Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Grudem's Advice on Interpreting the Word

In a new book (Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching: In Honor of R. Kent Hughes), Wayne Grudem has a helpful chapter offering some suggestions for pastors and Bible teachers on right and wrong interpretation of the Bible. One of Grudem’s observations is that seminarians can often begin to despair due to the amount of information available and the number of viewpoints on any one passage. Therefore Grudem’s chapter represents some of the principles he has sought to impart to students throughout the years.

I thought it might be helpful to list Grudem’s principles. Of course you’ll have to read the chapter itself to see how he flesh them out.

General Principles for Right Interpretation

  1. Spend your earliest and best time reading the text of the Bible itself.
  2. The interpretation of Scripture is not a magical or mysterious process, because Scripture was written in the ordinary language of the day.
  3. Every interpreter has only four sources of information about the text [(1) The meanings of individual words and sentences; (2) The place of the statement in its context; (3) The overall teaching of Scripture; (4) Some information about the historical and cultural background.
  4. Look for reasons rather than mere opinions to give support to an interpretation, and use reasons rather than mere opinions to attempt to persuade others.
  5. There is only one meaning for each text (though there are many applications.
  6. Notice the kind of literature in which the verse is found.
  7. Notice whether the text approves or disapproves or merely reports a person’s actions.
  8. Be careful not to generalize specific statements and apply them to fundamentally different situations.
  9. It is possible to do a short or long study of any passage. Do what you can with the time you have, and don’t be discouraged about all that you cannot do.
  10. Pray regularly for the Holy Spirit’s help in the whole process of interpreting the Bible.

Keeping the “Big Picture” in Mind: Some Observations about the Whole of Scripture

Big Picture 1

The Bible is a historical document. Therefore, always ask, “What did the author want the original readers to understand by this statement?”

Big Picture 2

The original authors wanted the original readers to respond in some ways. Therefore, always ask, “What application did the original author want the readers to make to their lives?”

Big Picture 3

The whole Bible is about God! Therefore, we should always ask, “What does this text tell us about God?”

Big Picture 4

The center of the whole Bible is Jesus Christ. The entire Old Testament leads up to him and points to him, and the entire New Testament flows from him. Therefore, we should always ask, “What does this text tell us about the greatness of Christ?”

Big Picture 5

All history can be divided into several major “ages” or “epochs” in salvation history. Therefore, we should read every passage of the Bible with a salvation history timeline in our minds and constantly remember where every passage fits on the timeline.

Big Picture 6

Themes: Because the Bible is a unity (it has one divine Author though many human authors), there are many themes that develop and grow from Genesis to Revelation. Therefore, for each significant element in any text, it is helpful to ask, (a) Where did this theme start in the Bible? (b) How did this theme develop through the Bible? and (c) Where is this theme going to end in the Bible?