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EXEGESIS > Thoughts on Interpretation > Understanding - Factual and Redemptive 


Understanding, the concept of perspicuity (claritas), exists at two levels: the understanding of the words and the understanding of the reality of which the words speak. Human intellect brings the former, but Spiritual illumination makes possible the latter. Perhaps the two levels can best be thought of as factual understanding and redemptive understanding.

All men are capable of factual understanding,
only the believer is blessed with redemptive understanding.

Factual understanding results in one's knowing the facts of the Fall in Genesis 3; redemptive understanding results in one accepting the implications of the Fall as taught in Romans 5. Factual understanding understands the words of Genesis 3:15; redemptive understanding accepts that the seed of the woman predicted in 3:15 is indeed Jesus (Gal. 4:4). Factual understanding knows a scapegoat was led into the wilderness to die on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:7-10, 20-22); redemptive understanding knows that the scapegoat was a predictive illustration of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jo. 1:29). Factual understanding knows that Abraham was the father of many people (Gen. 13:15-16); redemptive understanding accepts that Abraham’s ultimate “seed” is Christ and that the many spiritual people who come from Abraham are the believers in Christ (Gal. 3:16, 29). Factual understanding knows the facts of the death of Jesus; redemptive understanding, after it is given, proclaims: “It was for me He died.” Factual understanding views the Bible as a significant and ethical book; redemptive understanding asserts that the Scriptures are the words of God. Factual understanding reads the Bible in a detached, impersonal manner; redemptive understanding identifies itself with the acts of God found in the sixty-six books. Factual understanding provides knowledge; redemptive understanding discerns revealed Truth!

Redemptive understanding will never do injustice to factual understanding; it must be consistent with it and true to it. Factual understanding involves the historical; redemptive understanding affords insight into the true meaning of the historical. Redemptive understanding is at a more profound level, a more spiritual level, a more personal level, a more Theistic level, a more moral level. It is the ability to accept that history is “His story”; it is the capacity to feel the condemnation of sin and the personal alienation from God because of sin; it is the capability to believe in the person and work of Jesus, to accept one’s position in Christ and to rest in assurance because of that position—it is the understanding and the experience of the reality of which the words of Scripture speak.

Redemptive understanding
accepts the soteriological and moral implications of the Truth
rather than being satisfied with mere intellectual learning.

Though these two levels of understanding are related and non-contradictory, they are not equally discernable by the reader. Because of the clarity of Scripture, man in his natural state can read, understand, and lean the teaching of the Bible just as he would any other book. But the knowledge is merely factual with no insight or grasp of the transcendent truths spoken of by the text. Redemptive knowledge comes when one is Embraced by Truth; or, to word it differently, when the mind is quickened and made capable of grasping the spiritual truth of the Revelation. Only redeemed people have redemptive understanding.

Many people in the days of Jesus heard the parables and understood, in one sense, the story. But, in another sense, they had no concept of the reality of which the parable spoke. To the disciples Jesus said: “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables”; He added: “Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand” (Mk. 4:11-12). The ability “to know” is supernatural, for the endowment is the work of grace; it is “given.” When it is given then the true clarity of Scripture in its true sense is perceived.

While all believers have redemptive understanding, the illumination is not the same for every believer. Some are blessed with greater capacity than others; some are given an unusual grasp of and insight into God's Word. Some enjoy milk while others feast on meat. The grasp of Scripture is not based entirely upon having the proper linguistic and syntactical study skills and in adhering to them faithfully. This may be done, and redemptive understanding may not be achieved!

There is another dimension—the work of the Spirit; illumination is His work. It has been said: “Exegesis puts one into the vestibule of truth; the Holy Spirit opens the inner door” (Spittler, Use of the Bible, 76). Spittler also added: “The Word of God is not self-evident in Scripture; it must be sought, but it must be sought in Scripture, not beyond it” (101). It is the Holy Spirit that makes possible that that which is sought is found; the Spirit of Truth gives redemptive understanding.

Illumination is a process. It is the active and continuous work of the Spirit in the believer. All aspects of the Truth are not immediately grasped by the student; in fact, all will never be grasped. We will always know in part. But there is increasing understanding, comprehension, and insight. The believer does grow in grace. As one prays, studies, meditates, and waits, God, by degrees, opens up the Truth of His Word. He rewards the seeker; He teaches the one who is teachable; He blesses the one who in faith expects. Knowledge is added to knowledge; comprehension is added to comprehension; insight is added to insight. More and more the factual Truth is seen to be redemptive Truth.

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