Regardless of claims to the contrary no one merely reads the Bible. The Bible is interpreted, by everyone. When Christians say that women do not have wear veils; we do not have to greet each other with a kiss; we do not have to lift up hands in prayer; women are not saved by having babies; we do not baptize for the dead; that we are not eager to prophesy and we do forbid tongues; we are not obligated to keep the Sabbath; etc we are interpreting Scripture.
The question will never be if we will interpret the Bible. Rather the question will always be will our interpretation be a good one or a bad one.
Good Christian hermeneutics will always begin as a response to the God of all grace who has done great things. Good Christian interpretation, discipleship of communing with the Word, will be rooted in the soul that is humbly seeking to reflect God’s glorious image back into the created world around us. Good Christian biblical interpretation will begin in prayer and will be understood as “an act of worship.”
Thus interpretation that does not begin in prayer and worship that results in the Spirit flowing redemptively through us to a vandalized world, then we have a right to question if such is good Christian interpretation of Scripture. Good hermeneutical discipleship is also known by its fruit.
Prayer, worship and reflecting God’s image back into creation, these are the beginning points and the ends/goals of interpretation. I have found the following big picture ideas helpful as a framework for good Christian interpretation of Scripture in God honoring ways.
First. The Bible is inspired of God’s Holy Spirit through the words of human beings in specific historical circumstances. Thus it is literally the word of God and the word of humans. Just as the Living Word, Jesus, is both divine and completely human so too is the written word. Thus the text was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and not Spanish, English or Southern. God’s word addressed them in that situation and may not be God’s directive for all time and all places. We see examples of this within the biblical narrative itself.
Second. Because of the historical nature of revelation we must pay close attention to the historical occasion of the text. Why was this text said or written in the first place? We assess the meaning of words in their historical and literary context if we respect God’s word. I cover this point usually by saying there are two rules for reading the Bible, “Context and Context.”
Third. The Bible is not simply a hodge podge of propositions or syllogisms. The Bible is not a jigsaw puzzle that is poured into a box to be assembled by ourselves. The Bible, rather, tells a Story that each historically conditioned text contributes in some fashion. The Gist of that Story is this: The Triune God created the universe as an act of love so that created life can have communion/fellowship with him. Creation Rebelled and vandalized that good creation erecting a barrier between Creator and Creation. And the Triune God is working within creation to redeem, restore and even glorify his creation. This is the “grand narrative.”
Fourth. That Grand Narrative, story line, is the skeleton on which the various individual and historically conditioned, texts “hang.” Genesis 1-2 and Rev 21-22 are the bookends to the macrostructure of the canon of Scripture. This narrative is broken into Six stages or “Acts” as some call them. They are:
1) God Establishes his Kingdom in Creation (Gen 1-2)
2) Shalom vandalized in the Kingdom – Rebellion (Gen 3-11)
3) Triune God chose Israel by grace alone to bring creation back into communion with him. Israel was to be leaven in the rebellious world. Redemption is initiated. (Gen 12-Malachi)
4) The Triune God sends the King thru Israel. Thru his work in his physical body, rebellious creation becomes obedient to the will of God and is redeemed through the death, burial and resurrection of the King (Matt – John)
5) God’s renewed creation is placed in the world through the church. Here the values of the King, the values of God, are lived out and performed on Earth as they are in heaven. These are the people of the Resurrection. They are not of the old fallen order rather they are in the world to be the seasoning of redemption to, demonstrate what “Heaven” is supposed to be like. The Fall is turned on its head in the church (Acts – Rev 19)
6) The Return of the King. Redemption is consummated and the evil and corruption that has marred God’s creation intent is fully recognized as defeated and cast out by the resurrection of the body of Jesus. Vandalism is replaced with beautification and glorification (Rev 21-22)
This basic outline can reap rich rewards. Remembering the Grand Narrative of the Bible helps us to see the actual goal of the Bible. The Narrative points us to the “point.” It is eschatological. When we know the goal that shapes our present not just from one command or example but in light of the entire Narrative that is lurching forward by the power of the Holy Spirit toward the redemptive goal of God. We want to live our lives both individually and corporately sharing in God’s own mission.
Remembering this basic outline in light of prayer and worship and seeking to reflect God’s true image into the world can go a long way towards sound good Christian biblical interpretation. The story enables us to see how a given text is attempting to bring about the restoration of God’s good created order and is a step to its glorification in the End. Those bookends also remind us that individual texts are often conditioned on the events that called them forth.
In the End, good hermeneutical discipleship calls us to love with ever deeper love.
“But the goal of this command/instruction is LOVE, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from the these and have turned to meaningless talk. These want to be teachers of the Bible, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Timothy 1.5-7)