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EXEGESIS > Principles of Hermeneutics > Principles 8-11 


There must be an awareness of the progressive character of Scripture.

All of the Revelation was not given simultaneously; it was given bit by bit, book by book, over a period of approximately sixteen centuries. Thus, God’s Revelation of Himself and His purpose and plan for creation were given progressively. Moses gave to us true knowledge but not full knowledge of the Godhead; Isaiah and the prophets gave additional Truth. The New Testament writers provided new insights. Each new Revelation complemented that which had already been given and built upon it. At each point man’s understanding of God and His ways was enlarged.

As more Revelations were given man’s conception of God was clarified and expanded. For instance, when Elohim, the Hebrew plural translated “God” in the Old Testament, is used of the one true God of Scripture, of itself it does not teach explicitly the concept of the Godhead. But later Revelations leave no doubt of the reality of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Progressively, therefore, Elohim is clarified and expanded. Because of the unity of Scripture, however, it is proper to affirm the Godhead in Elohim.

Our affirmations are based upon the completed Revelation not upon a particular bit of the Revelation. We cannot and must not limit what we say about any particular word or passage to that particular word or passage; each particular word is interpreted in light of the completed Revelation. And we speak from full Revelation not partial Revelation.

An obvious implication of the progressive disclosure is that the Old gives way to the New: the sacrifice of animals gives way to the sacrifice of Christ, and living restricted by law gives way to living controlled by love. There is continuity between the Old and the New but also divergence between the two. God “brings man up through the theological infancy of the Old Testament to the maturity of the New Testament” (Ramm, Protestant Interpretation, 102).

Though the Old Testament and the New Testament are equal in the sense of both being the revealed Truth of God, the New Testament must take precedent over the Old Testament in the exercise of interpretation; and both find their ultimate meaning in the person and work of Christ. The New is the culmination of the Old, and the basic frame of reference for both is Jesus (see: Revelation was Progressive and Progressive and Comprehensive).

There must be a knowledge of the culture where the Scriptures were given.

Many references in Scripture cannot be interpreted without a knowledge of the history, the geography, the customs, the thought, in short, the culture of the particular period in which the Scripture was written.

For instance, the statement and question of the Samaritan woman in John 4:4 cannot be understood apart from familiarity with the geography of Palestine and the practices of that day that limited contact between Jews and Samaritans. The book of Hebrews cannot be interpreted correctly if there is no knowledge of the religious rituals of the Hebrew nation. Israel’s captivity of four hundred years in Egypt and the subsequent deliverance becomes more meaningful as the interpreter increases in knowledge of the history of Egypt at the time.

 Scripture was not given in a vacuum, but was given to real people who had distinguishing characteristics and particular traits, as do all people. And they lived in a land with definite features, and their lives revolved around certain customs. For Scripture to be understood correctly and expounded properly, the interpreter needs to be knowledgeable in these areas.

Accept the natural reading of Scripture.

“Natural” (perhaps a better word than “literal”) implies the true and proper meaning, the obvious meaning—that which would be apparent to any reader. Also the natural reading is not the meaning of the words today but what they meant when they were written, that is, the meaning intended by the writer and the meaning understood in ordinary conversation at the time the words were originally used.

For example, when we read that Samuel anointed David as King, the natural and obvious meaning is that David was literally, historically, and actually anointed with oil by Samuel to be the second King. However, when we read that Jesus said to His disciples, “You are the light of the world,” the natural and obvious impression received is not that Jesus meant His followers were literal and actual lights. Obviously Jesus was speaking figuratively. Much confusion can be avoided if Scripture is allowed to say what it says in the way it says it. The natural reading of Scripture includes literal statements, figurative statements, and symbolic statements.

It is a tragic mistake to hold to a literal meaning when it is obvious that a figurative or symbolic meaning is proper, or when the literal meaning would result in an interpretation that would contradict explicit teachings in other passages of God’s Word, or when it would teach something absurd and ridiculous. The “natural” meaning may not always be readily discernible, but it must be sought with diligence. The “natural” meaning is that which corresponds to the original intent of the writer.

The believer needs to practice theological interpretation.

Scripture is the Revelation of the Self-Revealing God; therefore, the atmosphere of Scripture is theological—a word from God and about God, and a word that leads to God. Understand that all of Scripture is the Revelation of His creative work, His love for man in sin, His redemption of man through the Son, and His future deliverance and salvation of His people. In this sense, all of Scripture is theological.

Exegesis and formulations of the Truth, therefore, must determine to reflect and to maintain this basic distinction of Scripture. The Scriptures are not men’s thoughts and ideas about God but God’s Revelation of Himself to men. The history, the science, the geography, and all the other various facets of the Revelation point ultimately and finally to God—Truth about Him and Truth about His acts. The student should expect to find God at all places in Scripture and not be surprised when God makes Himself known in the most unusual text.

Our exegesis of Scripture and the resulting theology must be theological—God centered. He must be magnified, and He must be exalted. Truth causes one to know Him and to bow before Him.

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