Scriptural Method

A. Grammatical Interpretation

1. The Grammatical Aspect of Scripture

1 Pet. 1:24-25: “The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”

2. The Example of Scripture

Matt. 22:32: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

Gal. 3:16: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”

3. A Definition
The meaning of the text must be arrived at from an analysis of the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs of Scripture, and a synthesis of these parts. The natural and usual construction of language is herein determinative of the meaning of the text. “To interpet Scripture literally is not to be committed to a ‘wooden literalism,’ nor to a ‘letterism,’ nor to a neglect of the nuances that defy any mechanical understanding of language. Rather, it is to commit oneself to a starting point and that starting point is to understand a document the best one can in the context of normal, usual, customary, tradition range of designation which includes ‘facit’ understanding” (Ramm, PBI 121). This does not overlook the figures of speech, types, etc., found in Holy Scripture. In those cases, Scripture itself (either the passage itself, or another portion) forces one to acknowledges figures or types.
4. A Method

a. Immediate Context: Note (Kaiser): i) a repeated term, phrase, clause, or sentence may act as heading; ii) transitional conjunctions and adverbs; iii) rhetorical question; iv) change in time, location, setting; v) vocative address; vi) change in tense, mood, or aspect of verb; vii) repetition of same key word, proposition, or concept; viii) announcement of theme

b. Larger Context: Place in plan of book

i) e.g., Ecclesiastes 12:13
ii) e.g., John 20:30-31

c. Syntactical Context

i) the concept
ii) the proposition
iii) the paragraph

Kaiser: “Through the precise way in which these three units are organized and arranged .. the exegete receives all the data he needs to begin the journey of moving from the text to the destination of using that text”

d. Logical Order: Note: Blomberg, et. al. 164

i) introduction
ii) explanation
iii) illustration
iv) causation
v) instrumentation
vi) interrogation
vii) evidence
viii) particularization
ix) generalization
x) interchange
xi) cruciality
xii) climax
xiii) continuation
xiv) continuity
xv) repetition
xvi) comparison
xvii) contrast
xviii) summarization
xix) conclusion

e. Literary Type (Genre – next week)

f. Syntactical Display [Block Diagram]

i) Each proposition is written out in the natural order of the text
ii) Theme proposition is brought out to the margin
iii) Syntactical units that directly modify or qualify the theme proposition are slightly indented.
iv) Material which modifies or qualifies the syntactical units subordinate to the theme proposition is indented one step further
v) By drawing arrows immediately to the left of all subordinate syntactical units, the exegete can graphically indicate to which elements these units are linked

g. Verbal Analysis or Word Study

i) What are important theological concepts?
ii) How does the context shed light on meaning?
iii) How does the book use the term elsewhere?
iv) How does the author use the term elsewhere?
v) How does the rest of OT/NT use term or cognate terms?
vi) How does LXX shed light on OT background to NT term?

Note: Colin Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of “New Testament Theology (GR: Zondervan, 1975).
Harris, R. L. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (2 vols; Chicago: Moody, 1980)
Van Gemeren, W., et al. eds., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology.

Note: McCartney and Clayton’s cautions: Etymologizing; Basic Core; Totality Transfer; Overanalysis.

B. Historical Interpretation

1. The Historical Aspect of Scripture:

Hebrews 1:1-2: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…”

2. The Example of Scripture

Matt. 19:8: “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.”

Gal. 3:17: “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.”

3. A Definition

The meaning of the text must be arrived at by an contributory analysis of geographical terms, historical backgrounds, cultural modes of operation, etc. Ramm adds: “The principal purpose for studying the cultural elements in Holy Scripture is that this aids the interpreter to know what are the original things referred to in Scripture. It is the original, social setting of Scripture which allows us to have genuine, controlled, literal interpretation” (Ramm, PBI 157).

4. Method

a. Geography: what is geographical locus? geo-political; geo-environmental; geo-developmental;

b. Historical: what is time-period?

c. Religious: what are religious practices – illegitimate, and legitimate; dispensation

d. Culture and Institutions: ways, methods, manners, tools, institutions of societies (Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, etc.)

Example: Isaiah 7-9: Syro-Ephraimitic War: Isa. 8:12-13 Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

C. Theological Interpretation

1. The Theological Aspect of Scripture

1 Pet. 1:10-12: “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: 11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.”

2. The Example of Scripture

John 5:39 “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”

Matt. 22:32: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

3. A Definition

The meaning of a text must be arrived at by an analysis of the theological presuppositions behind the text (regarding revelation, creation, providence the existence and works of the Triune God, the original goodness and present corruption of man, and the grace of God in Christ applied by the Spirit), the theological indications and conceptions in the text, and the theological purpose of the text. This too, is necessarily to a literal meaning of Scripture, for few passages do not speak directly of God, and those which do not, presuppose him in his ways and works. Without a theological component, interpretation would miss the central purpose of the Scripture, that is, to reveal God, his purposes and prescriptions. Note, however, this caveat, that exegesis is prior to any system of theology. Ramm writes: “Great mischief has been done in the church when the system of theology or its framework has been derived extra-biblically … The historic Protestant position is to ground theology in biblical exegesis. A theological system is to be built up exegetically brick by brick. Hence the theology is no better than the exegesis that underlies it. The task of the systematic theologian is to commence with these bricks ascertained through exegesis, and build the temple of his theological system.

4. Method

a. Antecedent Theology (Kaiser, 137ff): use of certain terms [seed], direct allusion to previous event; direct quotation; reference to covenants: Note: value of biblical theology

b. Theological Wordbooks (Kaiser 140ff): “define the leading theological concepts of the Bible by tracing the meaning of words, and history of words throughout Bible

c. Subsequent Theology: NT, Christ, (to a lesser extent) church tradition

D. The Method of Historical, Grammatical, and Theological Interpretation

1. Preparation

We ought to be humble and eager at all times to hear from God. If you are not, fight that unbelief down with the help of the Spirit. Hunger and thirst after righteousness, expecting God to meet with you through His Word.

2. Interpretation
Grammatical Interpretation

a. Translate the passage carefully using all the grammatical helps you need and have available to you.

b. Do not immediately reach for secondary expositions and commentaries.

c. Determine the structure of the text. If your text is from the epistles, diagram your text. Note the heart of the sentence, the main subject, verb, and object. Relate everything in the verse or verses to this heart. See how the subordinate clauses relate to each other. If it is poetry, note the parallelism and how the parallelism adds to the meaning. If it is narrative, determine its flow. Which sections are summarized and which emphasized? What is direct speech. How do conversations flows? Notice the conjunctions, tenses, word-order, repetition of words and phrases.

d. Read and ponder your translation, line by line, verse by verse. Ask yourself: what does the text mean? Express this meaning in your own words. Do so affirmatively, negatively, abstractly, concretely.

e. Do you find points of difficulty in following its meaning? Try to resolve these difficulties.

f. Examine every dimension of the text carefully to confirm, correct, and enrich the way you understand it.

g. Are there words and phrases in the translation which need explanation because a translation alone cannot convey this function in the original text?

h. What is the form of the text and how does it function. Who is speaking directly here? How does this form and function compare with earlier or later sections of the book?

i. Are there repeated phrases throughout this passage? Play on words? Any stylistic elements? (cf. E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech) What are the crucial, weighty, linchpin verses and phrases, upon which the text seems to hang?

j. What are the limits of the text? What subject and theme unifies it? What are its major parts? Of what elements are they composed? How are the elements and parts related to express coherent progress of thought? Make an outline of the passage and show the interconnections within the passage.

k. What is the unit’s relation to the context and its role in its present place?

Historical Interpretation

l. What can be said about the historical setting of the text and how does what is known clarify what was happening through the text?

Theological Interpretation

m. Reflect on the text as a whole in the light on what you have learned thus far. Marvel at the wonder of the Word as revelation of God and his purposes. Be humbled that God speaks to you as a friend. Feed upon the Word as a sheep would in green pastures.

n. Compare major commentaries on this passage and review whether you seem to be generally in harmony with the sound exegetical tradition. If there is a consensus against your interpretation, you are most likely mistaken. Review where you may have gone wrong. Otherwise, bolster your interpretation with these sources or revise it on the basis of them.

o. What is the theme of the text and of the passage through the text? Pay special attention to the main verbs, and how they connect subject and object. On the basis of your structure and your attentions to the main verbs formulate the theme either as a complete sentence or as a topic. What does the text reveal concerning God and his purposes? What does it communicate concerning Christ? What does the text say concerning you and your duties before God, etc.?

p. What are the subordinate points? How do they relate to the theme? Is there an overall balance among the points? What does the inter-relationship between the points clarify about the theme?

3. Implementation

q. Let the Word of God dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16), searching you, strengthening you, reviving you, giving you hope and vision for service and mission.

r. Ask in all honesty: Have I done justice to the text and to the context? If not, return again to the text.

s. Ask yourself: Are there any difficult phrases I am omitting or glossing over? Am I forcing the meaning of the text in a particular direction that is not inherent in it? If so, return again to the text.

t. Keep close to God. Hide His Word in your heart. Practice it. Share it. It’s as we obey His Word that we know its power. It’s as we share the truth, that we see its power.