The Practice of Interpreting the Bible Pt. 10

This series of posts represented an exploration of the steps involved in biblical interpretation. Although today’s post will conclude this series, it does not mark the end of diligence and the regular practice necessary to develop the skills of biblical exegesis. Once you have considered all previous steps and applied the principles mentioned in this series of posts, it is time to bring it all together and confirm your thoughts. Consider the following steps to help you evaluate your exegetical conclusions.

  • Consider the biblical-theological context. This step is critical to preserving and applying the principle of analogia fide (the analogy of the faith, or the rule of faith). This principle, established by the Reformers, considers the unity of the Scriptures to aid in the interpretation of Scripture. In other words, the meaning of the one passage of Scripture must be consistent with what the Bible teaches on the same subject elsewhere. So, before we make our final conclusion about the meaning of the text, we must compare our preliminary findings with the theological context of Scripture. For example, in 2 Corinthians 12:10 Paul says, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” After applying all previous steps in the exegetical process, compare your preliminary interpretation of verse 10 to:
    • The theological context of 2 Corinthians 12:1-18. What theology is Paul communicating in this section? When you consider Paul’s view of God and himself, it will guide limit your interpretation.
    • The theological context of 2 Corinthians 11:1-12:21. Now expand the circle of theological context to include a larger section. You will notice that Paul is defending his apostleship. Consider how his personal apologetic impacts and shapes his presentation of God and himself.
    • The theological context of 2 Corinthians. Now consider the entire book. What is Paul’s overall theology of God and himself in 2 Corinthians? Yes, I know it takes time to do this, but it will yield amazing insights and is well worth the effort.

In addition to the theological context of the section, the chapter, and the book, consider the topical theological context. For example, in 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul speaks about contentment. Examine what Paul says about contentment in the rest of 2 Corinthians. Then, explore contentment in all of Paul’s writings and beyond that see how the rest of the Old and New Testament speaks of the subject.

The fruit of this exercise cannot be overstated. The Bible is a unity. It speaks with congruence and consistency throughout. If we take the time to discover how it speaks, we will guard against misinterpretations and find golden nuggets of truth that will enrich our lives.

  • Compare your conclusion with secondary sources. Finally, this is the step when you get to read a commentary. Note well that it comes after you have thoroughly examined the text and have some conclusion about what the author intended to communicate. In this step, you compare your findings with other scholars and adjust your view as needed. Read commentaries with discerning purpose. Never accept another’s viewpoint without scrutiny. Follow Paul’s exhortation to “examine everything carefully” (1 Thess. 5:21). Below are some questions you may use to evaluate the commentaries you read.
    • Is there misinformation? Was any information factually mistaken?
    • Is there lack of information? Were important elements in the text skipped or omitted from the research?
    • Are there any inconsistencies? Are there contradictions or internal conflicts in the presentation of facts?
    • Is the overall handling of the passage incomplete? Are conclusions made without enough supporting evidence?
    • Are there misinterpretations as a result of faulty assumptions or exegetical procedures?
    • Do you notice any presuppositions that may have colored the author’s conclusions to the text?
    • What are the most valuable contributions made by this writing?

Once you have finished reading the commentaries (I suggest no less than 4), you should adjust your interpretive conclusions where the evidence requires you to do so.

Having examined the discipline of Bible interpretation, you may now understand why Paul said, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). You now see why it takes diligence. Don’t be afraid. Yes, it takes courage, time, and effort. But, the payoff is beyond description. Remember, if diligence is not applied and your interpretation is not accurate, it is no longer the truth. The result of wrong interpretation is not God’s word; it is ours.

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