Canonical and Missiological Hermeneutics

A. Introduction

The Bible knows of no armchair theologian. Abraham was a covenanter, commissioned to be a light to the whole world and a blessing to many. Moses was not a lone philosopher, but thrust into the life of an enslaved people, leading them as refuges through the wilderness towards a new life in the promised land. Likewise Joshua, David, and the others leaders in Israel, were The apostles were misson men – praying, preaching, teaching, equipping, etc. When they used their mind it was for mission purposes. The only times Paul was an “arm-chair theologian” was when he was in prison – better called “an ambassador in bonds.” The point here is theology cannot be divorced from ministry, but gives impetus to mission, and serves it.
In fact, hermeneutics can not be separated from ministry, from the calling to be a light in the world. The Bible links the concepts of mission and ministry and gives them both a covenantal character. God sent his Son as a Servant in order to serve the purposes of God mediatorially. Through His mediatorial work, Christ redeems, gathers, and equips his people to serve Him, and through Him, the purposes of God.

B. The Mission Tendency of Entire Bible

1. Old Testament
From its very opening, the Bible is a universal document about the God of creation, who made all for his glory, and will restore his fallen image-bearer to himself through crushing Satan. The covenantal spine of the Bible that is evident in Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Psalms, and the Prophets, is all connected with the mission that governs the people of God in every age, and that is to be a light to the world. All the promises are aimed at fulfilling this charge. That is why the Bible is called – a two testamentary book. The covenant is for blessing! It makes the blessed into blessors!
2. Christ’s Life
During his time on earth Christ trained His disciples in the work of evangelism and missions, not only didactically (Matt. 28), and exemplary (John 4), but also experimentally (Matt. 10). There were differences between these missions and the later ones, primarily chronologically and spatially. The latter were upon Christ’s exaltation and the Spirit’s effusion and throughout the ends of the earth. Thereunto the gift of tongues, prophesying and the working of miracles, and other temporary charismata were given to them, the word not having yet been deposited in its completion. One remarkable difference between the early Christian and many other groups was the continuity the Christians had and experience with their Master and Lord.
3. Early Church
Jerusalem then was already somewhat a nucleus of many cultures. There were synagogues of the Hellenists and of the Hebraists. At Pentecost, there were people from many nations. Yet, all in all, the Jews made out the majority and this was the main difference elsewhere. The term Hellenist in the Bible (Acts 6:1; Acts 9:29, cf. also John 12), simply means those that spoke Greek, so it is not a distinction between believers and unbelievers. There were, however, among the Hellenists many that believed. The rest of the book of Acts shows the centripetal motion of missions outward from Jerusalem, first with Jerusalem as the base (1-12) and then Antioch (13-28), all the way into the heart of Rome (28).
4. The Design of the Canon

a. The Gospels as the Content of the Gospel for Missions
b. Acts as the Record of the Beginning of Missions
c. Paul as the Apostle Called to the Gentile Mission
d. The other 3 Pillars (Peter, John, and James/Jude) as the Solidifiers and to the Jews
e. Revelation showing the Victory of the Mission and the Goal of it All

5. The Bridge Function of the Book of Acts

a. Showing the Power of the Gospel as Birthing the Church
b. Defending the Truth of the Gospel as Hallmark of the Church

6. The Centrality of the Book of Romans

a. A Charter of the Gospel with a Mission Bent
b. Similar in Character and Force to the Institutes and Reformed Confessions
c. The Mission Tendency of the Structure of Romans

Romans 1:18 – Romans 3:20: The Plight of Man prior to Redemption – Whole Earth under Sin
Romans 3:21 – Romans 8:39: The Power of God in Redemption for Jew / Gentile through Faith
Romans 9-11: The Purpose of God behind Redemption: Jew / Gentile in God’s Wisdom
Romans 12-14: The Presentation of the Church through Redemption: Weak and Strong
Romans 15-16: The Progress of the Church upon Redemption: Jew and Gentile

7. The Value of the Pastoral Epistles

a. These books devoted to equipping new generation to carry on legacy of apostles
b. Highlight dynamics of Ministry and Church – Importance of biblical leadership

C. The Stewardship of Hermeneutics

The contribution of the Pastoral Epistles to the theology of the New Testament lies especially in showing the arrangement of the church as a household, with its leaders as stewards. This household serves the promotion of God’s purpose of salvation throughout the world, particularly as the church witnesses to the deposit of truth concerning Christ. The witness to the truth is intimately connected with the piety which truth promotes, and which in turn adorns the truth, as it coheres with it.

Phil. 2:14-15: Do all things without murmurings and disputings, that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a corked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, Holding forth the word of life.”

1 Tim. 3:15-16: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

a. Stulos: here likely the idea of a “free-standing column denoting a lofty sign” [footnote]Ho, “Mission in the Pastoral Epistles,” in Entrusted with the Gospel, 255.[/footnote]

b. edraiooma: a hapax but edrasma, a cognate term, means “foundation” with the connotation of “firmness, stability, and permanence” (Ho, ibid). – could be hendiadys “foundational pillar of truth”

c. Ho: “This suggests a picture of the church not just as place where truth resides but also as a sort of freestanding column of truth for all to see” (ibid).

D. Theological Hermeneutics

1. Interpret Scripture in light of Scripture (see here and here)
2. Interpret Scripture with a view to the Doctrines of the Text

Doctrine Text History of Redemption
Theology God
Christology Manifest in the Flesh Incarnation
Pneumatology and Soteriology Justified in the Spirit Resurrection
Ecclesiology Seen of Angels Ascension
(means of grace) Preached unto the Gentiles Pentecost
(soteriology) Believed on in the World
Eschatology Received up into glory (Ascension) second coming


E. Specific Lessons for Mission: Paul’s Legacy

See Robert Reymond, “Lessons from Paul’s Ministry for Today’s Missionaries,” Paul – Missionary Theologian, 557-588.

  1. Bathe all of interpretation in prayer and thanksgiving.
  2. Make the right division, compelling proclamation, faithful exposition, and clear discrimination, and gripping application your central work.
  3. Never swerve from the biblical configuration of the gospel into errors on any side, but rather preach the work of a Triune God focused in an all-sufficient Christ for a guilty, miserable, and perishing world.
  4. Preach discriminatingly to people indiscriminately. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort.
  5. “Disavow all gimmickry in preaching the gospel,” but depend upon God’s grace to bless a clear and forceful exhibition and application of the truth of God.
  6. “Do not espouse an apologetic method that compromises the self-authenticating character of the Scripture (1 Cor. 1:4-5).”  Reymond: “Today’s so-called ‘enlightened’ pagans need to have the façade of their feigned sovereignty and knowledge stripped away, the barrenness of their atheistic world-and-life-view exposed for what it is, and their rebellion against God, truth, and holiness uncovered by a sound apologetic method” (566)
  7. “Be prepared and willing to endure loneliness, pain and suffering, loss of friends, persecution, insults, misunderstanding, physical affliction, even death itself, if necessary, for the cause of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:9-13; 2 Cor. 11:23-28; Phil. 3:7-9; 2 Tim. 4:6-8)
  8. As you communicate the gospel to varied cultures, etc., be prepared to become “all things to all people” without compromising the truth, solemnity, and authority of the Scriptural message.
  9. Live before God and others lives of “discipline, holiness, truth, honesty, consistency, industry, humility and joy” (Acts 20:35; 1 Thess. 1:6).
  10. Nurture a constant and deep compassion for souls, but never fear the faces of men.
  11. Retain a proper, biblical self-estimate that runs daily to the blood for cleansing and a new life, and to the throne for perspective and blessing, and to the Word for conviction and comfort.
  12. Glory only in the cross of Christ and through it live and die to the glory of God in Christ.

a. only a flourishing spiritual life and a genuine walk before God in holiness will fortify the missionary in times of discouragement.”
b. only a flourishing spiritual life and a genuine walk before god in holiness will protect the missionary from the perils of success in the ministry.
Newton: There will be almost the same connection between popularity and pride, as between fire and gunpowder; they cannot meet without an explosion, at least not unless the gunpowder [of pride] is kept very damp.”
c. Only a flourishing spiritual life and a genuine walk before God in holiness will lend the power and effectiveness necessary to the missionary’s labor in the gospel.