to each other.
According to John Stott in Between Two Worlds (1982), we must bridge the gap between our minds and the minds of the biblical writers.
We advocate expositional preaching in which:
1. The message finds its sole source in Scripture
2. The message is extracted from Scripture through careful
3. The message preparation correctly interprets Scripture in its normal sense and its context.
4. The message clearly explains the original God-intended meaning
5. The message applies the Scriptural meaning for today.
Anything less than expository preaching is technically not really preaching at all, but is the subjective opinion or experience of the speaker.
II. The Process Illustrated ( Back to the main outline)
Ezra and his assistants instructed the people in the law. "They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read" (Nehemiah 8:8). The Jews during Babylonian exile had lost their Hebrew and were speaking Aramaic. When they returned to
Jerusalem many could not understand the Hebrew Scriptures.
Philip asked the Ethiopian, "Do you understand what you are reading?" The Ethiopian answered, "How can I unless someone explains it to me?" (Acts 8:30-31). The word for "explain" or "guide" is hodegeo, made up of to lead + way.
Os Guiness observed, "In all my studies I have yet to see a Western society where the church pews are so full and the sermons so empty." The saints are being fed junk food. Much preaching today is either entertaining, emotional, or experiential. We advocate biblical preaching which enlightening the intellect, challenges the will, and brings assurance to the emotions - in
After the "preacher" delivered a masterpiece, he let us watch him at work. Ecclesiastes 12:9-12 describes a preacher's work:
1. He pondered or gave good heed. When this verb is used as a dual noun, it describes a pair of scales. Used as a verb only here it means to weigh. We are to ponder or weigh God's Word (meditation).
||Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his Book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of lights: 'Lord, is it not thy Word, "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God"? Thou "givest liberally and upbraidest not". Thou hast said, "If
any be willing to do thy will, he shall know." I am willing to do, let me know thy will. I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, 'comparing spiritual things with spiritual'. I meditate thereon, with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God, and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak.
And what I thus learn, that I teach [John Wesley, Preface to Standard Sermons].
2. He searched out or sought out the meaning. This word means investigation, diligent, even difficult probing. It is repeated in vs 10 (exegesis).
In his "Address to the Clergy," John Wesley considered what manner of men the clergy should be. Among the qualifications listed Wesley said
||No less necessary is a knowledge of the Scriptures, which teach us how to teach others.... In order to do this accurately, ought he not to know the literal meaning of every word, verse, and chapter; without which there can be no firm foundation on which the spiritual meaning can be built? Should he not likewise be able to deduce the proper corollaries, speculative and practical, from each text; to solve the difficulties which arise, and answer the objections which are or may be raised against it; and to make a suitable application of all to the consciences of his hearers?
But can he do this, in the most effectual manner, without a knowledge of the original tongues? Without this, will he not frequently be at a stand, even as to texts which regard practice only? But he will be under still greater difficulties, with respect to controverted scriptures. He will be ill able to rescue these out of the hands of any man of learning that would pervert them: For whenever an appeal is made to the original, his mouth is stopped at once.
Wesley continues by recommending a knowledge of history and especially the Church Fathers, the sciences, logic, philosophy, psychology, common sense, and personal refinement. Then he takes inventory by asking, "Are we such, or are we not?"
||Let us each seriously examine himself. Have I, (1.) Such a
knowledge of Scripture, as becomes him who undertakes so to explain it to others, that it may be a light in all their paths? Have I a full and clear view of the analogy of faith, which is the clue to guide me through the whole? Am I acquainted with the several parts of Scripture; with all parts of the Old Testament and the New? Upon the mention of any text, do I know the context,
and the parallel places? Have I that point at least of a good Divine, the being a good textuary? Do I know the grammatical
construction of the four Gospels; of the Acts; of the Epistles; and am I a master of the spiritual sense (as well as the literal) of what I read? Do I understand the scope of each book, and how every part of it tends thereto? Have I skill to draw the natural
inferences deducible from each text? Do I know the objections raised to them or from them.... Am I ready to give a satisfactory answer to each of these objections?
Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I
undertake, (as every Minister does,) not only to explain books which are written therein, but to defend them against all opponents. Am I not at the mercy of every one who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretence? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament: critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David's Psalms; or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament: Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did
I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face? [Works,
3. Then he set in order his thoughts (homiletics). This verb has the meaning of becoming straight. It is also used in 1:15 and 7:13.
The result is that the preacher's words are acceptable (pleasing words of delight) and upright. "His words are not so pleasing that they cease to upright."(1)
These words prod us like goads. A goad was a rod with a spike that was used to prod cattle. They also are nailed to our memory fastened like a well-driven tent stake.
If assemblies refers to a collection of people or a collection of proverbs, the "masters of assemblies" are the pastors/teachers or writers whose words are given from the one shepherd. Yahweh was often called the Shepherd of Israel and Jesus is called the
Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20). The writer of Ecclesiastes claimed that he worked hard to write his proverbs, but ultimately they were given by God.
In a secondary sense every preacher should work hard to grasp the meaning of Scripture. According to verse 12, study is hard work. Those who engage in manual labor do not realize that the work of a true pastor/teacher is also exhausting. And we cannot expect the Lord to bless us if we are lazy preachers. Adam Clarke urged preachers to "study yourself half to death and then pray yourself wholly to life" We work with words and pray that God will use our words to prod and enlighten. We choose words carefully with the hope that the Holy Spirit will nail them down in the minds of those in our assembly until their life is changed.
"Apply yourself totally to the text; apply the text totally to yourself" (1734 edition of the Greek NT).
III. An Introduction to the Textbook (Back to the main outline)
Milton Spencer Terry (1840-1914) was professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Exegesis at Garrett Biblical Institute. He wrote more in the area of eschatology than any other Methodist writer. In addition to a very helpful section (405-499) in Biblical Hermeneutics, which was first published in 1883, he later wrote
Biblical Apocalyptics in 1898 (reprinted in 1988).
When Biblical Hermeneutics went into its second edition in 1890,the entire chapter on divine inspiration was dropped. In all it is 271 pages shorter. By 1901 Terry published Moses and the Prophets which he called "an essay toward a fair and useful statement of some of the positions of modern biblical criticism.
He defends the documentary hypothesis along with most other tenets of higher criticism. Finally in Biblical Dogmatics (1907) his position is a total reversal of what he had stated twenty-four years earlier. In it he stated that "the dogma of verbal inerrancy is inconsistent with existing facts, extravagant in its assumptions, and mischievous in its tendency to provoke
continual controversy in the church... a positive hindrance to the rational study of the Bible" (pp. 23-24). His final book was The Shinto Cult (1910). "In his later years he became quite enthusiastic about the field of comparative religions and
indicated a universalistic tendency."(2)
Daryl McCarthy feels that Terry probably played the greatest role in the move of Methodism from its historic stand for biblical inerrancy to a denial of inerrancy and infallibility. I believe part of Terry's tragic reversal was that the conservative position at that time was increasingly becoming aligned with the
new dispensational eschatology which was in direct contradiction to Terry's position.
Then why use Terry's book? It reflects 150 years of the
Methodist tradition and is more comprehensive than anything written in the last 100 years. Terry, like Solomon, departed from his own earlier teaching.
IV. The Nature of the Book (Back to the main outline)
Through the Incarnation Jesus Christ, the living Word, became the God-man, fully God and fully man. To emphasize either side, without maintaining the balance, is to fall into heresy. In a
similar way the written Word has a dual nature. In both cases the Holy Spirit used fallible human agents to produce a theanthropic result - a sinless person and an errorless book.
Liberals emphasize the human process and deny the supernatural source. Conservatives tend to depict the Bible as falling out of heaven and fail to appreciate the fact that God accommodated His revelation to human experience, language, culture, and
literature. [Terry, ch 29]
A. Divinely Inspired
1. Revelation means unveiling. God has told us what we would otherwise not know. He is there and He has communicated in terms
we can understand. God chose the most accurate method of communication - "get it in writing."
John Wesley exclaimed, "God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God!" (Preface to Standard Sermons).
2. Inspiration means that God superintended the human authors,
using their individual personalities, so that they composed and recorded without error His revelation to man. The purpose of inspiration is to insure infallibility. If God said it and the
human authors got it down right, it is true and authoritative because of its source.
||There are four grand and powerful arguments which strongly induce us to believe that the Bible must be from God; viz., miracles, prophecies, the goodness of the doctrine, and the moral character of the penmen.
The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God.
1. It could not be the invention of good men or angels; for they neither would nor could make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, "Thus saith the Lord," when it was
their own invention.
2. It could not be the invention of bad men or devils; for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity.
3. Therefore, I draw this conclusion, that the Bible must be given by divine inspiration. (Wesley, Works 11:484)
a. Incomplete explanations of inspiration:
1. Inspiration is more than the author's intuition. The Bible gives information we could not know with certainty except through revelation.
2. It is more than the illumination or spiritual perception we
all may experience.
3. It is more than a fallible record of human thought or religion.
4. It is more than inspired concepts, but; the very words are chosen for a reason.
b. Inspiration Described
1. Inspiration is Verbal
||You cannot dissect inspiration into substance and form. As for thoughts being inspired, apart from the words which give them expression, you might as well talk of a tune without notes, or a sum without figures. No such theory of inspiration is even
intelligible. It is as illogical as it is worthless, and cannot be too sternly put down.(3)
2. Inspiration is Plenary
Plenary means full. "By plenary inspiration, we mean that the whole and every part is divinely inspired. This does not necessarily presuppose the mechanical theory of inspiration, as
some contend, or any particular method, only that the results of that inspiration give us the Holy Scriptures as the final and authoritative rule of faith in the Church."(4)
The red letters are no more inspired than the black ones.
3. Inspiration is Propositional
Propositional means truth which can be communicated in the form of a statement in which a predicate or object is affirmed or denied regarding a subject (open to verification). Truth is
absolute. Truth is objective (open to verification). Truth is what corresponds to reality. All this is in opposition to existential, pragmatic, and subjective views of truth which are the presuppositions of liberal hermeneutics.
Emil Brunner taught that revelation was personal and not propositional. But how can one personal make himself known to another without telling him things. However, God not only spoke through propositions, but through attitudes, wishes, invitations, appeals, and reactions through His prophets. Sometimes he spoke
through visions and signs, but basically through direct speech.
God's revelation is logical, following the conventional rules of
grammar. God did not use nonsensical words which could only be understood by the initiated. A "mantra" is an ancient Sanskrit word assigned (for a fee) by a guru. It must be passed on by the guru's voice and it need not be understood for it to work. As this word is repeated it is supposed to open the door to a fusion
of self with the Absolute, which is yoga.
3. Inerrancy means free from error. This refers in accuracy in recording what was intended. God saw to it that His message was
received without error. Some radical Arminians have said that God's activity in inspiration should be understood as parallel to His activity in salvation. Since God does not force salvation
upon us, neither did He dictate or control the human authors of Scripture. It is claimed that God did not override man's free will. However, we are not nearly as "free" as we think we are (see Acts 17:26). Much of life is determined. God utilized men who were surrendered to his will. Therefore, God's revelation did not override their ability to think. God revealed Himself in and through their thinking.(5)
- Psalm 12:6 "flawless" tahor is used of pure gold without alloy
- Psalm 18:30 "flawless" sarap means refined gold. What God says
is completely reliable since it has been refined [the process].
- Psalm 19:7 "perfect" means complete. Tamim is used of animals
without blemish. The Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB) defines it as "what is complete, entirely in accord with truth and fact, p. 1071. Elihu claimed his words were not false, because he was perfect - same word - in knowledge. Elihu's words were not perfect, but God's are.
- Matthew 5:18
- John 17:17
||Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth(John Wesley, Journal, 24 July 1776).
Wesley wrote a letter to the Bishop of Gloucester in response to the Bishop's tract "On the Office and Operations of the Holy Spirit." In it the Bishop claimed that the Holy Spirit so directed the writers that "no considerable error should fall from them." Wesley objected to this language by writing, "Nay, will not the allowing there is any error in Scripture, shake the authority of the whole?" (Works, Jackson ed., 9:150).
||No organism can be stronger than its weakest part, that if error be found in any one element, or in any class of statements, certainty as to any portion could rise no higher than belongs to that exercise of human reason to which it will be left to discriminate the infallible from the fallible.(6)
Yet a secretary could inerrantly recording the ravings of a madman.
4. Authority - The authority of scripture is based simply on who
inspired the book. Infallibility means it is trustworthy and reliable. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).
5. The Bible claims Inspiration from God
the Bible is called the oracles of God - Romans 3:2
||the Word of God Luke 8:11
the Word of the Lord Acts 13:48
the Word of Life Philippians 2:16
the Word of Christ Colossians 3:16
the Word of truth Ephesians 1:13
the Word of faith Romans 10:8
God said, the Lord God said, or The Lord spoke saying - 700x in Pentateuch; historical books 400 times. Isaiah claimed his message came directly forty times. Jeremiah a hundred times. Ezekiel sixty times.
"inspired by God" 2 Timothy 3:16 "moved by the Holy Spirit" 2 Peter 1:21 these and similar statements declare over 2000x that the Bible is
the Word of God.
6. NT citations of OT passages
NT quotes from nearly all of the 39 OT books. Of the NT's 260 chapters, 209 quote the OT. Examples of the regard the NT writers had for the OT:
Matthew 1:22 quotes Isaiah 7:14 as what the Lord has spoken 19:5 quotes Genesis 2:24 as words God said Mark 7:9-13 the commandment of Moses is cited as the word of God Luke 1:70 quotes from Zechariah as spoken by God through the
prophets Acts 2:16-17 the prophecy of Joel is quoted as what God says the Hebrew writer never gives credit to the human author except
2:6 "someone said."
7. How Were the Scriptures Inspired?
1. God wrote the ten commandments Himself - Deuteronomy 5:22
2. God dictated sections of Scripture
The OT records several instances of speech from God to
individuals. God communicates to people by using actual spoken words, not simply communicating ideas or thoughts. Human language is not a barrier to effective communication by God.
Examples of sections which God dictated directly -
Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27
Deuteronomy 31:22, 24
1 Samuel 10:25
1 Chronicles 28:19
1 Corinthians 2:13
Apparently the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3 were dictated verbatim by the Lord Jesus.
Older theologians spoke of dictation referring to the fact that the authors wrote word for word what God intended, not that a particular method of stenography was necessarily used.
3. God's words were spoken by men
A prophet is an authoritative messenger of God, "Thus says the Lord" was often used as the introductory formula of a royal decree, what the prophet says in God's name, God says.
4. God's words written by a prophet
The prophets received supernatural information and spoke with prophetic utterance. According to Hebrews 1:1 revelation came at times by dreams or visions; in the case of Ezekiel it came by symbolic action and later by verbal communication.
B. Human Personality
Over a span of 1600 years, 40 authors, used three languages, on three continents. God providentially ordered the life, education, an circumstances of each writer to fit him for his writing. They did not make any mistakes in any area; their memory was
Like an orchestra directed by the Spirit, each played a different part. Like a man dictating to a Ph D and to his small daughter, puts the same message into different words which each can handle. The speech of Isaiah was florid and full; the message of Amos was plain and abrupt. I feel fairly sure that Paul did
not write Hebrews. Yet their personalities were not lost in the process.
Sources of information:
1. direct knowledge - they were often eyewitness. Yet Paul did not remember how many he had baptized 1 Cor. 1:16
2. oral tradition
3. short written accounts - notes
4. personal contacts among writers
5. ordinary sources of information; government documents - much of Numbers is based on the results of a census
1 Kings 11:41; 14:29; 15:31
1 Chronicles 29:29
2 Chronicles 32:32; 36:23
Ezra 1:2-4; 4:7-23; 5:6-7; 6:6-12
6. Solomon and Luke did research - 1 Kings 4:32-3; Luke 1:1-4; 1 Peter 1:10-11?
7. direct supernatural revelation. Daniel did not understand all of his vision (12:8-9).
Yet at all times the biblical writers were superintended by Holy Spirit. However, John R. Rice taught that the entire Bible was verbally dictated by God.(7) While parts of Scripture definitely were, this does not take
into account the variety of ways in which God conveyed truth. This makes the inspiration monolithic or uniform.
V. Methods of Interpretation (Which Hermeneutic Do We Use?) (Back to the main outline)
Karl Barth said every theology stands or falls as a hermeneutic and every hermeneutic stands or falls as a theology.
The evangelical theologian first goes to the scripture to learn from it the doctrine of scripture, then in light of his pre-understanding he discerns in scripture principles of interpretation and he brings this set of principles to the scriptures to derive other doctrines.
Our exegesis, synthesis, and application is determined by a hermeneutic - that is determined by an overall theology, a theology which rests on and supports itself by exegesis, synthesis, and application - also a spiral in the sense that we
rise from a less exact and well tested understanding to one that is more so. This concept is sometimes called the hermeneutical spiral.
This method regards the plain meaning of the words as merely a vehicle through which the deeper, more profound, mystical or spiritual meaning comes. The literal meaning is considered elementary and the hidden meaning is for the mature. The heathen
who toss eggs on a roof to see if they break or not, who read the entrails of chickens to determine their course of action are not much different from people who take a word of scripture out of context and then construct a subjective interpretation.
Some of the rabbis fell into this approach to Scripture, such as Philo. "He was determined to get circuitously what he could not get directly. And thus did he practically create a Bible of his
own - a Bible infinitely less venerable and more obscure - endowed with claims and interpreted by methods which were not derived from its own pages but were a feeble exotic transplanted from the theories of Greek philosophers into a completely alien
By the second and third century many of the Church fathers used an allegorical approach to the Old Testament in order to find
support for Christian doctrines. While they were men of piety, they were not necessarily good scholars. Ray Dunning said that to move from the New Testament to the writings of the Apostolic Fathers was like "moving from a brilliantly lighted room into the
twilight shadows." He quoted F. W. Farrar's evaluation that "their glory is for the most part the glory, not of intellect, but of righteousness and faith."(9) Even during early period there was opposition to allegorical exegesis from the School of Antioch in Syria.
Luther said that to allegorize is to juggle with Scripture. He said that the literal sense of Scripture alone is the whole essence of faith and of Christian theology. "I have observed that all the heresies and errors have arisen not from Scripture's own
plain statements, but when that plainness of statement is ignored, and men follow the Scholastic arguments of their own brains."
1. It is subjective: each man is a law unto himself.
2. It is rationalistic: Scripture is manipulated to suit man's reason.
3. It obscures Scripture by imposing eisogesis for exegesis.
4. It denies the historical situation of the text
An Example of Allegory
Augustine on the Parable of the Good Samaritan
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; Adam himself is meant; Jerusalem is the heavenly city of peace, from whose blessedness Adam fell; Jericho means the moon, and signifies our mortality, because it is born, waxes, wanes, and dies. Thieves are the devil and his angels. Who stripped him, namely, of his immortality; and beat him, by persuading him to sin; and left him
half-dead, because in so far as man can understand and know God, he lives, but in so far as he is wasted and oppressed by sin, he
is dead; he is therefore called, half-dead. The priest and Levite who saw him and passed by, signify the priesthood and the ministry of the Old Testament which could profit nothing for
salvation. Samaritan means Guardian, and therefore the Lord Himself is signified by this name. The binding of the wounds is
the restraint of sin. Oil is the comfort of the good hope; wine
the exhortation to work with fervent spirit. The beast is the flesh in which he deigned to come to us. The being set upon the beast is belief in the incarnation of Christ. The inn is the
church, where travelers returning to their heavenly country are refreshed after pilgrimage. The morrow is after the resurrection
of the Lord. The two pence are either the two precepts of live, or the promise of this life and that which is to come. The
innkeeper is the Apostle (Paul). The supererogatory payment is either his counsel of celibacy, or the fact that he worked with
his own hands lest he should be a burden to any of the weaker brethren when the Gospel was new, though it was lawful for him "to live by the Gospel" [from Questions Evangeliorum, II, 19].
There are some allegories in scripture. Paul specifically identifies Gal 4:21-31 as an allegory (vs 24). An allegory, in contrast to a parable, may establish several points of comparison. However, we must avoid the tendency to read into a
passage what we want it to say. Augustine needed a catechism for new converts and misused this passage in order to fit his needs.
It was soon discovered that allegory was just as effective a tool in the hands of the heretic and the orthodox. Out of this dilemma the Roman Catholic Church taught the priority of the church over Scripture.
Wesley and the Reformers substituted an infallible Book for an infallible Church.(10) The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches accept the
Bible as the first or primary authority along with the consensus of the early Fathers, the ecumenical creeds, and decisions of ecumenical councils, and oral tradition.
When this principle is misapplied it means the Church alone can interpret Scripture, that the Church is the official interpreter of Scripture, and no passage of Scripture can be interpreted to conflict with Roman Catholic doctrine. For example, at the
Council of Trent (1545-63)
1. the Roman church ruled affirmed the doctrine of purgatory
2. then adopted the apocraphical books which had a reference to
3. and pronounced a curse on everyone who did not accept these books
In the late 1960s Albert Outler coined the phrase Wesleyan quadrilateral as a paradigm for the four-fold guidelines of authority in Wesleyan theology. It has been so widely misconstrued that Outler since expressed regret that he coined the term.
In its best sense it refers to the primacy of scriptural authority, complimented and corroborated by tradition, reason, and experience. However, if this is conceived geometrically the tendency would be to view all four as equal bases of authority. Instead of standing against the dual authority of Roman
Catholicism, Wesleyanism is perceived as having four authorities!
The New Testament was studied in Latin, and not Greek during the Middle Ages thus ignoring the priority of the original language. Martin Luther resisted Roman Catholic dogmatism saying, "A layman who has Scripture is more than Pope or council without it." Another time Luther objected, "I ask for Scriptures and Eck offers me the Fathers. I ask for the sun and he shows me his lanterns. I ask: 'Where is your Scripture proof?' and he adduces Ambrose and Cyril... With all due respect to the Fathers I prefer the authority of the Scripture." As Protestants we accept
Scripture as our sole authority for faith and practice.
||The faith of the Protestants, in general, embraces only those truths, as necessary to salvation, which are clearly revealed in the oracles of God. Whatever is plainly declared in the Old and New Testaments is the object of their faith. They believe neither more nor less than what is manifestly contained in, and provable by, the Holy Scriptures.... The written Word is the whole and sole rule of their faith, as well as practice. They believe whatsoever God has declared, and profess to do whatsoever He hath commanded. This is the proper faith of Protestants: by this they will abide, and no other[John Wesley, "On Faith," Sermon #106, I.8].
This emphasizes the devotional aspects of Scripture. Pietism was a reaction to mechanical and dogmatic exegesis, emphasizing the Bible as spiritual food. It tends to allegorize the Old Testament, discount doctrine, and emphasize an experience.
Is there a promise for me to claim? a duty to observe? an example to follow? a prayer to pray? a doctrine to accept? a principle to live by?
While this approach can be helpful, verses can be taken out of context to provide answers to personal dilemmas. Lots are cast or the Bible open at random.
Admittedly, commentators can become dry and mechanical. The Word of God should be presented with life and anointing. The problem with the mystical interpretation is that it tends to reduce
Scripture to only one dimension - that of personal spirituality. However, the Bible speaks to every sphere of life and its principles should produce a comprehensive world view influencing education, the arts, science and medical ethics, law and
1. It is essentially an application, not an explanation. Before we can apply the text we must ascertain what it meant when it was written.
2. Abuses are allegorizing, excessive typology, and neglect of prior doctrinal basis.
4. Historical - Grammatical
The natural, ordinary, usual sense of the words based on the laws of grammar and the facts of history. "Words should be understood in their literal sense unless such literal interpretation involves a manifest contradiction or absurdity" (Terry, p. 247).
For example, Proverbs 24:13 says to eat honey; 25:27 it is not good to eat too much honey. Is this a contradiction? A contradiction is to both affirm and deny the same meaning. 25:16 explains too much honey may make you sick - yet honey, used sensibly is good. Is Proverbs 26:4-5 a contradiction? Are we
looking for contradictions? If so we will find apparent contradictions. However, if we approach the scripture believing it to be rational, we can understand its meaning - sometimes with
the help of a good commentary. It would be a very juvenile author who would contradict himself this blatantly. I make the assumption that Solomon is using this technique to get our attention. [Terry, ch 30] The meaning of the two together is that
one should not lower himself to the level of a fool but that there are times when the lesser evil is to speak out than be silent - ignore foolish statements when you can, but address them when you must.
Literal means the natural or usual construction, not the wooden literalism of extreme fundamentalism which makes the Bible a dead letter. Literalism must not be allowed to drift into letterism. Literal is not opposed to spiritual and does not deny the use of
symbolic language. Kenneth Gentry referred to Milton S. Terry's Biblical Hermeneutics as the classic text and noted that while Terry advocated the grammatical-historical approach to hermeneutics, literalism is an "Aberration of otherwise fundamentally sound principles." Gentry also noted that progressive dispensationalists are beginning to admit that while consistent literalism was the goal of dispensationalism, it was never attained [The Great Tribulation: Past or Future?, p. 247]
In prophetic passages the symbols are to be understood as figurative because it is apparent from the context that they are symbolic. "It is an old and oft-repeated hermeneutical principle that words should be understood in their literal sense unless such literal interpretation involves a manifest contradiction or absurdity. It should be observed, however, that this principle, when reduced to practice, becomes simply an appeal to every man's rational judgment" (Terry, p. 247).
Wesley's hermeneutical presuppositions were identical with those of Luther and Calvin. Wesley wrote, "The general rule of interpreting Scripture is this: the literal sense of every text is to be taken, if it be not contrary to some other texts. But in
that case, the obscure text is to be interpreted by those which speak more plainly" (Letter to Samuel Furly, 10 May, 1755).
||Try all things by the written word, and let all bow down before it. You are in danger of [fanaticism] every hour, if you depart ever so little from Scripture; yea, or from the plain, literal meaning of an text, taken in connection with the context (Works, 11:429).
Adam Clarke advised, "Never take a text which you do not fully understand; and make it a point of conscience to give the literal meaning of it to the people: this is a matter of great and solemn importance. To give God's words a different meaning to what he intended to convey by them, or to put a construction upon them which we have not the fullest proof he has intended, is awful indeed!" (Clarke's Theology, pp. 319-20).
1. This is the usual way literature is interpreted.
2. All secondary meanings depend upon previous objective literal sense.
3. Large part of the Bible makes sense this way.
4. Exercises a control on the imagination.
Both liberals and conservatives can manipulate scripture to serve their purposes. W. L. King cancelled a speaker because he had grown a beard. When asked if he would have cancelled Moses,
Aaron, Moody, or Finney, King replied if he was living in the days of Aaron, Moses and the old timers, perhaps I would permit such. However, he argues that since beards became a symbol of rebellion during the hippie era that he could not permit men with
face hair in his pulpit.(11) It is ironic that King pines for the old fashioned way with the exception of cultural issues that we
handles by employing the liberal hermeneutic. The principle of the sufficiency of Scripture would say that if beards were a moral issue the Bible would have spoken to the issue. Since it did not, they are a non-issue and every man must be fully persuaded in his own mind (Romans 14:5).
5. Historical - Critical
In the Wesleyan Theological Journal, George Lyons wrote "Hermeneutical Bases for Theology: Higher Criticism and the Wesleyan Interpreter."(12)
Lyons argues that since Wesley incorporated the contemporary Biblical criticism of his day, he should serve as an example for us, and Wesleyan interpreters today must become familiar with the
current methods, results, and practice of "higher criticism." Lyons conceded that "we cannot uncritically swallow all its naturalistic and rationalistic assumptions, but neither can we
ignore its more numerous values." While we will at least become aware of some current developments, I feel they have made very little contribution to the field of biblical interpretation
because all of their "contributions" are tainted by a liberal bias. In 1963 Robert Brush, of the Fundamental Wesleyan Society, traveled to Marion, IN to express his concerns over the influence of higher criticism in Wesleyan Sunday School literature with the leadership of the Wesleyan Church.
a. The origin and spread of higher criticism
In the 17th century, German secular universities approached Scripture with a rationalistic attitude. They taught the universe is ruled by set laws which cannot be suspended or altered and therefore miracles were impossible. The idea that God spoke or
intervened was dismissed.
Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) developed an elaborate system of sources for the Pentateuch called JEDP or source criticism.
F. C. Baur (1792-1860) handled the New Testament in a similar way. Baur saw Peter and Paul as antagonistic to one another in their writings. Baur believed that the second century church wrote most of the New Testament, which were doctored, and that
these writings differed greatly from the historical Jesus.
John Wesley was abreast with current developments in biblical scholarship. A. Skevington Wood, who also wrote The Principles of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), said that while it is fashionable to dismiss Wesley's conservative approach to Scripture saying that he lived in pre-critical times and had be been alive today would have adopted more liberal
views, fails to take into account that Wesley was conscious of the beginning of the development of higher criticism -yet did not embrace it.(13) "To classify Wesley as a 'critical' scholar represents a vain
attempt to 'modernize' him."(14) Wesley was not impressed with the critics of his day.
||It would be excusable if these menders of the Bible would offer their hypotheses modestly. But one cannot excuse them when they not only obtrude their novel scheme, with the utmost confidence, but even ridicule that scriptural one which always was and is now held by men of the greatest learning and piety in the world. Hereby they promote the cause of infidelity more effectually than either Hume or Voltaire (Wesley's Journal, 8 August 1773).
In the eighteenth century science adopted Enlightenment philosophy which categorically ruled out the possibility of miracles. They sought a natural explanation for all things and
exchanged their belief in a Creator God for the theory of evolution. For the first time science was pitted against scripture and historic Christianity was perceived as being behind the times.
Until the nineteenth century, it was left to heretics outside the Church to question the integrity of the Scriptures. The Word of God claimed to be inspired by God and the message of the Bible was internally consistent with that claim. This divine
inspiration was confirmed by fulfilled prophecy and by miracles. The Church recognized the same Scriptures as did the Jewish religion, plus the writings of the apostles were also recognized as being authoritative and were placed on an equal basis with the Old Testament Scriptures.
In an effort to reconcile science and Scripture, liberal theologians tended to re-interpret Scripture in the light of scientific theory. While their motive may have been the desire to address modern questions which were being raised, they made so many concessions they actually betrayed the faith.
Instead of concentrating on the biblical text, the trend was to develop naturalistic theories as to how the text came into being. Source criticism assumed that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not actually write the gospels which bear their names.
Instead, eyewitness accounts were passed on orally for a generation. Some were embellished or modified over the passage of time. Then these eyewitness accounts were gathered, edited, and written down in a document called Quelle or Q. None of the critics have ever seen this document called Q, but it is assumed
that the editors who compiled Matthew, Mark, and Luke all drew from this source and altered the material to address needs within the early Church. Thus the higher critics had more faith in a Q document they have never seen than in the Word of God which they held in their hands. All this offers very little help in
interpretation of Scripture.
This same "cut and paste" approach to the Scriptures produced the documentary hypothesis which explained the five books of Moses were actually written by four different sources and later pieced together into its present form a thousand years after
Moses. Thus the Pentateuch is not regarded as historically accurate, but a natural product of the Jewish religion.
It is interesting that the massive, twelve-volume Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, published
between 1867-1887, did not have an article on Bible Criticism. However, at the end of the second volume and out of alphabetical order, a two-page supplementary article on criticism is inserted.
I believe this demonstrates the point in time when continental liberalism began to influence American theology.
When Hinckley G. Mitchell of Boston University School of Theology questioned the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the Methodist bishops brought charges against him. The proceedings went on for ten years, from 1895 to 1905, but eventually Mitchell
was removed from his position.(15)
In Britain the Methodists were the most consistently
conservative on Scripture and acceptance of the new criticism came more slowly than among the Baptists, Congregationalists, or Presbyterians in the decades before World War I. Wesley had promoted in Britain both a learned study of the Bible and an
intense interest in the Spirit. Evangelicals were not forced to choose between the two.
Prior to 1913 Charles H. Fowler, a Methodist bishop, said, "It may seem a severe thing for a Methodist bishop, and one who has been president of one of our largest universities to say, but nevertheless I believe it to be true that the schools and
universities of the Methodist Episcopal Church belong more to the devil to-day than they do to our Church."(16)
However, it is ironic that C. Leslie Mitton, who expressed a wonderful grasp of Wesleyan theology in A Clue to Wesley's Sermons, could be caught up in higher criticism to the extend he even denied Paul wrote Ephesians and Peter wrote 1 Peter.
b. Subsequent developments
1. Form criticism
After source criticism fragmented the entire Bible, form criticism built upon this unproven assumption. Form criticism, which dominated scholarship in the first half of the twentieth
century, attempted to reconstruct each independent unit between the oral traditions and the written Word of God as we now have it. It was assumed that the Church created legends, tales, myths,
and parables to meet particular needs which existed at the time. This places the church in authority over the Word since the word of God was claimed to have been carried orally before the church wrote it down. What is overlooked is that the authority is not
vested in who wrote it down, but who spoke it!
The Bible was regarded as a piece of propaganda created by the Church to serve its own interests. They emphasize the "sitz im lebem" or the life situation that produced writing. Form criticism, applied to Charles Wesley's hymns might lead to the
conclusion that they were really beer drinking songs. It is legitimate to consider the culture and circumstances surrounding the writing so long as we do not conclude that the inspired
account was fabricated or embellished to serve a certain purpose. Liberals always forget that part of the life situation which produced the writing was the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Rudolf Bultmann, one of the most famous form critics, attempted to strip away the mythology that he claimed had developed about Jesus and when Bultmann had finished he ended up with only forty
brief sayings he considered genuine. The myth was considered a vehicle for expressing the reality. The ideal is transcendent and must be abstracted from the text.
C. S. Lewis, who was an authority in medieval literature, expressed his skepticism with biblical criticism:
||1. These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim
to see fern-seed and can't see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.
||2. All theology of the liberal type involves at some point - and often involves throughout - the claim that the real behavior and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by His followers, and has been
recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars.
||3. I find in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the miraculous does not occur.... I only want to point out that this is a purely philosophical question. Scholars, as scholars, speak on it with no more authority than anyone else.... On this they speak simply as men; men obviously influenced
by, and perhaps insufficiently critical of, the spirit of the age they grew up in.
||4. All this sort of criticism attempts to reconstruct the genesis of the texts it studies; what vanished documents each author used, when and where he wrote, with what purposes, under what influences - the whole Sitz im Leben of the text. This is
done with immense erudition and great ingenuity. And at first sight it is very convincing.... What forearms me against all these Reconstructions is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstruction the genesis of my own books in just this way. Until you come to be reviewed yourself you would never believe
how little of an ordinary review is taken up by criticism in the strict sense: by evaluation, praise, or censure, of the book actually written. Most of it is taken up with imaginary histories of the process by which you wrote it.... Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash you off such histories with great
confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author's mind to this or that, what other authors had influenced him, what his over-all intention was, what sort of audience he
principally addressed, why - and when - he did everything.... My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; that the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure.... Dr. Bultmann never
wrote a gospel. Has the experience of his learned, specialized, and no doubt meritorious, life really given him any power of seeing into the minds of those long dead men who were caught up into what, on any view, much be regarded as the central religious
experience of the whole human race? It is no incivility to say - he himself would admit - that he must in every way be divided from the evangelists by far more formidable barriers - spiritual as well as intellectual - than any that could exist between my
reviewers and me.(17)
Starting with Karl Barth in 1918, criticized the excesses of liberalism. However, he put the emphasis on revelation and not the trustworthiness of Scripture. For neo-orthodoxy, the
Scriptures contain error, but they point to Christ. The Bible then is only a fallible witness. The Bible contains the record of past revelations and the promise of future revelations, but I
receive the Word of God only when God speaks to me and I respond. "The Bible itself is not the primary form of revelation, but it
contains the testimony of the primary witnesses to God's revelation."(18) Thus the Scripture is read existentially. Modern
theologians such as Paul Tillich teach an existentialism which says that human experience is not describable in scientific or rational terms. Tongues then becomes a non-rational experience or a "leap in the dark." Oral Roberts said that Tillich greatly
influenced his going to the Methodist Church.(19)
1. Denies that Bible is the Word of God; claims it becomes the Word when God speaks to a man and he responds. This is more a description of intuition than it is revelation.
2. Only that part of the Bible which witnesses to Christ is binding, and the seat of authority for deciding this is in man's mind.
3. Many Bible episodes are treated mythologically - as having serious theological principles but not as having literally occurred.
4. The Bible is a witness to the Word of God, but God reveals Himself in acts, not in words. The Word of God is personal, not propositional. Christ is God's revelation; the Bible is only a fallible human record of that revelation.
Carl F. H. Henry surveyed Barth's method of interpreting Scripture and asked, "Are we doomed to hermeneutical nihilism?" Henry concluded, "We must insist that ideally the interpreter shares the objective meaning of the inspired biblical writers as
expressed in conceptual-verbal form; we must repudiate recent notions of the historicity of understanding as destructive not only of the normativity of any and all communication but as self-destructive."(20) Henry is saying that liberal hermeneutics can get so subjective
that it loses all meaning and concludes that the Bible has no meaning. Albrecht Ritschl taught in the late nineteenth century that religious statements were not statements of truth but "value judgments." The next trend was that we should not speak of the truth in a text but only of "meaning." Then it was advocated that
we cannot talk of meaning, but only of "reading." When this generation, who never learned to read, become scholars the text will be unintelligible!
3. Redaction Criticism
The next theory to gain popularity was redaction criticism (coined by Willi Marxsen in 1954). The focus moved to the redactors or editors who picked and chose what material would be interwoven to create the biblical accounts and what motivated
these editors to select the material which we now have. This is like playing Jeopardy - you are given the answer and have to deduce the question. This draws the interpreter away from the text to guessing what motivated the editor. This approach can
only be used where similar documents can be compared. Thus redaction criticism operates primarily in the Gospel accounts and in the OT between Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. It is assumed that different church situations produced different accounts.
There may be literary dependance, but in humility we could never announce that fact with complete certainty. However, once again redaction criticism gives very little input in terms of the
meaning of the final text. While there was selectivity and arrangement of events by gospel writers, there was not modification and creativity.
"Midrash" is a literary genre which allows for embellishment - a mixture of historical literature and fabrication to prove or emphasize a particular point. The Talmud, a commentary on the Mishnah gave rules of exegesis. There would be the citation of
text, an explanation following which majors on application of the text to the situation of the interpreter, citation of opinions of
the rabbis, word plays as a means of interpretation.
Those who claim the biblical writers utilized midrash are saying the human authors of scripture did creative editing in adding fictional embellishment and unhistorical fabrication in order to fulfill theological intentions. However, there could not be
creation or invention of events that did not occur.(21)
4. The Jesus Seminar
A recent development in the evolution of the liberal's Bible is the work of the Jesus Seminar. They published their five gospels in 1993, which included the Gospel of Thomas, an unreliable collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus which was found in Egypt in 1945. The Five Gospels put the words they have concluded
did not come from Christ in black. Words in gray mean He did not say it in this form. Pink means it is close to what He said and red are the actual words of Christ as determined by a majority vote of 74 scholars. Only 20% of all the words of Christ end up red and many of those came from the Gospel of Thomas. Newsweek (8 April, 1996) described the ambiguous method used: "They apply the critical tools of today: text chopping, psychological speculation
and colleague-bashing. And then they take leaps of faith, often of their own creation" (p. 62).
However, Robert L. Thomas observed that while evangelicals have reacted to the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar, they have adopted a similar methodology advocating a literary dependance
among biblical authors.(22)
5. Narrative criticism
It is recognized that too much emphasis was placed on the process of writing the Bible and not enough interest in the finished product. Childs maintains that critical study has not got to grips with the true nature of the material. David Bauer also concluded source criticism, form criticism, and redaction
criticism have contributed little to the advancement of our understanding of the message.(23)
There is a trend to treat the Bible as literature, not a scientific approach which attempts to reconstruct the historical development of the text. There is a new concentration on the test itself rather than on authors, intentions and historical
Narrative criticism looks at the narrative passages by looking for the plot, characters, time, and literary relationships between sections. It would pay attention to repetition, contrast, comparison, climax, statements of purpose, summarization, questions, interchange.
This can be legitimate provided we understand we are studying non-fiction literature. The groundwork was laid by Robert Traina in Methodical Bible Study.
Thomas Oden advocates we enter the fray and expose the liberal agenda for what it is - even if we have to bear the epithet of "fundamentalist," like the Jews who wore the Star of David in Nazi Germany.(24)
||The postmodern evangelical critique of hermeneutical criticism
stands poised to speak of the normative canon and the plain sense of Scripture, resisting speculative fashion of redaction and form criticism and reader-response theories and sociopragmatic contextualizations that tyrannize and nonchalantly rape the text.... The classic evangelical hermeneutic trusts the apostolic primitive rememberers more than contemporary ideologically motivated advocacy deconstructionists with wild imaginations.
Brevard S. Childs had proposed a method that begins with the Old Testament as we now have it. Its authority is that it is accepted by the community of faith. Without abandoning higher criticism, he seeks to interpret the text for today, instead of
being interested in what their authors meant by them. In this he seems to be doing what Oden has done theologically. Yet they are putting the authority in the church instead of the book. The problem is not solved by the fact that the Church canonized the
Scripture. By what authority did the Church declare this body of literature to be authoritative? God spoke and the church simply recognized the unique quality of His revelation. In "Back to the Bible (Almost)," Roger E. Olson told this story.
||It took quite a while for me to discern that the pastor of the church we were attending was theologically liberal. That was because he preached stirring, biblically based sermons and delivered meticulous Bible studies. I gradually began to detect,
however, that he did not necessarily believe that the "truth" of the biblical stories he loved to explore and explain had any connection with objective time-and-space history. During a private conversation one Sunday morning, he revealed his true hermeneutical impulses to me: "You know," he stated, "I don't
really think it matters whether any of these beautiful stories of the Bible describe what actually happened. All that really matters is their transforming power in people's lives." My family and I left that church within weeks.(25)
c. Evaluation of higher criticism
George Eldon Ladd concluded, "The historical-critical method is not an adequate method to interpret the theology of the New Testament because its presuppositions limit its findings to the
exclusion of the central biblical message."(26)
While liberals ask if there is some religious meaning in the text not dependant on the literal, historical interpretation - the problem is that each interpretation will be subjective and
1. It is rationalistic
2. Inspiration and the supernatural are both defined
3. Evolutionary concepts are imposed upon the religion of Israel.
4. Accommodation presupposition erases much bible doctrine
John Barton in summarizing the new criticism concluded "it seems clear to me that traditional historical-critical approaches to the Bible will have to be abandoned.(27)
L. W. Munhall reminded us at the turn of the century that Christ and the Holy Spirit are the highest critics of the text and they consistently refer to it as the Word of God. He quoted a Dr.Leacock:
||Accepting the judgment of the Critics, we have before us two alternatives regarding Jesus: He was either ignorant of the facts, and hence taught error under a misapprehension; or else He knew the facts, and knowingly taught what was false, and thus
helped to fasten a fraud and a lie upon His nation and His after Church.
It is impossible to accept the first of these suppositions. He to whom the Spirit was given without measure - He who needed not that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man - He who, before Abraham was born, had existence - He who was with the
Father from the beginning, and was before all things, He surely could not be ignorant of the true history of these books. If therefore we accept Jesus as the only begotten Son, and one with the Father, we must dismiss this first supposition concerning
We turn then to the other proposition, viz., that knowing the facts He suppressed them, and taught what He knew to be false, and linked Himself with those who had conspired to fasten upon the Jewish nation and upon the world, a fraud and a lie. Can this
be so? Is Jesus a fraud? Is he a liar? Then good-bye to His religion. If he is false in one particular, why not in all? We have no security. The foundations are swept away, for everything centers in Him and depends upon His truthfulness. If He is not "the truth," then our hope is gone. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.
This is disaster overwhelming that these learned critics are trying to bring upon us. They remind us of poor blind Samson putting forth his strength to drag down the columns that supported the roof over his head. There is this difference - they know not what they do. Nor have they Samson's strength. We may
dismiss our fears, and still look to Jesus with unshaken confidence. "Heaven and earth shall pass away; but My words shall not pass away."(28)
Robert Bork wrote in The Tempting of America about the battle between lawyers who hold to the "original intent" school of constitutional interpretation and the "judicial activist" school.
Either the Constitution means what the framers meant to say or it means what we think it should mean. Beware of interpreters who admit they are at variance with Scripture, but assert that the Biblical writers would have agreed with them if they had been
enlightened. Where the implications of Scripture collide with modern culture many will cut and paste the Scriptures rather than rebuke the culture. The most blatant re-interpretation of Scripture currently underway is the justification of homosexuality. A close second is the re-interpretation of
Scripture to fit the radical feminist agenda (Paul's hierarchial statements were a product of his culture and if he were here today he would oppose female subordination).
Paul Bassett documents the fact that in the beginning the majority of early Nazarenes were fundamentalists and believed in an inerrant Scripture. But he observed that his church inherited two basically incompatible points of view with regard to the central issue of spiritual-theological authority.(29)
Harold Lindsell commented, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. The Church of the Nazarene should make plain which of the two incompatible viewpoints represents the church and its people.(30)
Elderly pastors from the former Soviet East block have
lamented, "The churches in Eastern Europe by the end of the First War had become merely a shell without any life. The teaching of higher criticism subverted our confidence in the Scriptures and we lost our witness."
It seems that while liberals have recognized the barrenness of higher criticism, conservatives have rushed headlong into it desiring academic respectability. Today not one Nazarene
professor in any Nazarene educational institution accepts the inerrancy of scripture. verify*
Statistically, the laity hold the Scripture in higher regard than their clergy. Potential pastors enter seminary to prepare for the ministry and are pumped full of critical theories about the Scriptures instead of actually giving themselves to the study
of God's Word. They graduate with an exposure to all the unproven theories about the Bible and little confidence left in the Scriptures themselves. The danger is that conservative Bible colleges, in their desire to gain academic respectability and
accreditation, import professors with impressive credentials from liberal institutions. Then these professors infect conservative denominations with the same skepticism which has killed the mainline churches and in the end the bible college is only a step
behind its liberal seminary counterpart.
When our pulpits are filled by pastors who have never settled the question as to whether their faith is in the inerrant Word of God or in the latest critical theory espoused by their professors, the congregation will hear an uncertain trumpet sounded.
Can a minister entertain serious doubts concerning God's Word and at the same time possess a strong personal assurance that he is saved? If we have grieved the Spirit of God by doubting the
Word which He inspired, how can we expect the Spirit to bear witness with our spirit? How can we test the spirits to see whether they are of God if we have no reliable touchstone?
Will a pastor-teacher who doubts the integrity of Scripture give himself to an expositional preaching ministry? Will a hungry congregation be fed the bread of life or will it be nourished on the cold stones of higher criticism?
Will God ever revive a church that does not trust and proclaim His Word? How can the Church provide moral guidance for a decant society when we are playing games instead of proclaiming the Word?
At the end of the twentieth century the church has become a sleeping giant and the Word of God is our undiscovered resource. While the world is desperately looking for answers, the church has been too intimidated to declare that God has spoken.
The Bible is authoritative because it comes from God. Over two thousands times the Bible declares "thus saith the Lord." While God's revelation was transmitted through human personality, the
purpose of divine inspiration was to insure that the words which were written accurately represented God's intention. God's perfect Word (Psalm 19:7) does not need to be re-written or re-interpreted to reflect current theological trends. Instead,
let us bring our theology in line with God's absolute standard of truth. God is looking for a group of people who will believe it and study it, who will preach it and live it. There is still
enough power in God's Word to transform the whole world.
VI. To What Extend Is Bible Criticism Legitimate? ((Back to the main outline))
A critic means to judge, to separate, to distinguish, to compare and evaluate. A critic weighs various interpretations and seeks to understand the proper meaning.
Literary criticism does not mean faultfinding, it means to evaluate. Biblical criticism does not have to be negative. It may mean an objective evaluation of the writing. It becomes negative when the Bible is approached with certain presuppositions. "Criticism means making intelligent judgments about historical, literary, textual, and philological questions
which one must face in dealing with the Bible."(31)
||The conservatives saw themselves as critical scholars. They did not abandon criticism, for they, like most academics in nineteenth-century America, regarded the careful, inductive, scientific sifting of evidence as the royal road to truth. It was not criticism as such but what they perceived as prejudiced criticism, criticism corrupted by bias, unbelieving criticism, that they attacked.(32)
It is legitimate to use critical methods to establish which variant manuscript reading was the inspired original; it is illegitimate to use critical methods to call into question whether something in the original text is true. This is the distinction between lower and higher criticism.
Higher criticism deals with age, authorship, sources used, historically reliability = special introduction - all this can be legitimate, but the field dominated by liberals.
Textual criticism recovers the original text - lower criticism [Terry, chapter 7].
Adam Clarke was a pioneer in the field of lower criticism or today called textual criticism - the evaluation of various mss. Abel Stevens, a historian of American Methodism wrote of the influence of Adam Clarke's Commentary, "It may be said to have
initiated critical biblical studies among them."
In his "Preface" to the Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament Wesley states that the common English translation is not always correct, "And therefore I shall take the liberty, as occasion may require, to make here and there a small alteration." I have seen claims that he made 6500 corrections. W. B. Godbey claimed the King James Version had two thousand mistakes. He spoke favorably of the work of Westcott and Hort (Translation of the New Testament, "Prologue," p. 5). While Daniel Steele objected to this statement of Godbey's claiming it would shake the confidence of the people in their Bibles, Steele also advocated the Revised Bible as a replacement to the King James (Steele's Answers, pp. 41-2; 269-70). Over 200 words in KJV have changed their meaning since 1611.(33)
Some have objected that this procedure is subjective and have claimed God gave the textus receptus instead of an eclectic text.(34)
"Eclectic" means that each variant reading is examined or critiqued on its own merits.(35) The problem with claiming the Textus Receptus is the original autograph is that there are 18 editions of the Textus Receptus and no two of them agree.(36)
Actually the TR published 13 years after the 1611 KJV.
There are several variations taken by extremists:
1. KJV only - teach divine preservation or advanced revelation - the KJV is inerrantly inspired or that mistakes in the KJV are advance revelation or that the 1611 KJV was written in eternity past and that Abraham and Moses read from it.
2. Textus Receptus only - asserts the superiority of a specific Greek text - although the NKJV is based on same Greek text it is opposed by #1 advocates - the TR normally used today was first published in 1894. There are nearly 300 differences between the KJV and the Textus Receptus. Some of the most thorough
refutations of this position come from within the fundamentalist
3. Majority Text - determines text by the number of mss which agree. This is invalid because we would expect there to be fewer of the older mss. and more later mss. The Majority text differs from the TR in 1838 instances.
The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley contains almost a hundred pages of textual variants in the writings of John Wesley, "Wesley's Text: Editions, Transmission, Presentation, and Variant Readings," (4:421-513).
When I became editor of The Arminian, realized we had three editions of our Statement of Faith and Purpose. I tried to determine the correct reading - ask the Convention for a clarification, then got a note pointing out an incorrect citation.
I own a copy of The Holman Illustrated Edition of The Holy Bible, published in 1976. It has a misprint in 1 Timothy 6:6, "Godliness with contentment is great pain." How would be determine this was an error in printing and not the correct reading?
How Much Variation Exists in Texts?
1. With the OT - relatively few variants
Gleason Archer comparing the Isaiah scroll found at the Dead Sea in 1947 which were a thousand years older than the earliest OT mss previously - found, "They provided to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 per cent
of the text. The 5 per cent variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling."(38)
2. With the NT we have 5366 partial and complete mss copied by hand from the second through 15th c.
||The proportion of words, virtually accepted on all hands as raised above doubt, is very great; no less than seven-eights of the whole. the remaining one-eighth formed in great part by changes of order and other comparative trivialities constitutes
the whole area of criticism. If the principles followed in this edition are sound, this area may be very greatly reduced.... We find that setting aside differences of orthography [spelling], the words in our opinion still subject to doubt make up about
one-sixtieth of the N. T. In this second estimate the proportion of comparatively trivial variations is beyond measure larger than in the former so that the amount of what can in any sense be
called substantially a variation is but a small fraction of the whole residuary variation, and can hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text.(39)
This translates to less than half a page of a 500 page book. This would compute to 98.33 percent pure.(40) Not one variation affects an article of faith or a precept of
Where textual criticism ends, hermeneutics properly begins.
[Terry, ch 19]
VII. Principles of Interpretation
(Back to the main outline)
1. Clarity (or perspicuity) of scripture
"The word of God is plain in itself; and if there appear any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, who is never contrary to Himself, explains the same more clearly in other places: so that there can remain no doubt, but to such as obstinately remain ignorant" (John Knox).
The Bible makes sense and can be understood through the application of our mind and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Wesley said, "We need the same Spirit to understand the Scripture which enabled the the holy men of old to write it" (11:509). The Word of God is spiritual and therefore can only be spiritually
perceived (1 Corinthians 2:14). Yet the Holy Spirit does not bypass our mind. This does not imply that a non-Christian is unable to understand the meaning of any Scripture. It means that without the Holy Spirit's work he will not welcome the message.
||How to delineate how much or what part of Biblical Exegesis is attributable to mere human efforts and how much or what part comes from the Holy Spirit is difficult, if not impossible. Even an unenlightened unbeliever can glean some of the meaning if he follows correct procedure, but somewhere his efforts will go awry because he lacks spiritual insight. On the other hand, the enlightened believer will not, in most cases, be conscious of what has come from the Spirit as distinguished from what comes from the science of Exegesis. It will be the combined effect of the two that will bring him to the correct interpretation. Of course, he also needs the Spirit's guidance to apply the interpretation to life as it is now, but this is quite distinct from His help in illuminating the meaning of the passage in
reference to its original setting.
An analogous situation existed with the apostles of Christ. Their witness for Christ in one sense was on a purely natural plane as they told about what they had seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears. But it was not just that. The Holy
Spirit also witnessed through them, and it was the combined effect of both that accomplished the purpose of their witnessing [see John 15:26-27] It is highly doubtful that the apostles were ever able to distinguish clearly what came form the Spirit from
what resulted from their personal experiences.
So it is in Exegesis. The guidance of the Spirit merges with a sane exercise of exegetical principles. He invariably utilizes accurate and normal rules of Hermeneutics in guiding a believer to the correct interpretation. Only He can give a proper
sensitivity in applying the rules. So the interpreter is ultimately dependent on Him for the right balance in them Grammatico-historical Method of Exegesis.(41)
Where the Bible is not clear, obscure passages are interpreted in light of clear passages. There is an analogy of faith which means there is an internal consistency and harmony within Scripture. John Wesley commented on the "oracles of God"
||that grand scheme of doctrine which is delivered therein, touching original sin, justification by faith, and present, inward salvation. There is a wonderful analogy between all these; and a close and intimate connection between the chief heads of that faith "which was once delivered to the the saints." Every article, therefore, concerning which there is any question should be determined by this rule; every doubtful scripture interpreted
according to the grand truths which run through the whole(Notes on Romans 12:6).
Sometimes in biblical studies the theology of Paul is pitted against that of Peter. This is an artificial dilemma. Mar cion may have been the first to depreciate the Old Testament, but not the last.
2. The sufficiency of Scripture
God has told us all we need to know. The Holy Spirit had the foresight to include revelation applicable to modern questions.
3. Revelation as accommodated
God revealed truth in ways we could grasp. John Calvin said in his comments on 1 Corinthians 2:7 that "He accommodates himself to our capacity." Any attempt to define God by human concepts apart from His accommodation is futile.(42) Anthropomorphism are not to be taken literally - God does not have a body. God adapted His truth to limited human understanding, but he did not accommodate Himself to human error. Revelation could have been -
And God said:
||mv2/r = Ze2/r2
||r= r2h2/(2)2 mZe2
||E = 1/2 mv2 - Ze2/r
||E = 22mZ2e4/n2h2 = R
...and there was light.
Liberals treat this concept differently - that God not only accommodated His revelation into a form that we could grasp, but that the matter or content was adapted. They say that God spoke in the culture of Bible times even when He knew they were in
error; thus He accommodated their superstitions, prejudices, and folklore. If God were writing today, however, He might say the exact opposite. God condescended to man's level to communicate with him, but He did not compromise truth.
Their emphasis on contextualization often results in subjective Bible interpretation which is simply a reflection of different cultural situations. The New Interpreter's Bible contains introductory articles:
- Reading the Bible as African Americans
- Reading the Bible as Asian Americans
- Reading the Bible as Hispanic Americans
- Reading the Bible as Native Americans
- Reading the Bible as Women(43)
Why this segregation when Ephesians teaches that the walls of division are broken down? Are we to believe that these differences are more important than our common faith in Christ? Are we to believe that five Christians from different backgrounds cannot read objective truth and agree on essential interpretations?
4. Progressive revelation
God began with a skeleton and continued to add more flesh. Here liberalism imports the theory of evolution. This is not what is meant by progressive. It means God started us in the first grade
teaching us the ABC's and then built upon that knowledge. Law is the starting point. It is the forgotten starting point in evangelism and in childhood development. [Terry, ch 33]
5. Priority of the original language (illustrated by the gossip
6. One basic meaning; many applications I apply no Scripture phrase either to myself or any other
without carefully considering, both the original meaning and the secondary sense, wherein (allowing for different times and circumstances) it may be applied to ordinary Christians(44)
What a passage means is fixed by the author and not subject to change by readers. Meaning is determined by the author; it is discovered by the readers. Thomas Oden warned,
||The text has rights over against its interpreters, some of whom stand poised to exploit, assault, and mug the text. When contemporary readers make themselves the absolute masters of the text, then the author has lost all rights of authorship. Authorial intent becomes subservient to contemporary ideological
A text out of context is a pretext! The Bible contains
quotations from men - Acts 17:28
from demons Mark 5:9
Satan Job 1:9
Job's misguided counselors - book of Job
This is an accurate record of what was said, yet not always true statements. Note that Proverbs 10-31 has no context from one verse to the next; the broader context is wisdom statements.
Two verses may be taken out of context to prove the Bible requires a belt and suspenders - Ecclesiastes 4:9-10. A verse in a church nursery - 1 Cor 15:51. Many scriptures are taken out of context with more serious consequences.
The Good Samaritan
As Told in the Book of Parables
||Once upon a time a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thorns and the thorns sprang up and choked him. The Bible says that just about that time a man called Jehu was coming across the field driving furiously with the Queen of Sheba in his chariot and when the Queen of Sheba saw that man, she gave him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold and ten changes of raiment, and took him up in the chariot and took him to an Inn. And it came to pass as they went on and were driving
through the woods the man's hair got caught on a limb of a tree and pulled him out of the rig and left him hanging there for forty days and forty nights and the ravens brought him food to eat and water to drink. Then the Bible says that one night while he was hanging there and had gone to sleep, that his wife Delilah came along and cut off his hair, and he fell on stony ground and great was the fall of him, and the dogs came and licked his sores. Then the Bible says, that the father saw him a longs ways off and invited him to supper, but he said, "I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come," so he was carried by the
angels into Abraham's Bosom.
Then the angel of the Lord brought the Good Samaritan to Jerusalem and when he goth there, he marvelled at their unbelief, for here he saw Queen Jezebel with a man looking over her shoulder, and he laughed because she had five husbands and the one looking over her shoulder was not her husband. And the angel
of the Lord took Jezebel and four hundred and fifty wicked prophets and slew the prophets with the edge of the sword; He then slew Jezebel and smote her seventy times seven, and they gathered up the fragments that remained and lo there were twelve baskets full and two small fishes. And verily I say unto you, the
great question is, "Whose wife will she be in the great resurrection morning?"
8. Cross reference
Use scripture to interpret scripture. Compare parallel passages. Use of the same word in other passages.
9. Historical and cultural background
Extrabiblical data does have value in clarifying what Scripture teaches and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations. However, extrabiblical views cannot be used to disprove Scripture or hold priority over it.
10. The centrality of Christ
Christ is concealed in the OT and revealed in the NT (based on the famous statement by Augustine).(46)
Luke 24:27, 44
John 5:39, 46
- 1. "The Testimony of the Scriptures to Christ" If he is God the Messiah He should know whether the Scriptures are trustworthy
- 2. "The Testimony of Christ to the Scriptures"
John 7:19; John 5:46-7; Mark 7:13; Matthew 8:4 - attributed the law to Moses; Christ refers to 20 OT characters; quotes from 19 OT books.(47)
VIII. Types of Biblical Literature
(Back to the main outline)
We cannot read a phone book as if it were a novel, a shopping list as if it were an advertisement, a poem as if it were a court brief. Note the types of literature in a newspaper: narrative,
opinion, advertizement, advice, entertainment, history, prophecy (weather). Is it prose or poetry, history or allegory, literal or symbolic?
||If we try to use the rules for interpreting one genre to interpret a different type, we will almost surely misinterpret the passage that we are studying. We cannot, for example, read a psalm in the same way that we read a parable. This should not be
surprising. We know from our own culture that we cannot read a phone book as if it were a novel, a shopping list as if it were an advertisement, a poem as if it were a court brief.(48)
It is helpful to be aware of literature types, yet the Bible is one book and we should not build walls between sections of the Bible.
Types of literature or genre found in Scripture:
||a. Basic law - a declaration of principle
b. Case law - illustration of the basic law
c. NT Interpretation of the law
"You shall not steal" (Exodus 20:15) is basic (a). "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain" (Deuteronomy 25:4) is case law (b). This principle is applied in 1 Corinthians 9:3-14 and 1 Timothy 5:17-18 to teach that a minister has a right to a salary.(49)
Basic law is a reflection of God's attributes and cannot be abolished. True Christians obey the commands of Christ (1 John 2:3-5; 5:2-3). Case law only reflects how "constitutional law" has been applied. Applications for Old Testament Israel are not
necessarily valid today. Ceremonial law was fulfilled in Christ and no longer binding, yet the principles they taught are still valid.(50)
2. Old Testament narrative - prose
3. Psalms or poetry
Hebrew poetry did not rhyme, but had a parallelism
||I hit him on the head,
I smote him on the pate,
Yea, upon his noggin I did konk him.
4. Wisdom literature - aphorisms or pithy sayings. The sitz im leben is the teaching of a parent to child. A proverb is basically true; law is always true.
5. Gospel - are not biographies in the modern sense, but are written to a community of Christians to defend the faith and apply the faith using life and teachings of Jesus they are not unhistorical, but choose from the historical record events which make the point of their message - John 20:30-1 states he left things out, however, the material John did present was accurate and not fabricated
6. Parable - an extended metaphor or simile which compares a religious truth with a common experience or circumstance. "An earthly story with a heavenly meaning." It means to place two thing alongside each other for comparison. A parable exists to
establish one main point. "In preaching parables and similitudes, great care should be taken to discover their object and design, and those grand and leading circumstances by which the author illustrates his subjects."(51)
The parable of 10 virgins teach readiness:
- Arminians have used it to prove it was possible to fall from grace
- holiness advocates have used it to prove a second blessing
- Calvinists use it to prove there may be professions of faith which are not genuine
- dispensationalists use it to prove some detail of God's prophetic program - partial rapture?
- others attempt to derive some doctrine about the Holy Spirit
7. New Testament narrative - Acts
The genre of Acts - a continuation of Luke - yet Luke is not a biography but a gospel and Acts is not a theology. It is not wrong to get theology from Acts, but must let Acts set the agenda
- determine what question Luke was answering. "Our theology must be based on the didactic and not the narrative portions of Scripture. Even if all Scripture is profitable for doctrine we must not interpret narrative passages in a way which contradicts
the major doctrinal sections."(52) For example, we have the historical record that the apostolic
church sold all. Some movements have felt compelled to operate communally. I would argue that the early Church made a mistake and that Luke does not endorse the early communism, but merely reports it.
John Darby advocated dispensationalism. The basis of this view was a strict literalism in the interpretation of the Bible, especially its prophetic parts.(53) Henry Morris claims his commentary on Revelation "could possibly be the most literal." Although he thinks "most of Revelation is to be taken literally,"(54) throughout the commentary he points out symbols which he thinks should not be taken literally. All literal interpreters are inconsistant.
Prophecy is not history in advance. While prophets did predict future events their writing was not in the form of historical writing. Instead they used symbols and figures which they borrowed from history, the culture, and creation. Dispensationalism literalizes prophecy and allegorizes history. A more helpful set of rules for interpretation of prophecy include:
||1. Biblical symbolism and imagery is not a code
2. Biblical symbols do not exist in isolation
3. We must always have a clear-cut Biblical indication for any symbol or image we think we have found
4. The heritage of the church in systematic theology and in the history of exegesis is always a check on wild speculation
5. Biblical symbolism must be interpreted in terms of Biblical presuppositions and philosophy
6. The student of biblical imagery must be alert to the work of other scholars.(55)
Fulfilled prophecy is a key to the interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy. Because most prophecy was received by vision or dream, much of it is figurative or symbolic - poetic. Prophecy was not always fulfilled literally (see Elijah's return
in John the Baptist - Matthew 17:11-13). Understand promises made to Israel transferred to the Church.(56)
10. Apocalyptic - Daniel and Revelation are considered
apocalyptic and compare to other Jewish apocalyptic literature such as Enoch, The Testament of Moses, Apocalypse of Abraham Sibylline Oracles - although these books are not authoritative. In each case the subject matter is the suffering of the righteous
and the apparent delay of the kingdom of God. The message came as a vision from a heavenly perspective which was symbolic and the basis of the symbolism was the OT prophecies.
Others claim there is no such category as apocalyptic literature in the Bible because they define it to be a "sky is falling" end of the world emphasis on Armageddon which teaches we should retreat and wait for deliverance.
Apocalyptic literature has been defined as may or may not having an reference to end times - essentially it is about the revelation of divine mysteries through visions or some other form of immediate disclosure of heavenly truths - in Daniel, Revelation the writer is brought up to the heavenly level to see full scope of what is happening on earth. Apocalyptic literature
is not the same as prophetic literature. In prophetic literature Israel is rebuked for having gone astray and the prophet gives the message in the form of an analogy - the message is corrective most prophecy is poetic.
In apocalyptic literature the message is written as an
encouragement for the faithful. The book of Revelation must be interpreted from OT, not the newspaper.
IX. Steps in Interpretation
(Back to the main outline)
1. determine type of literature (genre)
2. word study:
The historical development of words in their meaning. Words have histories. 90% of all English words were borrowed from other languages. But words do not have meaning according to root, but usage - that is why a dictionary must be updated - "gay" has a different connotation today. The meaning comes from context, not
necessarily from the history of the word.
Terry emphasizes usus loquendi - the meaning of the word in ordinary conversation. Today we would say "designation." Often when asked what a word means we are unsure, so we say, "Use it in a sentence."
||2. use in context
- how is the word used in extra-biblical citations
||4. culturally - archeology
||5. cognate languages
3. grammatical exegesis
Sentences involve grammar - syntax - the grammatical principles of the language in which the text was written must be understood. In English the meaning of a sentence is largely determined by word order. "The rate ate the cheese" and "the cheese ate the rat" contain the same words but convey different meanings. In Greek the meaning is not determined by word order, but on word endings. Nouns and adjectives are declined and verbs are conjugated. The syntax of the sentence, as well as the definition of the words, determine the meaning.
mood: indicative, subjunctive, optative, imperative
tense: present, imperfect, future, aorist, perfect, pluperfect
Nouns - eight cases: nominative, vocative, genitive, ablative, dative, locative, instrumental, accusative
X. Special Literary Forms:
(Back to the main outline)
1. Simile - "like" [Simile and metaphor, Terry, ch 11]
2. Metaphor - a device which speaks of one thing in terms which are appropriate to another - often the connection is made with "like" see Psalm 1:3
3. Allegory - Sinai and Christianity - 2 Corinthians 3
Hagar/Sarah Galatians 4:21-31 [Terry, ch 14]
4. Proverb- [Terry, ch 15] Sometimes proverbs have very little contextual relationship
5. Types - an illustration from an OT person, animal, object, event, or institution that existed historically, but pictured a future reality. For example - Adam/Christ Romans 5:12-17; 1
Corinthians 15:20-26 [Terry, ch 16].
6. euphemisms - falling asleep for died,
7. idioms - how would you translate, "I've got the blues"?
8. phenomenal language - the sun rises; not scientific language [Terry p. 538].
9. parallelism -
Synonymous parallelism in Jewish poetry is two lines which carry the same idea.
Synthetic parallelism is the connection of like ideas and words, but the second line adds to the first - Psalms 1:3
Antithetic parallelism - the connection of opposites; the second line contrasts with the first - Romans 6:23.
Some parallelisms are called chiasms. They have a repetition in reverse order "a, b, b, a" - see Philippians 3:3-10 for an example.
10. irony - a contrast of appearance and reality, a confident unawareness that the appearance is only an appearance, the comic effect of this unawareness of a contrasting appearance and reality - John 9:35; 11:45 [Terry, p. 253].
11. hyperbole - makes the point through exaggeration 1
Corinthians 14:18 [Terry, p. 253].
XI. Tools for Interpretation
(Back to the main outline)
1. Interlinear Old and New Testament
2. English translations
3. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance
Brown, Driver, Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Laird, Archer, Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old
Testament, 2 vols.
Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. BDB and Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament can be purchased keyed to Strong's. Vine's Expository Dictionary of
New Testament Words. Colin Brown, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. 3 vols.
5. The Englishmen's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament. The Englishmen's Greek Concordance of the New Testament. These volumes are both available keyed to Strong's
6. Bible Dictionaries
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. J.D. Douglas, The New Bible Dictionary. Merrill Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the
Bible, 5 vols.
7. Works on Archaeology, Geography, History a Bible atlas books on manners and customs Alfred Edersheim, Josephus, Eusebius
8. Surveys and Introductions Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction
Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction
XII. Twenty Ways the Cults Misread the Bible (Back to the main outline)
Beware of "proof-texting" or reading into the passage your own presuppositions (eisogesis). This is called scripture twisting.(57)
1. Inaccurate quotation of Scripture - the founder of
Transcendental Meditation quotes the words of Christ, "Be still and know that I am God" as an admonition for us all to recognize that we are God. Yet Christ did not say these words; they are found in Psalm 46:10.
2. Twisted translation - see the New World Translation of Colossians 1:15-17 which inserts the word "other" four times to change the meaning. There translation of John 1:1 reads, "the Word was a god."
3. The Biblical hook - cult propaganda is made to appear legitimate by a Scriptural quote which has no real connection to what the cult asserts.
4. Ignoring the Immediate Context
William J. Schnell, who was in the Jehovah's Witness
organization for thirty years, wrote that in order to make people think they were studying the Bible, studies were conducted. "The illusion created by looking up Scriptures here and there in the
book study successfully obscured the fact that only 6 1/2 percent of the Scriptures, and that in a disconnected way, were used in Watchtower books. Even this 6 1/2 percent was feigned and weighted down with 93 1/2 percent Watchtower verbiage."(58)
5. Collapsing Contexts - two or more unrelated texts are treated as if they belong together. Judas went out and hung himself. Go thou and do likewise. And what thou doest, do quickly!
6. Overspecification - speculation on what is not specified
7. Word play - Adam can be divided into two syllables a dam. Sin became a dam or separation between man and God - according to Mary Baker Eddy. But this meaning cannot be sustained from the Hebrew.
8. Figurative fallacy - mistaking literal language for figurative language or mistaking the figurative for the literal.
9. Speculative readings of predictive prophecy - Ezekiel 37:15-23 describes the coming together of two sticks. Mormonism teaches this is the joining together of the Bible and the book of Mormon.
10. Saying but Not Citing - Exotic writers sometimes claim the Bible teaches something, but do not give the reference. "God helps those who help themselves" is not in the Bible, but is often quoted.
11. Selective citing - citing only references which appear to support your position without looking at all relevant passages
12. Inadequate evidence - the citation of obscure references to support outlandish claims. A premature generalization is drawn from insufficient evidence.
13. Confused definition - ordinary biblical terms are given meanings foreign to their context. Supporters of reincarnation distort the biblical term "born again."
A Hardshell was preaching about the Philistines and told about "Sam Simpson what slewed five thousand Filipisters with a hog jowl. Filipisters is a little birds like Jaybirds. Sam Simpson planted his corn and the Philipisters cum and et it up. He watched em go to roost in a cave then he got a hog jowl what his
wife had cooked fer dinner with the turnip greens and he went in the cave and slewed five thousand uv the pesky Filipisters. If it wa'n't that Sam hit mout er been Sam Simon what et five thousand fish and two hundred pones of corn bread and the Lord had ter do
a miracle ter keep him from bustin.'"(59)
14. Ignoring alternative explanations - Jesus said, "I have other sheep" (John 10:16). "Obviously," they say, "this proves there is life on other planets."
15. The obvious fallacy - The unfamiliar are overwhelmed by the use of words like "obviously, undoubtedly, certainly, all scholars agree, etc." This is given in the place of logical reasons.
16. Virtue by association - A cult writer quotes a respected Christian authority. For example, Jesus is listed as one of the greatest gurus of all times. This is done to give credibility to all the other gurus listed. Sometimes cult writings adopt King James grammar in an attempt to sound biblical.
17. Esoteric interpretation - Claim privileged information that a biblical passage has a certain meaning. No explanation is given for the interpretation other than this knowledge was imparted to the interpreter through the Spirit or an angel or a vision. I was told once that Ezekiel 16:6 stops bleeding.
18. Supplementing biblical authority - new revelation either replaces or is added to Scripture, such as the Book of Mormon.
19. Rejecting biblical authority - Interpreters either reject the Bible as a whole or a particular passage is rejected because it does not fit the interpreter's teachings.
20. World-view confusion - Scriptural statements, stories, commands, or symbols are lifted out of their context and given another frame of reference. "All things are yours" (1 Corinthians 3:21) has been used as permission to steal! (Martin Wells Knapp,
Impressions, p. 21).
HERMENEUTICS IN EVERYDAY LIFE
The following material originated from Gary Holt and was posted on the e-mail Wesleyan Theologians
Suppose you're traveling to work and see a stop sign. What do you do? That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.
1. A post modern deconstructs the sign (knocks it over with his car), ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.
2. Similarly, a Marxist sees a stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concluded that the bourgeoisie use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers on the east-west road.
3. A serious and educated Catholic believes that he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and their tradition. Observing that the interpretive community doesn't take it too seriously, he doesn't feel obligated to take
it too seriously either.
4. An average Catholic (or Orthodox or Coptic or Anglican or Methodist, or Presbyterian or whatever) doesn't bother to read the sign, but he'll stop if the car in front of him does.
5. A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.
6. A preacher might look up "STOP" in his lexicons of English and discover that it can mean: 1) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing; 2) a location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on
this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.
7. An orthodox Jew does one of two things: 1) Takes another route to work that doesn't have a stop sign so
that he doesn't run the risk of disobeying the Law. 2) Stop at the stop sign, say "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us thy commandment to stop," wait three seconds according to his watch and then proceed.
Incidently, the Talmud has the following comments on this passage: R[abbi] Mier says: He who does not stop shall not live long. R. Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before proceeding. R. Simon Ben Yudah says: Why three? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and
the Writings. R. ben Isaac says, Because of the three patriarchs. R. Yehuda says, Why bless the Lord at a stop sign? Because it says, "Be still, and know that I am God." R. Hezekiel says: When Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and
overtake his daughter; but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign, and the donkey did not have time to come out. For this reason he saw his daughter first and lost her. Thus he was judged for his transgression at the stop sign. R. Gamaliel says: R. Hillel, when he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to teach his by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll. One day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the sign. Young Hillel called out: "Stop, father!" In this way, he began reading and speaking at the same time. Thus it
is written: "Out of the mouth of babes." R. ben Jacob says: Where did the stop sign come from? Out of the sky, for it is written: "Forever, O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens." R. ben Nathan says: When were stop signs created? On the fourth day, for it is written: "Let them serve as signs." R. Yeshuah says:... [continues for three more pages]
8. A Pharisee does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits ten seconds instead of three. He also replaces his brake lights with 1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal.
9. A scholar from the Jesus Seminar concludes that the passage "STOP" undoubtedly was never uttered by Jesus Himself, but belong entirely to stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.
10. A NT scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street, but there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concluded that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a completely hypothetical street called "Q." There is an excellent 300 page discussion of speculations on the origin of these stop signs and the differences between the stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar's commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunate omission in the commentary however; the author apparently forgot to explain what the text means.
11. An OT scholar points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage "STOP." For example, "ST" contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings, whereas "OP" contains two enclosed areas and one line termination. He concludes that the author for the second part is
different from the author for the first part and probably lived hundred of years later. Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the "O" and the "P."
12. Another prominent OT scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he neglected to explain why in his commentary.) Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the intersection as though the stop sign were not there.
13. Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another OT scholar emends the text, changing the "T" to "H." "SHOP" is much easier to understand in context than "STOP" because of the multiplicity of stores in the area. The textual corruption probably occurred because "SHOP" is so similar to "STOP" on the sing several streets back that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area.
1. Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, D. J. Wiseman, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1983), 16:154. back
2. Daryl McCarthy, "Inerrancy in American Wesleyanism, Inerrancy and the Church, John D. Hannah, ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 291 - see Terry's summary statement about the superiority of the Bible, p. 68. Apparently liberal theories caused Terry to change. back
3. John William Burgon, quoted by L. W. Munhall, The Highest Critics vs. the Higher Critics(Philadelphia: Munhall, 1896), 37-38.
4. H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1940), 1:183-4. back
5. John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and
Reformed, 1987), 29.back
6. A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, "Inspiration." Presbyterian Review 2 (April 1881): 242.back
7. John R. Rice, Our God-Breathed Book - The Bible (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord,
1969), 286. back
8. F. W. Farrar, History of Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1961), 131-136. back
9. Grace, Faith, and Holiness, p. 600. The quote cited from Farrar is from History of
Interpretation, p. 164. back
10. Frank Baker, "John Wesley's Churchmanship," London Quarterly and Holborn Review, October, 1960, p. 270. back
11. The Voice of the Nazarene, May/June, 1996, p. 22. see also Jeffrey D. Leonard, "The Beard
Controversy," p. 10. back
12. (18:1, Spring, 1983): 63-78.
13. The Burning Heart (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1967), 217-8. back
14. George Allen Turner, "John Wesley as an Interpreter of Scripture," Inspiration and Interpretation, ed. John Walvoord (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 162.
15. Ira Brown, "Higher Criticism Comes to America," Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society 38 (December 1960): 205. See also L. W. Munhall, Breakers! Methodism Adrift (New York: Cook, 1913), 13, 72-83.
16. quoted by Munhall, Breakers, p. 64. back
17. Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967).
18. David L. Mueller, Karl Barth. Bob E. Patterson, ed., Makers of the Modern Theological Mind (Waco, TX: Word, 1972), 56. back
19. Wayne A. Robinson, Oral: The Warm, Intimate, Unauthorized Portrait of a Man of God (Los Angeles: Action House, 1976), pp. 94-5.
20. God, Revelation and Authority (Waco, TX: Word, 1979), 4:315.
21. see "Redaction Criticism: Is It Worth the Risk?" Christianity Today, 18 Oct. 1985, pp. 1-I to 12-I. back
22. Robert L. Thomas, "Evangelical Responses to the Jesus Seminar," The Master's Seminary Journal, VII, No. 1 (Spring, 1996): 75-105.back
23. David Bauer, The Structure of Matthew's Gospel: A Study in Literary Design. Sheffield: Almond Press, 1988).
24. Requim (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 133-135. back
25. Christianity Today, 20 May, 1996, p. 34. back
26. "The Search for Perspective," Interpretation, 25 (January, 1971): 51-2.
27. Reading the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), 184.
28. Leacock, quoted by Munhall, The Highest Critics vs. the Higher Critics (Philadelphia: Munhall, 1896), 102-3. back
29. "The Fundamentalist Leavening of the Holiness Movement: 1914-1940," Wesleyan Theological Journal, 13:1 (Spring, 1978): 85. back
30. The Bible in the Balance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 110.
31. George Eldon Ladd, New Testament and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 37. back
32. Mark A. Noll, Between Faith and Criticism (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), 23. back
33. Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament, 4:223.back
34. see Ron Hershberger, "The Authoritative Word," The Church Herald and Holiness Banner, 6 March and 20 March, 1992. W. Gary Crampton, "The Original Manuscripts, Translations, and the Majority Text, Chalcedon Report, December, 1994, pp. 23-26 - advocates include Zane Hodges, David Otis Fuller, Peter Ruckman, and Edward F. Hills. back
35. see Ralph Earle, "The Rationale For an Eclectic New Testament Text," The NIV: The Making of a Contemporary Translation, Kenneth L. Barker, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
36. Stewart Custer, The Truth about the King James Version Controversy (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones, 1981), 10. back
37. see Gary R. Hudson, "Ruckman's Unscriptural Claims for the K. J. V." The Sword of the Lord, 17 March 1989. Thurman Wisdom, "Textus Receptus: Is it Fundamental to Our Faith?" Faith for the Family, October 1979. Charles R. Wood, "The Question of Preservation." Faith for the Family, November 1981. Allan A. MacRae and Robert C. Newman, Facts on the Textus
Receptus and the King James Version (Hatfield, PA: Biblical School of Theology, 1975). Edward
M. Panosian, What is the "Inspired" Word of God? (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University,
38. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody, 1974), 19.
39. Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek. 1881, 2:2. back
40. Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody, 1986), 474. back
41. Robert L. Thomas, Introduction to Exegesis, 1981, pp. 15-16.
42. H. Ray Dunning, Grace, Faith, and Holiness (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1988), 112. back
43. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), 1:154-187. back
44. Wesley, Letters, 2:206.
45. Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 73-4.back
46. Expositions on the Book of Psalms, Ps 106:31. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, vol. 8.
47. see Christ in All the Scriptures, A. M. Hodgkin, 1907, 249 pages. This book has been often reprinted. back
48. Douglas Stuart, "Interpret = Understand + Explain, Decision, April, 1995, p. 12. back
49. Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973), 11-12.
50. Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God's Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), 135-138. back
51. Adam Clarke, Christian Theology, p. 322. back
52. The Hole in the Holiness Movement, pp 51-2. back
53. Clarence B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), 21-24. back
54. Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: 1983).
55. James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1988), 15-17.
56. Charles D. Provan, The Church is Israel Now (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 1987). back
57. this final section gleaned primarily from James W. Sire, Scripture Twisting (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980).
58. Thirty Years A Watchtower Slave (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971), 124.
59. J. M. Rowland, Blue Ridge Breezes (Nashville: M. E. Church, South, 1927), 244-5.back
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