God is worth his word being studied well. Great care should go into reading, meditating upon, and assigning meaning to sacred Scripture. However, one can drift from appreciating the gravity of the task to being weighed down by personal dogma. Applying biblical principles as normative “rules” for living easily progresses into legalism. The law of the Spirit is actually a deeper obedience that exceeds the written laws and transforms followers from law keepers to God lovers who seek him in all things. The inclination of many will be to view this distinction as dangerous, but what is the alternative? When the entirety of our faith revolves around insisting on the disqualification of others, identifying the misinterpretation of an opposing perspective, and an arrogant insistence of personal correctness, then the point has been missed. The line has been crossed from contending for the truth to just being contentious. The art and science of interpreting the Word of God is a serious and spiritual endeavor and those who seek to interpret the Bible with accuracy should be equally concerned with renewal. How might this balance be achieved?
Admit to Bias
Within the interpretive process there lies a deep reservoir of personal preferences and preconceived ideas. Every interpreter has this deep reservoir, but many interpreters refuse to concede to even a drop. Some boast of their unique perspective, some of their exegetical prowess, and some of their seminary credentials. What they each lack is a willingness to admit that they, like all interpreters, bring presuppositions to the process. Moreover, they refuse to acknowledge that they might be incorrect.
This can be easily demonstrated. By posing three topics, this author submits that the reader will likely have an immediate theological stance: predestination, spiritual gifts, and eschatology. Let’s take the last one as a case in point. Depending on one’s biblical framework (covenantal, dispensational, or in between) and hermeneutical methodology (literal grammatical or allegorical), there will be major differences in arriving at an eschatological position. Most interpretive paradigms come from whatever camp we have associated with, and then influence our theological specifics accordingly. For example, the person from a typical traditional Southern Baptist church would likely fall into a dispensational premillenial eschatological stance. So our biases lead us towards certain theological conclusions. That in itself is not a problem, but refusing to acknowledge that bias and the possibility of being wrong is. It is hubris.
The word of God is settled and will endure forever. Yet that settled word is also living and active. Is it possible that in our zealous pursuit to protect the former we actually neglect the powerful reality of the latter? Despite Scripture’s timelessness, it is still timely. This is demonstrated powerfully in and by Christ. Christ’s very incarnation was the living representation of the eternal word. John 1:1-5 and verse 14 reveals the literal embodiment of the Word in Christ, full of grace and full of truth.
Jesus himself taught as much when he reminds his listeners that he did not come to destroy the law or the prophets, but rather to fulfill them. Prophecies came to be and the law found its true expression as well as its perfect obedience in Christ. Peter quoted the prophet Isaiah as a reminder that the new birth comes through the living and abiding word of God, and then explains the very nature of that eternal word: “the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25)—a forever settled word that is simultaneously stirring and transforming reminds us that sacred Scripture alone can be characterized with static dynamism.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees’ searching of the Scripture precisely because they missed the point. They thought that it was their knowledge of the Scriptures that gave them eternal life while missing the living logos and hope of salvation in Christ (John 5:39). We can repeat that mistake by rebuking anyone who doesn’t align with our precise interpretation or theological framework, missing the miraculous power and beauty of Christ at work before our very eyes. Being Christ-centered in our biblical interpretation does not mean we force typologies of Christ where they don’t fit. It means letting Christ shine through every passage as the focal point of the meta-narrative.
There is perhaps no better example of this than the entirety of the book of Hebrews, which presents Christ as the better of all preceding glimmers of his glorious reality. He is better than the angels and Moses as well as the great high priest after the order of Melchizedek, yet able to sympathize with our weaknesses. Indeed, it is in the book of Hebrews that the oft cited verse describing the living and active nature of the word of God is found (Hebrews 4:12). We often bypass the context of God’s word as that which discerns our hearts and as an eternal reminder to believe and to share in Christ, lest we fail to enter the rest provided by God (Hebrews 3:7-4:13).
A Hermeneutic of Transformation
Hermeneutics is not merely a class one takes in seminary. It is the process through which all people assign meaning to sacred Scripture. Those who have had formal training in biblical interpretation must take care to avoid reducing this process to a mechanical framework that affirms their perspective and leaves little room for the radiant splendor of Christ’s person, work, and Gospel. Admitting our biases, affirming the dual nature of the Word as settled and stirring, and letting Christ have his place of supremacy can go a long way towards finding the balance between accuracy and renewal.