Monday, July 07, 2008

10 Tips from Grudem on Bible Interpretation

Grudem's chapter in Preach the Word offers some helpful reminders on correctly interpreting the Scripture.

1. Spend your earliest and best time reading the text of the Bible itself.

2. The interpretation of Scripture is not a magical or mysterious process, because Scripture was written in the ordinary language of the day.

3. Every interpreter has only four sources of information about the text: (a) The meanings of individual words and sentences; (b) the place of the statement in its context; (c) the overall teaching of Scripture; (d) some information about the historical and cultural background.

4. Look for reasons rather than mere opinions to give support to an interpretation, and use reasons rather than mere opinions to attempt to persuade others.

5. There is only one meaning for each text (though there are many applications).

6. Notice the kind of literature in which the verse is found.

7. Notice whether the text approves or disapproves or merely reports a person's actions.

8. Be careful not to generalize specific statements and apply them to fundamentally different situations.

9. It is possible to do a short or long study of any passage. Do what you can with the time you have, and don't be discouraged about all that you cannot do.

10. Pray regularly for the Holy Spirit's help in the whole process of interpreting the Bible.

Grudem goes on to encourage his readers to keep the "big picture" in mind with 6 other reflections.
1. The Bible is a historical document. Therefore, always ask, "What did the author want the original readers to understand by this statement?"

2. The original authors wanted the original readers to respond in some way. Therefore always ask, "What application did the original author want the readers to make to their lives?"

3. The whole Bible is about God! Therefore we should always ask, "What does the text tell us about God?"

4. The center of the whole Bible is Jesus Christ. The entire Old Testament leads up to him and points to him, and the entire New Testament flows from him. Therefore, we should always ask, "What does this text tell us about the greatness of Christ?"

5. All history can be divided into several major "ages" or "epochs" in salvation history. Therefore, we should read every passage of the Bible with a salvation history timeline in our minds and constantly remember where every passage fits on the timeline.

6. Themes: Because the Bible is a unity (it has one divine Author though many human authors), there are many themes that develop and grow from Genesis to Revelation. Therefore, for each significant element in any text, it is helpful to ask, (a) Where did this theme start in the Bible? (b) How did this theme develop through the Bible? and (c) Where is this theme going to end in the Bible?

Happy Bible interpreting!


Charles R said...

This post appeared in my RSS feed while I am in the middle of a word study of a passage. These are timely reminders that will help immensely in keeping me on track in this.

Thanks for taking the time to share it.

Kyle said...

This is probably not the best place of offer a contest, but in the first list, I have never understood Grudem's 5th point. Why is it necessary that any given text should only have one meaning? That's not even the way of ordinary language. It's quite common for a person to deliberately communicate two separate, though connected ideas with the same text. That's the basic premise of the pun. It's also the deliberate style of some classical types of communication.

Jonathan Hunt said...

I have to agree with Kyle. I immediately baulked at the fifth point. The reformers and puritans reacted against those who placed multiple meanings on words - Luther called this 'a mere monkey game' - but they did not hold that a passage had only one meaning.

To say something has one meaning but many applications is disingenuous. Some things have more than one meaning, obviously. Look at the rock in Exodus 17.6. One meaning? Our New testament eyes tell us that there is more than one meaning (1 Cor 10.4)

Daniel said...

There is only one meaning for each text.

The rock in Exodus 17:6 is a rock, *and* it is Jesus. The text never only means for it to be merely a rock and the text never only means for it to be Jesus. It is always both.

There is never a case where the rock means one and not the other, and if in interpreting that passage you leave out Jesus, or you leave out the fact that it is of course a rock, you have not communicated *the meaning* of the text.

This is in contrast to the idea that a text has multiple meanings in the sense that sometimes it means one thing, but other times (or for other people) it means something else.

A Biblical text always means all the things it means. That is, it has one meaning which includes all of those other "meanings," all the time and for all people.

Application from a text, on the other hand, may be derived from only one "meaning," but it must be made in light of *the* meaning.