A Brief History of Christian Interpretation
From Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard
PATRISTIC PERIOD (a.d. 100-590)
From the death of the Apostle John until Pope Gregory I, 590 a.d.
“Patristic” in that it features the contributions of the so-called Church Fathers.
The period in which the N.T. canon was developed, O.T. was still the primary authoritative collection
In later years, church tradition began to exercise significant influence on the definition of church
This period ended when the church councils finally agreed upon the contents of the Christian canon.
1.Apostolic Fathers (a.d. 100-150)
A.Select authors: Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Barnabas (pseudonym)
B.Select writings: Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Epistle to Diognetius
1.To instruct believers in Christian doctrine
2.To defend the faith against Jewish arguments
D.Four major approaches:
1.Typology – e.g. Clement saw the scarlet color of the cloth that Rahab hung in Jericho to signal Joshua’s spies as a foreshadowing of the blood of Jesus (1 Clement 12:7).
a.Seeing spiritual significance in every detail of a passage.
b. Barnabas saw the seven days of creation as a key to understanding the future – six days indicate the world will last six thousand years, seventh day symbolizes the second coming of Christ, followed by the eighth day – “the beginning of another world” (15:3-9)
c.Allegory was the most popular way to interpret literature generally in that period.
3.Midrash – a complex interpretive approach developed earlier by the Jewish rabbis that found symbolic significance in every word and phrase of the O.T. It followed a carefully devised set of rules which to today’s readers appear to be little more than manipulation of the text to suit one’s interests. In the originating period, however, the intent of the rabbis was to find the practical significance “behind” the scriptures so they could be applied to life situations not addressed in the plain sense of a passage.
a.When the Gnostics appeared in the 2nd-3rd centuries, they supported their heresies by appealing to so-called sayings of Jesus that he had taught his disciples in private and that only the most spiritual could comprehend. Given the fact that the complete Christian canon was still in development, many Christian leaders felt disadvantaged in combating Gnostic heresies. Their only recourse to rebut the heresies was to appeal the authority of traditions believed to have been handed down from the apostles.
b.This established a new hermeneutical principle of church tradition that dominated until it was challenged centuries later during the Reformation.
2.Alexandria vs. Antioch (a.d. 150-400)
A.Two centers of Christian instruction dominated during this time, each of having their distinct approach to hermeneutics, Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch of Syria.
B.Alexandria in Egypt
1.Promoted the allegorical method among Jews and philosophers through an influential school,
continuing the tradition of Philo, a popular Jewish scholar from the intertestamental period.
2.Allegory – assigning spiritual significance to every detail of a passage.
3.Clement of Alexandria (a.d. 190-203)
a.Taught that every scripture had two meanings, analogous to a human being:
1)Literal (like the human body)
2)Spiritual or hidden (like the human soul)
3)The literal sense is but a pointer to its underlying spiritual truth.
b.The classic example is Clement’s interpretation of the prodigal son: the robe the father gave to the returned prodigal represents immortality; the shoes represent the upward progress of the soul; and the fatted calf represents Christ as the source of spiritual nourishment for Christians.
4.Origen (a.d. 185-254) – Clement’s successor
a.Origen expanded upon Clement, by saying that just as humans consist of body, soul, and spirit, so Scripture has a threefold meaning.
1)Body – literal meaning
2)Soul – spiritual meaning (Origen refined this into a “doctrinal” sense, i.e. truths
about the nature of the church and the Christian’s relationship to God)
3)Spirit – moral meaning (i.e. ethical instructions about the believer’s relationships to
b.An example is the sexual relations between Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). The literal sense was that it actually happened. The moral meaning is that Lot represents the rational mind, his wife the flesh inclined to pleasures, and the daughters vainglory and pride. Applying these three yields the spiritual (or doctrinal) meaning: Lot represents the O.T. law, the daughters represent Jerusalem and Samaria, and the wife represents the Israelites who rebelled in the wilderness.
c.For those who argued that this approach took liberties with the text, Origen contended that God has inspired the allegorical meaning into his writing. Thus, what Origen considered the deepest meaning of Scripture was already implicit in Scripture, not something invented by the interpreter.
5.This approach sparked a reaction by other church leaders, which led to the founding of another school.
C.Antioch of Syria
1.Founded in the 4th century a.d., it promoted what we now call the grammatico-historical method of interpretation: that every passage has one plain simple meaning conveyed by its grammar and words.
a.Theodore of Mopsuestia (a.d. 350-428)
b.Theodoret (a.d. 393-460)
c.John Chrysostom (a.d. 347-407) – sermons show the application of this method to
3.They did not minimize spiritual sense of application of a text, but believed that there was a
direct correspondence between a text’s historical meaning and its spiritual applications.
4.Example: Song of Solomon was not an allegory symbolizing Christ’s love for the church of
the Christian’s devotion to Christ, but was a love poem written by Solomon to celebrate his marriage to an Egyptian princess.
5.While these interpreters were more careful to preserve Scripture’s historical sense, they
sometimes slipped into allegorizing.
3.The Church Councils (a.d. 400-590)
A.When the Roman emperor Constantine was converted in 312 a.d., he believed that doctrinal
disputes among Christians threatened the empire’s political stability. So he pressured the church
to settle differences and standardize its disputed doctrines.
B.This proved difficult, in that both unorthodox and orthodox groups supported their views from
Scripture, and even orthodox theologians could not agree on how to interpret Scripture, as the
conflict between Alexandria and Antioch demonstrates.
C.This led orthodox church leaders, under Constantine, to argue that only they, the apostles’
successors, were the true interpreters of Scripture since only they had received the apostolic
teaching. To implement this principle, they convened a series of church councils to define official
D.In effect, it raised the authority of tradition above that of Scripture.
E.Augustine (a.d. 397) articulates this method in On Christian Doctrine.
1.According to Augustine, to interpret the Bible correctly, one must find out what the original
writer intended to say. In cases where this is not clear, there are three criteria for finding the
a.First, consult the “rule of faith” (what clearer passages of Scripture say on the subject).
b.Second, consult the “authority of the Church,” or the church’s traditional interpretation of
c.Third, if conflicting views meet both criteria, consult the context to see which view
commends itself best.
2.In other words, plainer passages and church tradition take precedence over the contexts of
3.Thus, the accepted church tradition, not a reasoned study of Scripture, became the ultimate
interpreter of the Bible.
F.Another event at the end of the patristic period that solidified the grip of tradition on interpretation
was Jerome’s translation of the O.T., N.T., and the Apocrypha into Latin (a.d. 331-420).
1.This translation from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, known as the Vulgate (Lat.,
“common”), became the official Bible of the church. The study of the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek ceased for all practical purposes.
2.This was unfortunate, because in some instances, the Vulgate was not as accurate in reflecting
the original languages (e.g. Luke 1:28, “Hail Mary, full of grace”, contrast to NIV).
3.Thus, the church moved still another step away from dependence upon the Scripture itself for
THE MIDDLE AGES (a.d. 590-1500)
As the name implies, the Middle Ages is the historical era that falls between two other major periods.
It flows out of the Patristic Period, dominated by the church fathers and councils, and flows into the
Popular impression sees the period as dark and oppressive, which is partly accurate. There was
widespread ignorance, and morally bankrupt church leaders stopped at nothing to preserve their
1.Three approaches typify this period:
1.Preserved through the written Catena, or chain of interpretations compiled from the
commentaries of the Church Fathers. Exegesis was synonymous with tradition, as the good
commentator was one who faithfully passed on what he had received.
2.Interpretive Gloss – an offspring of the catena, consisted of annotations or commentaries
from the Fathers written in the margin or between the lines of the Bible. Eventually, these glosses were collected into the Glossa Ordinaria, the standard medieval commentary on the Bible.
B.Allegorical – the dominant method
1.This method was expanded beyond Origen’s threefold sense of Scripture to the belief that
every Bible text had four meanings:
c.Moral (or tropological)
2.A popular rhyme from the Middle Ages summarizes them:
The letter shows us what God and our fathers did;
The allegory shows us where our faith is hid;
The moral meaning gives us the rules of daily life;
The anagogy shows us where we end our strife.
Literal: the ancient Jewish city
Allegorical: the Christian church
Moral: the faithful soul
Anagogical: the heavenly city
C.Historical / Scholastic
1.This limited its concerns to the literal meaning of the text, the first level of allegory, drawing
primarily often on Jewish interpretation and the work of Jerome, who emphasized scripture’s
2.Primary figure: Andrew of St. Victor, 12th century
3.Scholasticism, a strict historical/literal approach, representing a pre-Renaissance intellectual awakening in Europe that began in monasteries and later spread to universities, emerged during this time. Its main concern was to sort out the relationship between the Christian faith and human reason.
4.During this time, there was the rediscovery of pre-Christian philosophers such as Aristotle.
5.Aristotle was the primary tool of scholastics, with his method of logical analysis and syllogisms.
a.Anselm, Peter of Abelard
b.The most articulate spokesman for scholasticism was the brilliant Christian thinker,
Thomas Aquinas. His massive Summa Theologica synthesized the intellectual fruits of
three centuries of intense academic discussion. It gave the Christian faith a rational,
systematic expression, and eventually became the standard summary of theology in the Roman Catholic Church. Aquinas emphasized the importance of the literal meaning of scripture. For him it represented the basis of which the other senses (allegorical, anagogical, etc.) rested. He argued that the literal sense of Scripture contained everything necessary to faith. In effect, he freed theology from its long historical slavery to the allegorical method.
2.The Middle Ages witnessed the decline of the allegorical approach in the Church. The scholastic
emphasis on the use of reason in interpretation underscored the subjectivity of allegory and undermined confidence in its validity. The application of philosophical tools to theology tended to anchor the interpretation of Scripture to more rational, objective moorings. On the other hand, practitioners of allegory still abounded in the church, and dependence upon traditional interpretation remained heavy.
THE REFORMATION (a.d. 1500-1650)
Introduced a revolution in the interpretation of Scripture
Many sparks ignited this revolution, but three deserve special attention
1.Conflict broke out between the frozen traditionalism of the Scholastics and the so-called new learning of Christian humanists such as Erasmus. The humanists derided the hair-splitting, laborious logic of scholastic theology, saying it offered no food for hungry Christian souls. There was a yearning for the passion of devotion of the early Christians.
2.A renewed interest in studying the Scriptures in their original Hebrew and Greek languages provided scholars with a fresh glimpse into the Scriptures.
a.1506 – Johann Reuchlin published a rudimentary Hebrew grammar.
b.1516 – Erasmus published the first modern edition of the Greek New Testament.
3.A growing dissatisfaction with the allegorical method fueled a desire for a better interpretive approach. At the end of the fifteenth century, a man named Geiler of Kaiserberg observed that abuse of the allegorical method had made scripture a “nose of wax” to be turned interpretively any way the reader wanted. Allegory was viewed as arbitrary and speculative.
A.16th century saying: “Erasmus laid the egg and Luther hatched it.”
B.Four important features of Martin Luther:
1.Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) – Luther affirmed that only Scripture has divine authority for
Christians, not church tradition.
2.Rejection of the allegorical method of interpretation and affirmation of historical – Allegory amounted to empty speculation. Scripture had one essential meaning, the historical, that
was discerned by the ordinary rules of grammar in the light of Scripture’s original historical
3.Christocentric interpretation – Whole Bible, including O.T., taught about Christ.
4.Illumination of the Holy Spirit in applying Bible to personal experience and allowing the
Bible reader to understand accurately what a given passage teaches about Christ, resulting in a
truly “spiritual interpretation.” This is the subjective element in interpretation.
A.Affirmed all four of Luther’s points above.
B.He called the subjective element “the internal witness of the Holy Spirit,” which illumined the
process of interpretation and confirmed in the Christian’s heart that an interpretation was correct.
3.Ironically, the spiritual children of Luther and Calvin seemed to lapse back into scholasticism,
disputing and hair-splitting. To outside observers, they departed from Luther and Calvin in one
respect: they appeared to place more importance on intellectual agreement with Protestant dogma than
on the practice of warm, lively, personal piety.
4.The Catholics responded to the Reformation with the Council of Trent (1545-63) to reaffirm, among
other things, the Roman Catholic tradition of biblical interpretation. It upheld the Latin Vulgate, and
forbade anyone to interpret Scripture out of harmony with church doctrine. The result is two distinct
streams of biblical interpretation: one Protestant and one Catholic.
POST-REFORMATION PERIOD (a.d. 1650-1800)
There are two factors the figure prominently in this period.
-Renaissance (a.d. 1300-1600) featured a reborn interest in Classical Greek and Roman and philosophy. This aided the revival of Greek and Hebrew in the Reformation. It represented an increased reliance on human reason.
-Reformation (1500-1650) spawned a renewed Christian faith that was released from the traditionalism of Roman Catholicism. It represented an increase in Christian passion and devotion.
Two movements flowed from these two factors: Pietism and Rationalism
A.Began in Germany in the 17th century and later spread to Western Europe and then America.
B.It represented a reaction to the arid intellectual dogmatism of Protestant scholasticism and the
sterile formalism of Protestant worship services.
C.Pietism sought to revive the practice of Christianity as a way of life through group Bible study,
prayer, and the cultivation of personal morality.
a.Philip Jacob Spener (1635-1705) – German pastor who preached the necessity of
personal conversion to Christ and an intimate, personal relationship to God.
b.Against the purely doctrinal interests of their contemporaries, Spener and German pietists
stressed the devotional, practical study of the Bible.
c.Their method featured careful grammatical study of the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts,
always, however, with an eye for their devotional or practical implications.
a.Methodism of John Wesley (1709-1791)
b.Also sought to recover a vibrant personal piety and holy life through Bible study and
a.Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) – renowned New England preacher.
b.Edwards emphasized devotional and practical study of scripture, but, unlike Spener and
Wesley, also had an eye for doctrine.
A.Rationalism regarded the human mind as an independent authority capable of determining truth.
B.Like Erasmus from the Renaissance, who employed human reason to study the Bible in its original
languages, rationalists believed that the use of human reason to investigate the Bible helped Christians to establish their faith. While the Reformers had used this rationalism simply to discredit the authority of Catholic tradition, later 17th and 18th century thinkers applied the tool of reason to discredit the Bible itself.
C.Rationalism was not a system of beliefs that was antagonistic to Christianity, but an attitude of
mind which assumed that in all matters of religion, reason is supreme.
D.Three thinkers illustrate this approach:
1.Thomas Hobbes, Anglican philosopher, in Leviathan (1651), questioned Moses’ authorship of
2.Richard Simon, of France, in Critical History of the Old Testament (1678), stated that some parts of the O.T. reflect a confusion in chronology.
3.Bernard Spinoza, Jewish philosopher, most significantly undercut the authority of Scripture. In Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670), Spinoza argued for the primacy of reason in the interpretation of scripture. For example, reason understands scriptural claims to God’s direct intervention in history to be simply a common Jewish way of speaking., not actual revelation. Miracle stories thus become nothing more than a powerful way to move ignorant people to obedience. By implication, Spinoza subjected Scripture to the authority of the human mind rather than the other way around.
E.The difference between these rationalists and Thomas Aquinas, the earlier Catholic theologian who wrote Summa Theologica, is that Aquinas integrated theology and philosophy, as to where these rationalists used philosophy against scripture.
3.Thus, the Post-Reformation period brought the fragmentation of approaches to biblical interpretation.
One the one hand, the Pietists searched the Scriptures to feed their hungry souls and to guide their quest for virtuous lives. On the other hand, rationalists dissected scripture and divested it of its soul. This rationalism spawned a whole series of influential biblical handbooks written along the lines of Spinoza.
MODERN PERIOD (a.d. 1800 – Present)
1.Scientific method: Radical advances in science created popular confidence in scientific method, including the scientific method of studying history.
2.Developmentalism: History is always evolving, thus the philosophy of Frederick Hegel and the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin.
B.These ideas were applied to the study of scripture, and the various schools of criticism emerged.
1.Historical criticism, source criticism, etc. were applied in such a way as to undermine the
historical reliability of the Bible and, hence, its authority as a document of divine revelation.
2.This also radically redefined the object of biblical interpretation. For those steeped in the critical approach, the purpose of Bible study was not to determine the meaning of the present text but to find the sources and history lurking behind it.
1.Ferdinand Christian Baur, professor of historical theology at the University of Tubingen (1826-1860), argued that Paul’s letters reflect a deep division in apostolic Christianity. One one side was the church of Jerusalem (led by Peter and the original disciples), which taught a Jewish form of Christianity. On the other, stood Paul and his Gentile converts who insisted that the gospel actually abolished the legalistic demands of Judaism. Baur argued that if any N.T. books did not reflect this divided Christianity, it must be post-apostolic in origin. On this premise, he dated both Acts and the Gospels to the second century, thus denying their authority as sources of information for the life and ministry of Jesus. Baur and his disciples were referred to as the Tubingen School.
2.Julius Wellhausen, Prolegoumena to the History of Israel (1878), that presented the theory that the Pentateuch emerged from four separate sources written between 850 and 550 b.c. Several crucial implications derived from that claim: 1) that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch; 2) that the Law originated after the historical books not before them; and 3) that the true history of Israel differed markedly from the history the O.T. books narrate.
3.Adolf von Harnack, What Is Christianity? (1901), summarized the liberal theology that dominated Protestantism and shaped its biblical interpretation. Harnack called for people to return to the religion of Jesus, which he claimed was hidden behind the church’s later superstitious (miraculous) portrait of him in the N.T. For Harnack, three essential teachings summarize Jesus’ religion: 1) the coming of the kingdom of God; 2) the fatherhood of God and the infinite value of the human soul; and 3) the commandment of love.
2.20th Century – Two interpretive schools emerged that grew out of the previous century.
A.The “History of Religions” Approach
1.In the 19th century, archaeologists had unearthed numerous texts from ancient Egypt, Palestine, Babylonia, and Assyria.
2.This gave scholars fresh new insights into religions that were contemporary with the children of Israel in the Old Testament.
3.Scholars began to compare these other religions to the O.T., and many of them professed to show how ancient neighboring religions had profoundly influenced the religious practices and writings of the Israelites. Some went to extremes with this, e.g. Franz Delitzsch tried to argue that the O.T. contained nothing more than warmed-over Babylonian ideas.
4.(CG) Clearly, there are many similarities between some ancient religions and the O.T. At times it is difficult to know whether the O.T. influenced the others or whether the others influenced the O.T. On the other hand, there are a great many differences, such as the laws of social sanitation and hygiene in Leviticus that are light years ahead of the preposterous ideas of contemporary Egyptian medicine.
5.Apart from the extremes (such as Delitzsch in 3. above), this approach made some surprising positive contributions to biblical interpretation.
a.It severely discredited the idea from Wellhausen (see previous page) who claimed that the Mosaic law came many years after the prophets spoke, not before it. However, the discovery of ancient law codes from cultures contemporary with early Israel implied that OT ethical demands indeed came from Moses.
b.It also established the principle the proper biblical interpretation would require consultation with relevant cultural evidence from the ancient world of the Bible.
1.The father of form criticism was Herman Gunkel, a German OT scholar best known for his study of the Psalms. He attempted to recover the spoken (oral) forms that were the early basis for what was eventually written in the Bible. He also aimed to determine the specific cultural life-setting in which each originated. He claimed that the original setting of most of the Psalms was the temple in Jerusalem.
2.Eventually, O.T. form criticism began to focus more on the literary types of the present text. Today, this remains as an invaluable method in the toolbox of all serious Bible students. Consideration of the various literary genres of the Bible bears witness to the lasting legacy of Gunkel’s approach, even if one does not accept all of his beliefs.
C.The rest of the 20th century witnessed a number of developments in biblical study, most of which were an expansion on one of the trends of history.
1.The application of the scientific method to historical research evolved to the point that some conducted little more than academic autopsies on scripture, treating scripture like a cadaver with literary parts for dissecting. Tedious analysis, even to the point of dissecting the origins of syllables in words, was conducted. Various types of criticism emerged, many that still have value if freed from radical rationalistic assumptions.
2.There also were approaches that were not quite as extreme, but which nonetheless discounted the historical reliability of scripture. Scholars such as the Swiss country pastor, Karl Barth, and the German theologian, Rudolf Bultmann, are representatives.
a.Barth lambasted many of the mistakes of liberalism and tried to reemphasize the authority of the Word of God. His sermons and writings reflect penetrating biblical interpretation. Yet, he did not believe the miracles and stories were intended to be historical, but were intentional myths that conveyed theological truth in historical dress. God communicated in these myths because it is the only way fallen man could encounter a being so transcendent. The Bible is simply a conduit for a personal encounter with God, the “myth” being necessary to facilitate the experience. Once a person has the encounter, the Bible “becomes” the Word of God to that person. The Bible is a tool to be utilized subjectively to deepen the personal encounter, so there is no need to look for a coherent, objective stream of truth. This view is referred to as Neo-orthodoxy.
b.Bultmann, believed that the prevailing scientific worldview had undermined the faith of many intelligent Christians. They had trouble believing the Bible because of all its “mythological elements.” He distinguished between the “Jesus of History” (the person who actually lived) and the “Christ of Faith” (the person represented in Christian preaching). By using scientific method, he identified the parts of scripture he thought were “myth” such as miracle stories, and tried to separate them from the kernels of actual history. This was referred to as “demythologizing” the text. Once the text was demythologized, one could discover the true message that was couched in the now outmoded myth. He did not believe the Bible contained much objective information, and that the reader could reject anything that was not scientific. The purpose of Bible study is to allow its understanding of human existence to clarify one’s own existence. Built upon existential philosophy, which emphasizes the anxiety and hopelessness in human life, Bultmann believed if a person first acknowledges their “unauthentic existence,” they can go to the Bible to gain subjective insight that makes their lives more authentic.
3.Later efforts, such as the “quest for this historical Jesus,” and the so-called “new hermeneutic” built upon Bultmann. Obviously, there are many pitfalls, but the attempt of Bultmann to bring the text into human life has had a lasting impact that continues even today.
4.In reaction to this liberalism, scholars such as C. H. Dodd, T.W. Manson, and Vincent Taylor ably defended the substantial historical reliability of the Gospels and other sections of scripture. Another movement sprang up after World War II, called the Biblical Theology Movement. It sought to utilize scientific method to challenge and overthrow liberalism. Among other things, it emphasized the unity of the Bible as a whole, its historical reliability, and how the Bible surpassed the mentality of its ancient environment (which implied its divine origin).
3.Post-modern Era (CG)
A.The post World-War II era is often referred to as Post-Modern. Essentially, it means “After Modernism,” modernism meaning an era dominated by science and the scientific method, in all of its forms. The atrocities of World War II, the ecological disasters brought on by industrialization, the moral decadence of the 70s, the failures of technology (such as the Challenger disaster), and many other factors have cast doubt on the supremacy of science and the possibilities of human achievement. “Modernism” has failed, forcing man to acknowledge his imperfection. Recent history has shown that man cannot master his environment, he cannot create the perfect society, and he cannot be trusted to be purely objective in his scientific endeavors.
B.The problem is that while postmodernism disparages science, it puts nothing else in its place. It rejects the idea that there is an all-encompassing framework that helps us to understand everything. With modernism, there was a coherent framework in which everything was to be understood, science. This even carried over to how we interpreted literature. There was the belief that the rational human being, applying scientific method, could stand above any written document and determine its objective meaning, even to the point of rejecting anything that was not scientifically verifiable (e.g. miracles). Postmodernism, however, is much less confident of man and his abilities.
C.There is some validity to this. Postmodernism helps us to see the limitations of humanity and her bold experiment with science. Science never was capable of serving as the all-encompassing framework for understanding the universe. But it is equally as dangerous to reject the notion of objectivity and truth altogether. This is what postmodernism has done. Like modernism, it has left man to himself. But unlike modernism, it presents no hope in the possibility that anything else can give life its ultimate meaning.
D.One strain of postmodernism in literature is the idea of “deconstructionism.” Deconstructionism, most often traced back to the French philosopher Derrida, asserts that all things written emerge out of a political bias. Objective, factual stories do not exist. Writers of history, literature, philosophy, etc., perhaps unconsciously, use language to empower their political bias. This language advances those within their system, and marginalizes, and perhaps oppresses, those outside their system. It captures and expresses only part of the story.
The task of today’s interpreter is, therefore, to “deconstruct” the story, ridding it of the bias used in its original construction, resulting in a phenomenon called “revisionism.” “Revisionism” is where a reader seeks to detect the bias employed by the original author, and then revises the story using a new lens, the bias of the reader. It is not that the original story was “untrue,” but that it represented one truth, as to where the revision sets forth another truth. This approach has spawned the revisionist theologies of the gay movement, feminists, and liberationists.
RESTORATION MOVEMENT (NOT from Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard)
1.Began and continues as an attempt to practice a pure New Testament Christianity, acknowledging proper distinctions between O.T. and N.T., disavowing human authority in religion, emphasizing priesthood of all believers, autonomy of the church, and achieving “unity through restoration.”
2.Exists now as three separate movements.
Churches of Christ (Non-instrumental) – Separated from the above group in the early 1900s over issues such as the musical instrument and missionary societies.
-Principle: “Whatever is not expressly authorized in scripture is forbidden.”
-Grammatical-Historical approach to the text, and apply the text to determine church practice by extracting 1) divine command, 2) approved apostolic example, 3) necessary inference.
Christian Churches / Churches of Christ (Instrumental)
-Principle: “Whatever is not expressly forbidden in scripture is authorized.”
-Same basic approach to the text as Churches of Christ (non-instrumental) above with a greater emphasis on piety, and more embracing of theological diversity on “non-essentials.”
Disciples of Christ – Gradual distinction from the Christian Church / Churches of Christ (Instrumental) began in the late 1940s, primarily over the influence of liberal theology in Disciples’ schools and ministers.
EVALUATING THE MAJOR APPROACHES
OBSERVATION: The assumptions of the age tend to overwhelm one’s approach to scripture.
EVALUATION OF ALLEGORICAL METHOD
1.It minimizes or discounts the historical sense of scripture, placing emphasis on hidden, subjective meanings.
2.It ignores many of the clear meanings of the original languages.
3.It destroys any objective basis for understanding truth, and is very speculative and fanciful.
4.It should not be followed unless scripture expressly describes itself as an allegory (e.g. Galatians 4:21-31; Matthew 13:18-23).
EVALUATION OF LITERALISM (e.g. School of Antioch)
1.Begins admirably as a real attempt to draw from scripture its original meaning.
2.There is the danger of hyper-literalism (commanding to be baptized “straightway” like the Philippian jailor in Acts 16).
3.Often has an accompanying unwillingness to make application, which may not be the fault of the method itself, but of the intentions of the interpreter.
EVALUATION OF SCHOLASTICISM (e.g. Thomas Aquinas)
1.Places religion and philosophy side-by-side, and blurs the distinction.
2.Tends to ignore history and the original language meanings in view of integrating one’s theology with philosophy.
3.Often becomes little more than an attempt to provide intellectual strength for previously held assumptions.
EVALUATION OF PIETISM (e.g. Spener, Wesley, Edwards – often called “Mysticism”)
1.Begins as an attempt to rescue the text from dogmatism and heresy-hunting and restore its value as spiritual food.
2.Tends to do less actual interpretation and explanation and overwhelms the text with pious reflection.
3.Often ignores the doctrinal import of many passages.
EVALUATION OF RATIONAL-HISTORICAL-CRITICAL (including classical liberalism)
1.Provides some excellent means of discovering important features and backgrounds that are important to correct understanding.
2.Easily slips into “treating scripture as a cadaver to be dissected” rather than the living Word of God to be understood and obeyed.
3.Often begins with the presuppositions of naturalism (i.e. no supernatural, miracles, etc.).
4.Often minimizes the Bible as a human document that evolved over time, denying God’s inspiration and intervention.
EVALUATION OF NEO-ORTHODOXY (e.g. Karl Barth)
1.Neo-orthodoxy begins the assumptions of liberalism above, so the same criticisms apply.
2.Often produces deep, penetrating interpretations of scripture, but… (It is like a mermaid. Too much of a fish to love her as a woman, too much of a woman to eat her as a fish)
3.Denies miracles as real but refers to them as if they actually happened.
4.Its view of authority is subjective, based on “personal encounter.” This is not to say we should be “clinical” with the text, as if you stand apart from it without it impacting you. But one does need to seek objective truth.
EVALUATION OF POSTMODERNISM
1.Helps us to acknowledge that we are influenced by our cultural or ethnic bias in interpreting scripture, and that there are limitations to human attempts at understanding. But…
2.It’s view of man’s rational abilities is too pessimistic, to the point of totally removing any objective basis for understanding scripture.
3.It refuses to distinguish between any system of thinking, choosing to be entirely pluralistic, denying the supremacy of the one God who has spoken clearly through his Word.
EVALUATION OF RESTORATION HERMENEUTICS
1.Admirable attempts and goals to return to the Bible for all religious authority over against denominational or traditional controls.
2.Often slips into proof-texting, hair-splitting, suspicion, and division.