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EXEGESIS > Principles of Hermeneutics > Principles 1-4


The investigation of Scripture must be conducted by a redeemed mind.

An indication of a genuine experience of grace is the quickening of the believer's mind by the Spirit. According to Scripture the mind of sinful man is “death” (Rom. 8:6); and “the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7). The minds of the “enemies of the cross of Christ” are on “earthly things” (Phil. 3:18-19). Paul even states that “the god of this age has blinded” the minds of unbelievers, and for this reason they cannot see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (II Cor. 4:4). In his natural state man’s mind is set against God, cannot understand the things of God, and has absolutely no desire for God or His Truth. In other words, the natural man does not think properly; he cannot think properly—his mind is dead! And in this state the individual is incapable of true understanding (see: Understanding-Factual and Redemptive).

The unredeemed mind is blind to spiritual Truth; it has no ability to think the thoughts of God (see: Death, Darkened Image, and Perverted Thinking). Concepts such as sovereignty, depravity, redemption, atonement, and multiple other essential Biblical topics are alien to the mind set on self, an attitude that has no attraction for the content of Revelation. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5). Pinnock is pointed: “I have no reason to expect the Bible to come alive and prove intelligible where the reader has not been converted and received the Spirit (I Cor. 2:14)” (Scripture Principle, 199). God’s Word is a spiritual book and must be approached by a spiritual mind.

Until there is a work of grace in the life, the mind remains natural; but the mind is never neutral. There is a decided bias against God and His Word. Not only is there an inability to comprehend Truth, there is no desire for Truth. For this reason the unconverted will never create a valid theology. . An unbeliever cannot become a credible Christian theologian. The thoughts of God are only given to the children of God.

But when the new life of Christ and the Spirit comes, the mind is quickened and becomes spiritual; the perspective is changed—the mind is made alive. The words of Scripture are then seen to be what they are, the words of God, words of life. After this transformation the believer is then equipped to begin the study that brings insight and comprehension of the Truth, not an instant comprehension but a growing comprehension that brings one more and more to know the mind of God (see: The Necessity of Faith and Summoned to Study).

The modern myth is that there is an impartiality by man when he approaches a topic for consideration; in other words, the facts speak for themselves and the facts can be understood by anyone with this supposed neutrality. But every individual approaches every topic with a mindset, a worldview, which determines and conditions the interpretation of the topic. Anyone who denies this fact is self-deceived.

There must be a conviction about the unique and supernatural nature of Scripture.

Scripture is from God; it is God’s communication with man (see: Revelation). This is the persistent claim of Scripture, consistently expressed in both Testaments. And because the Scripture is from God, the Scripture is Truth (see: Significance of Truth).

Within this Truth is authority, the authority of God. And it is this authority that challenges man, convicts man, converts man, and brings spiritual life to man (see: Authority). After the new life is imparted the authority of the Word begins its challenge of the mind: correcting the mind and teaching the mind. For the interpreter there must be an expectation that the Truth used by the Spirit will accomplish this work of intellectual transformation. Because of the uniqueness of the Book and the Spirit’s use of the Book the study of the Book will not be in vain.

Scripture is not an ordinary book; it is not a book among books; it is not one among many. The Scriptures stand alone. They are in a class by themselves, for in the Bible God speaks (see: Theology and the Bible).

If these concepts are embraced, then the approach to Scripture will be one of humility and teachableness. All appropriate resources will be utilized to unlock the Truth of God. But ultimately the petition must be that of the Psalmist: “Lead me in Your truth and teach me; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day” (25:4-5). One will sit before the text with an understanding of the text’s nature and wait for instruction and illumination.

There must be a commitment to study.

“No one can get even the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture” (Calvin, Institutes, I, 72). Scripture will not yield its riches to the one who does not spend the time necessary to know the Scriptures. Work is involved, as well as time, patience, meditation, and prayer. All of these are various facets of study and cannot be circumvented or disregarded. A commitment to do these things will result in the capacity to handle the Word of God properly, an ability that is neither automatic nor immediate.

Through casual reading Scripture cannot be known in its fullness and comprehensiveness. One becomes immersed in Truth by constant and consistent exposure to God’s Word. Slowly the capability to comprehend Scripture emerges. There is a feel, an appreciation, an insight, a knowledge, a confidence, a familiarity that only comes with time spent in study. The novice is not a Biblical theologian.

Being a student means different things to different people, from consistent reading and meditation to the use of aids joined with a disciplined academic approach. The latter may know more about Scripture, but it is possible for the former to know in a better way the Truth of Scripture, the intent, the life, the power of Scripture. A grasp of the profundity of Scripture is not based solely upon intellectual acumen; in fact, intellectual ability and discipline may serve to foster a pride and egotism that limits the individual from having insight into the deep things of God.

The choice, however, should not be between the simple approach of merely reading and meditating and the more academic method of study which utilizes aids, such as grammars, lexicons, word studies, commentaries, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. The best method is the union of an intellect that can appreciate and appropriate the best helps available with an attitude of humility that submits all thoughts and ideas to the Truth of God as one studies the Scriptures throughout life (see: Summoned to Study). Study is the work of a lifetime.

Prayer must precede exegesis and interpretation.

Perhaps this should have been higher in the listing of principles, but the order is not according to priority; these principles are to be used in unison, complementing each other. Presentation requires an order or structure.

Jesus says: “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matt. 7:7). What greater request can a believer make than the request to know Truth? Asking to be instructed in the things of the Lord is the epitome of discipleship. We ask because we do not know.

If the believer asks for bread will he receive a stone (Matt. 7:9)? Will he not be given insight, a grasp of what the Revelation really reveals; will not God impart to the seeker the ability to comprehend the Truth of His communication with man? Is it conceivable that the believer could pray for instruction and not be instructed? Is it not God’s will that we know His Word? Indeed, the Father will teach His children.

The prayer must confess the utter inability of the believer to understand Truth and must express desire for the assistance of the Spirit in order that illumination might be achieved. Prayer means that one is waiting on God, realizing that the understanding must come from without because the ability does not reside within.

True exegesis cannot be done without God; attempts at hermeneutics without the Lord are in vain. If there is no prayer, there is no exegesis. Exegesis flourishes in the atmosphere of prayer where the believer waits before he writes.

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