How do I interpret the Bible?

The following blog derives information from Grasping God’s Word (Duvall & Hayes). 

How do I interpret the Bible? (Applying Hermeneutics in the Bible)  

The Goal of Hermeneutics: grasping the meaning of the text that God has intended.

The River Problem: We cannot always apply meaning for the ancient audiences of Scripture to our contemporary audience today because of the “river” that separates us. The river constitutes wide expanses that separate the ancient audience from the contemporary audience (culture, time, situation, covenant, etc.).

The Principlizing Bridge: “Many texts in the Bible are specific, concrete, revelatory expressions of broader, universal realities or theological principles” (Duvall & Hayes, 21). That is to say, a text may contain historical expressions, pertinent to the biblical audience, but broader theological principles that are applicable to all of God’s people at all times. Therefore, the theological principles that have meaning and application to both the ancient biblical audience and Christians today serves as the principlizing bridge that spans the gap between the biblical and contemporary audience.

Constructing The Principlizing Bridge:

Step 1: Grasping the Text in Their Town

Question: What did the Text mean to the biblical audience?

Read the text carefully and observe it.

Scrutinize the grammar and analyze all significant words.

Study the historical and literary contexts.

Examine the relevance of the text in contrast to passages that precede and follow it.

Synthesize the meaning of the passage for the biblical audience into one or two sentences.

Use past-tense herbs and refer to the biblical audience.

For example:

God commanded the Israelites in Joshua 1 to …

Jesus encouraged his disciples by …

Be specific. Do not generalize or try to develop theological principles yet.

Step 2: Measuring the Width of the River to Cross

Question: What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?

The width of the river varies from passage to passage (a narrow creek at times to a wide and turbulent river). Look for significant differences between our situation today and the situation of the biblical audience.

Christians today are separated from the biblical audience by differences in:

Culture

Language

Situation

Time

Covenant

For example: In Joshua 1:1-9, the people of Israel are preparing to enter the Promised Land. Moses has just died and Joshua has been appointed to take his place. In this passage, God speaks to Joshua to encourage him to be strong and faithful in the upcoming conquest of the land.

What are the differences?

Contemporary audiences today are not entering or conquering the Promised Land. We are not the new leaders of the nation of Israel. We are not under the old covenant.

Step 3: Crossing the Principlizing Bridge:

Question: What is the theological principle in this text?

Perhaps the most challenging step on the interpretive journey where you grasping the meaning of the text intended by God, and the universal theological principle(s) within the text that span the river between the biblical audience and contemporary audience. 

To grasp the theological principle:

First, recall the differences you identified in Step 2.

Next, try to identify any similarities between the situation of the biblical audience and our situation.

For example: In Joshua 1:1-9, differences exist between the biblical audience and us. However, similarities also exist such as we are also the people of God, in covenant relationship (new covenant). We are not leaders of Israel, but many people are called to leadership positions in the church. We are not invading the Promised Land, but we are seeking to obey God’s will and to accomplish what he has commanded us to do.

After reviewing the differences and similarities, return to the meaning for the biblical audience that you described in Step 1 and try to identify a broader theological principle reflected in the text, but also one that relates to the similarities between us and the biblical audience. This theological principle will serve as one or all of the principlizing bridge by which we can cross over the river of barriers.

The theological principle you derive should not only be reflected in the passage but also be congruent with the rest of Scripture.

Suggested criteria for formulating the theological principle:

The principle should be reflected in the text.

The principle should be timeless and not tied to a specific situation.

The principle should not be culturally bound.

The principle should correspond to the teaching of the rest of Scripture.

The principle should be relevant to both the biblical and contemporary audience.

Step 4: Grasping the Text in Our Town

Question: How should individual Christians today apply the theological principle in their lives?

We apply the theological principle to the specific situation of individual Christians in the church today. We cannot leave the meaning of the text stranded in an abstract theological principle, but must now grapple with how we should respond to that principle in our town. How does it apply in real-life situations today?

Each passage will usually only contain a few (and often only one) theological principles relevant for all Christians today, there will be numerous applicational possibilities. Each of us will grasp and apply the same theological principle in slightly different ways, depending our current life situation and were we are in our relationship with God.

In Summary: The Interpretive Journey

Step 1: Grasp the text in their town. What did the text mean to the original audience?

Step 2: Measure the width of the river to cross. What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?

Step 3: Cross the principlizing bridge. What is the theological principle in this text?

Step 4: Grasp the text in our town. How should individual Christians today apply the theological principle in their lives?

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