Article 04 | Interpretation
When you read God’s Word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, “It is talking to me, and about me.”
How can our lives be truthful and because of it we can know the Bible is?
Is the Bible inspired and Inerrant?
For quite sometime now the argument about interpreting the biblical text has centered upon the question of what is authoritative? Is it the author’s intention, the text itself, or the reader who is the authority regarding what the text means? Some have advocated models of interpretation such as the John Wesley’s quadrilateral, while others have rejected the author entirely, and some claim and hold to inerrancy as an even higher view of the Bible.
In contrast, the biblical concept regarding what is authoritative is that one must be experiencing a basic level of transformation by God’s grace and our actions in order to interpret and read the biblical text accurately. From this perspective, anyone is free to read and interpret the text, but a good reading will occur only when the person reading is committed to and beginning to embody the lifestyle and faith the author is advocating.
The Apostle Paul’s intention in his New Testament writings is the right intention. Yet, the problem remains that even with the number and quality of historical and academic resources available today, we cannot fully enter into the context of the first century ancient world or the mindset of Paul. More importantly, Jesus does not presuppose authorial intent as a requirement for properly understanding his teachings, or his commentary on the law, the prophets or the psalms and the apostles did not base it there either.
What Jesus, the Prophets, and the Apostles do presuppose for an accurate reading of the text is faithful obedience to the teachings and law of God. Thus, the church community when its faithful, (by participating in its own transformation by God’s grace) is the proper interpreting community.
This leads to the understanding of hermeneutics based upon people like John Howard Yoder and observations regarding how different interpretative communities actually form. For example, there are many denominations and traditions within the Christian faith; each is a distinct interpretative community. Taking a closer look at them, it can be seen that a distinct interpretation of scripture can be found within each and with it a culture that reflects, reinforces and provides the foundation for that interpretation.
So although the text does not change, each community reads the text in a specific way based upon assumptions that come directly from their specific experience, culture, and tradition. Accordingly, when Pentecostal communities read 1 Corinthians 12-14, they read it very differently from communities that believe the gifts of tongues and prophecy have ceased. Importantly, we can also see that as new people are engrafted into each community, they will interpret the text primarily like the existing community does.
This is why arguing for a “higher” view of the text, such as Inerrancy or Inspiration (although both valid and true) are secondary points, and the argument for original context as being the definitive model is equally secondary, since sufficient chronological distance remains for either side to remain steadfast in their position.
This reordering does not diminish orthodoxy or the importance of academic research investigating the original context of the author. Instead, it repositions the intentional prioritization of orthopraxy (right practice) prior to orthodoxy (right doctrine) as essential for faithful interpretation – a priority that is based upon biblical example, practical observation and developments in the field of linguistics.
Recommended Reading: Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard, Is There a Meaning in this Text? By Kevin Vanhoozeer.