Daniël Maritz

How to Read Your Peculiar Bible

Daniël Maritz | 6 September 2021 | 18 min read

If you are reading this article and you consider yourself a skeptic, you probably already know that the Bible holds a special place amongst all other books for Christians. But maybe it is precisely the content of the Bible that is causing problems for you.[1]

Now, I will admit that there are odd stories and events recorded in the pages of the Bible which can be extremely hard to understand and make sense of. But bear with me for a while. You may have many reasons for dismissing the Bible, but the one reason you do not have for doing it, is because it is not interesting. The Bible is one of the most interesting, beautiful, and mysterious books you will ever read.

Jordan Peterson, who as far as I know is not a Christian, has an immense interest in the Bible and he says the following:

“Why bother with this strange book at all?… That’s a good question… It’s outlasted kingdoms, many many kingdoms. It’s really interesting that a book is more durable than stone, it’s more durable than a castle, it’s more durable than an empire. And that is really interesting.”[2]

He also says this:

“[The New Atheists] are not approaching the [Bible] with enough respect. That’s my sense… What I’ve tried to do is to think that there is probably more to this than I know. And then try to understand it from that perspective. Rather than to think for example, ‘well, it’s a collection of superstitions that we’ve somehow outgrown.’ No, sorry, that’s just not… a deep enough analysis.”[3]

Finally, in another place he also makes this comment:

“It seems that there is all this work [in the Bible], and it seems that we have left it to decay in the dust and it is a big mistake…”[4]

After all, the Bible is the most read, most translated and most printed book in history, and there must be a reason for that being the case.[5] So, if you are skeptical about the Bible, please keep reading it. Do not leave such an interesting, beautiful, mysterious, and I would argue true book “to decay in the dust.” You may find treasures in there which you thought never existed.

With all this said, let us turn back to the question before us: How do you read the Bible?

The Importance of Hermeneutics

Questions surrounding the science and art of interpreting the Bible[6], or Biblical hermeneutics as it is formally known, has been around for the last 2000 years.[7] One may wonder however whether a study of the interpretation and understanding of the Bible is really such an important matter? Isn’t it just a waste of valuable time which can be better spent elsewhere?

We would do well to remember that God never gave us theology to begin with.[8] He gave us revelation, and, more specifically to the issue at hand, special revelation written down by human authors in the pages of a book, the Bible.[9] The church and the Christian[10], in their teaching capacity, must still contrive and formulate true theology from the Bible. This can only happen by means of sound reason[11], and sound principles of interpretation.[12]

Kevin Vanhoozer underlines the importance of hermeneutics when he says that “Christian theology… succeeds or fails in direct proportion to its ability to render true interpretations of the word of God written,” and goes so far as to call hermeneutics “the soul of theology.”[13] Others have labeled hermeneutics the “most pressing” issue, because, according to them, it is the “most foundational” issue that “presently confronts theology.”[14]

Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes maintain that you will not be able to consistently reach the essential doctrines of historical, orthodox Christianity[15] without consistently following sound and good principles for interpreting the Bible. With the correct method of interpretation, the essential doctrines of Christianity, or what C.S. Lewis calls “mere Christianity,”[16] can be properly and consistently arrived at. This explains why they label the correct way of interpreting the Bible as an “interpretation essential.”[17]

The point is that the use of proper principles for interpreting and understanding the Bible, and the possibility of arriving at an objectively true interpretation thereof, are preconditions for true theology.[18] Objectivity would typically refer to a point of view which is “universally valid” and “non-perspectival.”[19] In other words, an objective understanding is one that is detached from any bias or point of view and therefore universally true. This is indeed foundational since the message of historic, orthodox Christianity has long stood on the objectivity of truth which in turn is based on the objectivity of meaning.[20]

It would seem then that hermeneutics, as “the soul of theology,” should be extremely important to the Christian. If an objective understanding of the truth God has revealed in the Bible is not possible, objectively true discourse about God and His acts of redemption is not possible either.[21] The consequence of this would be that “both truth and meaning are relative to the perspective of the perceiver” and that “the truth of the Bible is what any reader or hearer perceives it to be, and there is therefore no objective truth or objective meaning.”[22]

Well-meaning Christians have objected to the idea of ‘interpreting the Bible,’ suggesting that there is no need to interpret the Bible, you must just read it and obey it.[23] This might sound like a pious sentiment, but it is mistaken since no one escapes the act of interpretation. It is as Francis Turretin says: “To ascertain the true sense of the Scriptures, interpretation is needed.”[24] If no one escapes the act of interpretation, the only question left to ask is not whether one must interpret the Bible, but by what principles to do it?

Another point of concern for Christians is the challenge of conflicting interpretations. People disagree over the correct meaning of the Bible all the time. Christians disagree with Jehovah’s Witnesses and other new religious movements who also view the Bible as authoritative. Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians disagree with each other. In fact, Protestants disagree with Protestants, and even people in the same local church can have countless differences about the understanding of a particular passage.[25]

Since everyone interprets the Bible, how can we legitimately judge competing interpretations thereof, or is it good enough to dismiss someone else’s interpretation of the Bible with the words “that is just your interpretation”? This will render us “lost in interpretation,” and unable to know what the text of the Bible objectively means. Of course, the fact of “conflicting interpretations create a problem only if there is an interpretation that is the right one.”[26] Thomas Howe strikingly captures the gravity of this problem:

“If there is a Word from God that is communicated in and through the Bible, then the fact that there are conflicting interpretations of what the Bible means creates a problem of knowing what God said. But if there is no correct interpretation of the Bible, then there is no specific word from God that must be discovered in the biblical text. The explanation of conflicting interpretations, then, becomes simply the fact that different people prefer to understand the Bible differently, and since there is no right interpretation, conflicting interpretations are equally reasonable.”[27]

If the true and correct meaning of a biblical passage cannot be discovered, there is no basis upon which to judge any interpretation as incorrect or false for that matter. This is known as the fallacy of a lost distinction in logic. It basically expresses the problem that “if there is no correct interpretation, then there is no standard by which to distinguish any given interpretation from the ‘correct’ one.”[28] In principle then, objectivity in biblical interpretation is possible and any claim to the contrary is self-defeating. Someone who writes that “no objective interpretation is possible,” still expects his readers to interpret and understand that very statement objectively.[29]

Since it is possible to “pull the actual truth out of a text and not just develop an arbitrary, fanciful, or incorrect interpretation,”[30] there are guidelines or principles to use in the process of interpreting the meaning of God’s revelation in Scripture. Charles Hodge explains that since every man has the right to read the Scriptures, he must have certain rules in place for guidance. He adds that these “rules are not arbitrary. They are not imposed by human authority. They have no binding force which does not flow from their own intrinsic truth and propriety. They are few and simple.”[31]

The following principles[32] are therefore well-established to assist you in the task of interpreting and understanding the Bible. These principles form part of the interpretive method that has come to be known as the Historical-Grammatical method of interpretation.[33] It also goes by the name of the literal method. Note however, that this does not mean that everything in the Bible is literally true, but true literally.[34] The reason for this name is because this method endeavors to discover the “the normal, everyday, common understanding of the terms in the Bible.”[35]

The Original Languages of the Bible

The Bible was originally written in the languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.[36] Now, to correctly interpret the Bible one does not have to be a scholar in any one of these languages, but one must also not underestimate the value of knowing how to do a basic study in the biblical languages.[37] Some knowledge of the original languages can allow you to do word studies[38], and to investigate the grammar and syntax[39] of sentences.

The best way to explain the value of studying the original languages is analogous to that of watching a Rugby match in black and white, that is without any color. Although you are definitely able to follow the majority of the game and in the end know who wins the game, you may still be unable to make the close calls during the game. But, if you watch the same game in color, you are able to make the close calls since you can now better distinguish between different features like the ball, the line and the player’s hand for example. In the same way, although you can read the Bible in English and grasp the message of the Gospel without basic knowledge of the original languages, you may find it difficult to make close calls in your efforts to interpret the Bible.[40]

The Historical and Cultural Context of the Bible

Another principle of interpretation is to study the historical and cultural background of the Bible.[41] The sentences of the Bible were written in very specific times, places and situations, by very specific people, to very specific people. Accordingly the Bible reflects a very different way of life than that of modern readers of the Bible.[42] This fact causes the Bible, more than any other religious book, to maintain a certain reality and verifiability by virtue of being anchored in a historical and cultural contexts.[43] Indeed, it is as Howe suggests:

“The events in the Bible were real historical circumstances experienced by real historical persons who lived and communicated in their own cultural framework. Their language, their mode of communication, their understanding of the world around them, their manners and customs were all, to some degree, products of their culture.”[44]

One must also not forget that within the historical and cultural setting, the meaning of the text was given to it by the author of the text.[45] One must therefore not force one’s own meaning into the text, but rather “discover the meaning that the author determined.”[46] The author’s meaning however, should not be looked for in his purpose for writing, since you can know what the author wrote without knowing why he wrote it.[47]

Hence, a thorough study of the cultural and historical contexts, together with acknowledging the role of the author of a specific book in the Bible, will prevent you from taking passages out “of the space-time, cultural context in which they were uttered,” and setting up your own cultural context as the standard for interpreting a passage and neglecting the meaning of the author.[48]

The Literary Context of the Bible

Any passage of the Bible is situated within a literary context and should therefore be understood within that context.[49] When attempting to interpret a particular passage, consistency with the immediate context will therefore always be one of the first tests for finding the true meaning of that passage.[50] Ultimately, accounting for this context involves more than just the reading of some verses before and after the passage in question. Geisler and Rhodes therefore observe the following:

“Every sentence in Scripture should be understood in the context of its paragraph, and every paragraph in the context of its whole book. And each book of the Bible should be understood in the context of the whole Bible. So, meaning is discovered by context – from the immediate to the broader context.”[51]

Investigating the literary context also involves identifying the literary genre, which is the kind of literature one is working with. The Bible holds many different genres, including history, poetry, proverbs, letters, and prophecy. Although identifying the genre will assist one in the interpretive task,[52] it nevertheless does not determine the meaning of a passage. Prior to identifying a genre, one must first discover meaning. If it is the other way around “how can an interpreter attempt to classify a piece of writing into its appropriate genre unless he is able to read and understand what the text is saying prior to deciding its genre?”[53] The reading and meaning of a passage therefore come logically and necessarily prior to identifying a genre.

Comparing Scripture with Scripture

Much has been said about the principle of comparing Scripture with Scripture.[54] It has also been called ‘the analogy of faith’ and involves the idea that you can use “clear and unambiguous loci… as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts.”[55] In other words, there is a harmony of “fundamental doctrine” throughout Scripture and therefore the passages that are unclear must be interpreted in the light of passages that are clear and plain.[56] In this sense “all Scripture is in agreement and will not contradict itself.”[57]

As good and responsible readers of the Bible we must “make use of every text bearing on the subject we wish to understand.”[58] This principle allows one to see how different passages of the Bible interlocks with each other.[59] It is especially helpful to identify the continuity between the Old and New Testaments and to locate parallels and fulfilments throughout the Bible.[60] Although this is a perfectly legitimate principle to implement, some further qualifications must be made.

This principle can be abused in two ways.[61] First, some have used this principle as a rhetorical device to gain the hermeneutic high ground in a debate about the meaning of a specific passage. Presenting an “impressive string” of Scripture verses that might or might not be relevant to a particular exegetical discussion, does not mean that the conclusion is automatically true. Howe for example observes:

“Although we will certainly want to compare Scripture with Scripture, we cannot assume that this practice in itself somehow magically makes our interpretation necessarily objective or beyond dispute. They may be objective, and they may be true, but saying that ‘this is Scripture interpreting Scripture’ does not prove or guarantee the truth of the outcome. That is just rhetoric… The practice of comparing Scripture with Scripture is not some magical formula that validates one’s interpretation… As important as the practice is, in order to be valid, the interpreter must justify and prove his interpretation of the related Scripture just as he must justify and prove his interpretation of the Scripture under consideration.”[62]

Second, this principle can be illegitimately applied resulting in what is known as the fallacy of collapsing contexts. This happens when two or more passages that are unrelated to each other by virtue of their own individual immediate contexts, are treated as if they are in fact commenting on each other and therefore belong together. This is a corruption of this principle and might end up importing preconceived ideas on interpretation.[63]

The fact remains then that the principle of comparing Scripture with Scripture is therefore always governed by the application of the prior principles already discussed. Since the “choice of which Scripture relates to which, and which do not relate at all, is an interpretive process” in and of itself, comparing Scripture with Scripture is dependent upon answers to prior interpretive questions.[64]

The Role of a Worldview when Reading the Bible

Although there can be many reasons why people who look at the same passage can have different interpretations, one reason, proposed by many scholars, is different worldviews.[65] Howe represents the proposed situation as follows:

“The words ‘preunderstanding’ and ‘presuppositions’ refer to the point of view, the perspective, the background, and the assumptions of the reader… People come from various cultures, and because cultures often differ, people often differ about what they think is important and how they understand the world and life. The way a person thinks about the world, along with his or her values and tastes, helps form that person’s perspective. This kind of perspective has been called a ‘worldview,’ which is simply the way a person views the world.”[66]

Hence, a worldview entails certain things you come to understand before studying the Bible, including your metaphysical commitments.[67] Most scholars therefore hold that any interpretation is done with a “set of underlying assumptions.”[68] The result of having a worldview is that people bring their own preunderstanding and presuppositions to the Bible when reading it. The danger that this dynamic introduces is that people will approach any given biblical text with a specific and fixed “theological agenda already formulated” before even struggling with the particular text of the Bible itself.[69]

A helpful way to think about the role of a worldview is to think of someone who carries a unique pair of glasses and he sees absolutely everything through these glasses. Now, imagine further that these glasses have a red tint to them which causes everything to appear red to this person. Hence, everything in reality is interpreted as having a red colour, and this redness might be completely normal for this particular person. It might be so normal that any attempt to persuade him that reality is not red, seems to be ineffectual. This person is so entrenched in the view that everything is red, that he is unable to “conceive of another kind of world.”[70] This accurately expresses the effects of one’s preunderstanding and presuppositions, not just on the way one views all of reality, but also on the act of interpreting the Bible.

In effect then, one’s worldview, functions like these glasses. Things with which one is confronted with, whether one thinks about them, reads about them, or learns about them, are filtered and interpreted through one’s prior worldview. Some scholars suggest that one’s worldview is so all-encompassing that anybody who states that he does not have a worldview and studies the “Bible objectively and inductively is either deceived or naïve.”[71] To effectively prevent your worldview from distorting the meaning of the biblical text, it is further proposed that you have to submit your worldview, with its preunderstanding and presuppositions, to the text of the Bible and allow it to be “modified and reshaped by the text.”[72] In other words, to avoid “special pleading and the distortion of evidence”[73] when reading the Bible, one’s worldview must be allowed to be altered by “the truth of the Bible.”[74]

To successfully submit one’s worldview to the truths of the Bible, it must however, be the case that not absolutely everything is filtered through one’s worldview in the first place. A worldview, whatever it may entail, can therefore not primarily be situated between oneself and reality, which would include the written text of the Bible. If it was the case that absolutely everything is filtered through one’s worldview, then one would not be able to change a certain preunderstanding and presupposition that might be contrary or contradictory to the truths of the Bible. In other words, one’s preunderstanding and presuppositions can only be submitted to Scripture and changed by the conclusions drawn from Scripture, if the conclusions themselves are not a result of one’s interpretation as it is filtered through one’s worldview.[75] Howe therefore diagnoses the evident problem with this theory:

“Someone’s understanding of the message is an understanding of the message as they interpret it through the framework of their preunderstanding. If, then, they are understanding the message of the Bible through the framework of their preunderstanding, which includes their prior commitments, then ultimately it is their own prior commitments that are the means of correcting their prior commitments.”[76]

In his turn, J.P. Moreland asks the question, that if absolutely everything in reality, including the Biblical text, is filtered through a worldview, “why would God reveal ‘truth’ in the Bible” since that truth will always remain unknowable. Our worldview, with all of its assumptions and presuppositions, will always distort the truth of a given text. He goes on to say that it is one thing “to say that a particular text is difficult to interpret. It’s another thing altogether to say that one’s interpretations are determined by factors (one’s assumptions) that have nothing to do with God’s revelation in the first place.” The objectively true content of Paul’s letter to the Romans, for example, will forever be beyond our reach as it is constantly and inescapably a product of our preunderstanding and presuppositions.[77] Moreover, the presentation of exegetical evidence to someone who arrives at a different conclusion from oneself would lose its value if people did not have any access to objective reality, including the text of Scripture, and if it were only filtered through a worldview. Once again, Howe diagnoses the problem:

“Since everyone views the world from some point of view, the argument is often made that no one can have a neutral or totally objective perspective. At first sight this seems to be correct, but there is a fatal flaw in this reasoning. When someone claims that no one can be objective, that person is actually assuming that his or her claim is true for everyone. A claim that is true for everyone, however, is an objective claim. What this person is really saying, therefore, is: ‘It is objectively true that no one can be objective.’ The statement contradicts itself and therefore is false. On the other hand, if it is true that no one can be totally objective, then the person making this claim is not being totally objective. If the claim is not totally objective, then it doesn’t apply to everyone, and we don’t need to pay any attention to it.”[78]

The point is that, in principle, it is possible to have an objective view about reality since a worldview with its presuppositions and preunderstanding is not situated between oneself and reality. If reality can be perceived for what it is in itself, it is consequently also possible to have an objectively true interpretation of the Bible, despite one’s preunderstanding and presuppositions.

The Universal and Particular Principles of Communication

Building of off the previous point of discussion, although certain preunderstanding and presuppositions might be inevitable, not all of them are immutable. Furthermore, not absolutely everything is filtered through them by virtue of certain universal principles of communication that are not dependent upon factors such as culture, worldview, and beliefs. If this is indeed the case, then it must also be the case “that aspects of the preunderstanding of the authors of the biblical books are universal,” which in turn offers a link between the interpreter of today and the ancient text. The interpreter must therefore, among other things, identify the universal aspects present in the biblical text.[79]

Communication is unavoidably governed by universal principles and since some of these principles are universal, it is by definition always the same for all people despite factors such as language, cultural, and ethnic differences. If one understands these principles, one can study the Bible with the awareness that the discovery of the correct meaning of the text is indeed possible.[80]

The universality of truth is one of these inescapable universal principles. Truth is always the same for everyone, and it is not based on a particular point of view. It is rather as Howe describes it:

“If a statement is true, it is true whether it fits your point of view or not. Someone once said to me, ‘There’s no such thing as truth.’ I responded, ‘Is that true?’ It made no difference what this person’s point of view was. Even when he tried to deny truth, he could not help but claim that his denial was true. The fact is, there is absolute truth, and this truth does no change just because someone doesn’t like it or agree with it, and it does no change depending on one’s worldview.”[81]

This notion should give one comfort, since the fact that there is absolute truth makes it possible for one to read the Bible and find absolute truth in one’s interpretation thereof. An important aspect of absolute truth is the law of noncontradiction. This law states that a “statement cannot be both true and false in the same sense… When two claims contradict one another, one must be true, and the other must be false. When people want to communicate, they must do so on the basis of the universality of truth, or communication is not possible”[82]

This leads one directly to the role of logic. While people have different preunderstandings and presuppositions, which form their worldview, there is what Howe calls a “transcendental presupposition” which is logic. The laws of logic “transcend all world views and all perspectives, are unavoidable, and are necessarily the same for everyone.” While other presuppositions might be mutable, as alluded to earlier, this “transcendental presupposition” is immutable and gives one the necessary ground to challenge other interpretations.[83] In this sense one’s hermeneutic must also be tethered to the laws of logic. The laws of logic, as a tool for discovering truth, can assist one in changing other mutable presuppositions.

Another universal principle mentioned is the unity of human nature, meaning that human nature is always the same for all people, and therefore all human species have “the same species-specific properties.” One of these species-specific properties is the human mind, only being subject to variations in “degree and not in kind.” Human nature is therefore the same for everyone, regardless of cultural diversity among humans.[84]

These principles serve to demonstrate, in the words of Howe:

“The principles of the unity of human nature and the universality of truth, however, demonstrate that there was not a ‘Hebrew’ mind or a ‘Greek’ mind or an ‘ancient’ mind so that truth among those cultures at that period of time was somehow different than truth today. Humanity is one race with one kind of mind, and therefore the truth of the relation between God and humans is the same for us today as for the men and women of the Bible. The differences, then, between those ancient cultures and our modern culture are not in the nature of humanity or of truth, but rather in the social and cultural expressions of the same truths.”[85]

The universality of truth and the unity of human nature serve as preconditions for making it possible to discover truth in the Bible that can change the way people think and live.[86]

Conclusion

One scholar once said:

“Whether we like it or not, criticism can touch the essence of our religion, because religion has become incarnate, and for our sakes had to become incarnate and make itself vulnerable in historic form. As the Son of God while on the earth had to expose Himself to the unbelief and scorn of men, so the word of the Gospel could not be what it is for us unless it were subject to the same humiliation.”[87]

While the Bible is, in one sense, God’s final Word to His people and therefore authoritative, it is still a written document, which can and must be read like any other piece of literature to discover its true meaning. Sound principles of interpretation, as those outlined above, can therefore uncover “the universal truths” that form us “into the image of Christ.”[88]

Suggested Readings

Howe, Thomas A. Practical hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part one). Christian Research Journal, 25(4):1-7, 2003, available at http://www.equip.org/PDF/DI501-1.pdf, accessed, Jan. 14, 2020.

Howe, Thomas A. Practical hermeneutics: How to interpret your Bible correctly (Part two). Christian Research Journal, 26(1):1-6, 2003, available at http://www.equip.org/PDF/DI501-2.pdf, accessed, Jan. 14, 2020.

Howe, Thomas A. Hermeneutics and Metaphysics. Christian Apologetics Journal, 3(2):1-9, 2004.

Howe, Thomas A. The Analogy of Faith: Does Scripture Interpret Scripture? Christian Research Journal, 29(2), 2006, available at https://www.equip.org/article/the-analogy-of-faith/, accessed Sep. 9, 2020. This article is also available here: https://ratiochristi.co.za/the-analogy-of-faith-does-scripture-interpret-scripture/ accessed May 4, 2021.

Howe, Thomas A. Does Genre Determine Meaning? Christian Apologetics Journal, 6(1):1-17, 2007.

Howe, Thomas A. Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation. Altamonte Springs, FL: Advantage Books, 2015.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.


[1] This article is inspired by the works of Professor Thomas A. Howe who has done, to my estimation at least, tremendous work in the field of biblical interpretation and the philosophy of hermeneutics and has furnished the church with very important insights when it comes to this discipline. Any mistakes in this article, however, should not be attributed to him.

[2] “Biblical Series I: Introduction to the Idea of God,” available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-wWBGo6a2w&t=7735s, accessed April 20, 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Jordan Peterson on the wisdom of the Bible,” available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7ZUay6GM0g&t=338s, accessed April 20, 2020.

[5] John C. Lennox, Seven Days that Divide the World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 11.

[6] Thomas A. Howe, Philosophy of Hermeneutics (2020), 41. Note that Howe defines hermeneutics as both a science and an art. He explains that as “a science it incorporates and is practiced on the basis of the principles and rules of hermeneutics,” and as “an art it is a developing of the wisdom and skill to apply the principles and rules in a manner consistent with the nature of that which is being interpreted, and according to the laws of reason and the nature of reality.”

[7] Thomas A. Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part one),” Christian Research Journal, vol. 25(2003):1-2. The specific questions that Howe mentions in this context includes, in his own words, the following: “How do people reach contrary and often contradictory conclusions? And how can I know whether an interpretation of a passage is correct? In fact, in our postmodern culture, the more penetrating question, is ‘Is there such a thing as a ‘correct’ interpretation?’ And, even if there is a correct interpretation, how can I know if I have discovered it?”

[8] Theology can be broadly defined as a rational discourse about God and His acts by virtue of His revelation to us in nature and Scripture.

[9] I am in no way dismissing general revelation and natural theology based upon it. On the contrary, I am concerned about the loss of natural theology in the church today. Reading God’s ‘book of nature,’ however, deserves another article on its own. For the purposes of this article, I will therefore focus only on the reading and understanding of special revelation which, for us today, is found in the pages of the Bible.

[10] The wisdom of the church can also be a valuable source when interpreting the Bible. Long before we, in our modern day, wrestled with certain passages, the Church had wrestled with them for centuries and have much wisdom to share. This will especially guard one against finding a “unique” interpretation which might be dangerous. We are not after uniqueness, but after the true meaning of the text.

[11] Thinus Malan correctly emphasises the role of philosophy and logic in one’s hermeneutic: “Historically, the Church has always held logic and philosophy in high regard as a type of handmaiden to good and proper theology. And we know that without sound theology, our faith would become empty and void. For how can we have faith in a God whom we do not know? And how can we begin to know God without reading His Word? And how can we understand His Word without a rigorous hermeneutic that is tethered to the laws of logic?” (Thinus Malan, “Should Christians Study Logic?” available at https://ratiochristi.co.za/should-christians-study-logic/, accessed May 3, 2021). It is important to note, in this regard, that just because you use natural reason, and per implication logic, implementing certain hermeneutical principles to understand the meaning of the Biblical text does not mean that you are placing them on a pedestal as somehow more authoritative than Scripture. It is not any more authoritative than acknowledging the necessity for eyes to read Scripture and ears to hear the preaching thereof are placing eyes and ears as more authoritative than Scripture. Your reason is not there to determine or create the truth of the written text, but to discover the truth thereof.

When James Sire refers to the words uttered by Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason,” he comments that “Luther does not hold human reason over Scripture as a judge of what it can say but as a tool to discover what it does say; and what it does say is true whether it otherwise fits human reason or not” (James W. Sire, Scripture Twisting: 20 Way the Cults Misread the Bible [Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press], 106).

[12] Winfried Corduan, Handmaid to Theology: An Essay in Philosophical Prolegomena (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers), 18. Corduan’s exact wording in this regard is as follows: “Theology, as we want to understand it, is the end product of the work of the theologian or of the church in its teaching capacity. Or, to put this point starkly, the Christian theologian contrives a theology; it is not given to him. What is given to him is revelation, but not theology.”

[13] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Lost in Interpretation? Truth, Scripture, and Hermeneutics” (In Köstenberger, A. ed. Whatever Happened to Truth? [Wheaton, IL: Crossway books, 2005], 93).

[14] Richard A. Muller, “The Study of Theology: From Biblical Interpretation to Contemporary Formulation” (In Silva, M. ed. Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996]), 645.

[15] The essential doctrines of Christianity that are contrived and formulated from the Bible, using sound reason and implementing sound hermeneutical principles, and are accordingly held forth as objective truth claims, are summarized in confessional creeds like the Apostle’s Creed, the Creed of Nicene, the Creed of Athanasius, and the Creed of Chalcedon.

[16] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Harper One [The complete C.S. Lewis signature classics]), 6.

[17] Norman Geisler & Ron Rhodes, Conviction without Compromise: Standing Strong in the Core Beliefs of the Christian Faith (Eugene, OR: Harvest House), 195.

[18] I am assuming that the formulation of true and objective theology resting on the true and objective meaning of the biblical text is at least one of the goals of biblical hermeneutics.

[19] Thomas Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation (Altamont Springs: Advantage inspirational), 61. For a thorough survey of the term ‘objectivity,’ see Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, p. 28-62.

[20] Ibid., p. 91. Elsewhere Howe states that “The fact of meaning cannot be meaningfully denied. Denying meaning assumes the fact of meaningful communication” (Howe, Philosophy of Hermeneutics, p. 487).

[21] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: Volume 1: Introduction, Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers), 160.

[22] Howe, Philosophy of Hermeneutics, p. 3.

[23] Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for all its Worth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 21. One can also find this rhetoric in cults. Xandre Strydom, the visionary leader of the cult known as Christ in me Collective (CIMC) has for example stated that what they are teaching at CIMC is “found everywhere in the Bible and is actually something we can read instead of interpret” (Xandre Strydom, Who do you say is the Son of Man? [Recorded sermon]. https://www.christinme-international.com/). It is as if Strydom, in this regard, is the only one who is able to say “thus says the Lord” while everyone else who is “interpreting” the Bible are only proposing their own opinions.

[24] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 1[33], trans. J.T. Dennison Jr. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing), 153.

[25] Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, p. 1. Howe also states that the act of interpreting the Bible “is of special concern to Christians, and among those who are diligent students of the Bible the problem of conflicting interpretations is a fact of deep concern” (Ibid.).

[26] Ibid., p. 3.

[27] Ibid. p. 3-4.

[28] Thomas A. Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part one),” p. 2.

[29] Consider for example the following statements from some modern hermeneuticians:

  • “[T]otal objectivity on the part of the interpreter… [does] not exist” (Walter C. Kaiser Jr. & Moises Silva, Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan], 289).
  • “Total objectivity is impossible for any reader of any text” and “Many writers have pointed out that total objectivity in interpretation is impossible, and we acknowledge this” (J. Scott Duvall & J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: An Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan], 94-95).
  • “Every reader is situated in a particular culture, time, and tradition. No reading is objective; all reading is theory-laden” (Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There Meaning in this Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literal Knowledge [Grand Rapids: Zondervan], 150).
  • “But anyone who claims to have no presuppositions and who studies the Bible objectively and inductively is either deceived or naïve” (William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg & Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan], 210).
  • “There is no such thing as a pure reading, an objective interpretation. Since reality is infinite, no person can reach outside the realm of time and space to give an objective account of reality” (W. Randolph Tate, Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic], 220).

[30] J. Scott Duvall & J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 19. This statement from Duvall and Hays is very strange since they seem to grant objectivity with the one hand and then take it away with the other as indicated in their statement above at footnote 29.

[31] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Volume 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Charles Scribner), 187.

[32] Some have argued that you derive the principles for interpreting the Bible from the Bible itself. One scholar for example explains that “We use the Bible to derive hermeneutical principles. Then we use hermeneutics to interpret the Bible” (Vern S. Poythress, “Biblical Hermeneutics” [In Peter A. Lillback ed., Seeing Christ in All of Scripture: Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PN: Westminster Seminary Press, 2016], 30). Jason Lisle also maintains a somewhat similar view. He states for example that “the most foundational principles of hermeneutics are themselves found in Scripture…” (Jason Lisle, Understanding Genesis: How to analyze, Interpret, and Defend Scripture [Green Forest: Master Books], 177). To be fair to Lisle however, there is a difference between claiming to derive one’s hermeneutic from Scripture, and merely identifying principles in Scripture that is already in use prior to identifying them. It rather seems as if Lisle is promoting the latter. Be that as it may, I respectfully disagree with the former notion of this issue. For obvious reasons, such a view of hermeneutics seems circular.

Andrew Payne states the following for example: “in order to come to understand the Scriptures at all, one must first have some sort of hermeneutical principle that one is applying to the text, no matter how intuitive such a principle may be. One cannot get these from the Scriptures themselves because that would be self-defeating, therefore they need to be derived from one’s general philosophy” (J. Andrew Payne, “The Great Debate: Classical vs. Presuppositional Apologetics,” Journal of the International Society of Christian Apologetics, 11[2018]:20). This is also thoroughly addressed by Howe when he refers to presuppositions that “in the initial encounter with the Word of God one would need to have these presuppositions before one could get them… The interpreter would need to have this presupposition already present before he initially comes to the text which would be the source of his presupposition. So, the interpreter would need to have the presupposition before he could get it. But, of course, this is contradictory” (Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, p. 148). Finally, Richard Howe also expresses the same position: “Every reader of the Bible has some method, whether consciously or unconsciously, of how to interpret it, which is to say that every reader of the Bible has some hermeneutic. The question is where does one get one’s principles of hermeneutics? It is impossible to get one’s principles of hermeneutics from the Bible itself. This is so because
if one could understand the Bible in order to get these hermeneutical principles, then he understands the Bible before he has his principles of understanding the Bible, which means he would not need the principles he was seeking to get from the Bible. On the other hand, if he thinks he cannot understand the Bible without some principles of understanding the Bible (and I would argue that this has to be the case), then that means he could not understand the Bible enough to get the principles themselves if he was committed to the notion that he gets those very principles from the Bible. Either way, he runs into an impossible situation. We see, then, that it is impossible to get all of one’s principles of interpretation of the Bible from the Bible itself, even if he can get some of them. Instead, they have to come from somewhere else” (Richard G. Howe, “Classical Apologetics and Creationism,” Christian Apologetics Journal, 11[2], 2013:9).

[33] Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes underline the importance of the correct method of Biblical interpretation as follows when they link it to the historical-grammatical method of interpretation: “For all the essential doctrines relating to our salvation are based on a literal, historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture. Without this there can be no Christian orthodoxy. Many cults specialize in denying this literal method of interpreting Scripture in part or in whole. This is how they so easily twist Scripture to their own heretical advantage… Allegorical and symbolical interpretation of Scripture do not – indeed, cannot – yield the orthodox fundamentals. Historically and logically, they lead to heresy and unorthodoxy.” Later they also emphasise this position as follows: “All the essential doctrines expressed in the Bible and in the early creeds are dependent on another doctrine – the historical-grammatical method of interpretation” (Norman Geisler & Ron Rhodes, Conviction without Compromise: Standing Strong in the Core Beliefs of the Christian Faith [Eugene, OR: Harvest House], 13 & 195). Corduan also mentions the historical-grammatical method as it pertains to revelational propositional truths: “[W]hen we assert the truth of revelational propositions, we do so with the qualification that (as with any other propositions) awareness of their truth is dependent on historical-grammatical exegesis. This qualification does not beg the question, but it merely applies what is true for any language event to this particular case” (Corduan, Handmaid, p. 97). According to Thomas Howe the historical-grammatical method entails that the Bible is interpreted in the light of the original languages, the historical and cultural setting, the literary genre, the universal and particular principles of communication and understanding, and finally the preunderstanding and presuppositions of the interpreter (Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly [Part one],” p. 2-3).

[34] Geisler & Rhodes, Conviction without Compromise, p. 196.

[35] Ibid. One can therefore say that the literal sense of Scripture is primary. Thomas Aquinas for example explains that the “first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it.” He goes on to emphasize the importance of the literal sense of Scripture saying that “in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one—the literal—from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as Augustine says (Epis. 48). Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense.” Later he concludes that “it is plain nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Writ” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, ed. by The Aquinas Institute, trans. by Laurence Shapcote [Green Bay, WI; Steubenville, OH: Aquinas Institute; Emmaus Academic, 2018], STh., I q.1 a.10).

[36] Fee & Stuart, How to Read, p. 43.

[37] Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part one),” p. 3. Kaiser and Silva also observe that “it would be a great mistake to deny the importance of paying attention to the original languages” (Kaiser & Silva, Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 51).

[38] Word studies is an important aspect of hermeneutics and exegesis, which does not only entail looking up the meaning of a particular word in a dictionary. Rather, it also entails apprehending the way in which a word fits into the immediate context of a passage, and how a word is used throughout a specific author’s writings in the Bible. While word studies can be illuminating in many ways, it can also be misleading and should be approached with great responsibility (see Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly [Part one],” p. 3; John H. Hays & Carl R. Holladay, Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook [Louiseville, London: Westminster John Knox Press], 79).

[39] Grammar is concerned with the rules that determine the right use of a language. Syntax on the other hand refers to the order and positioning of words in sentences. All of this is important since the authors of the Bible used sentences in a specific language to communicate meaning. In the end then the “sense of a passage emerges from the grammatical structure wherein all parts of speech – including nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, articles, prepositions, and the like – are placed in a proper form from which only a certain meaning can be derived” (Geisler & Rhodes, Conviction without Compromise, p. 196). Also see Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly [Part one],” p. 4.

[40] Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part one),” p. 3. Howe introduces this helpful analogy with the example of American football. For a South African context, Rugby is a better example to use when making the same point. Nevertheless, I remain indebted to Howe for the use of this analogy as it pertains to the importance of the original languages of the Bible.

[41] There are many sources to help one with this endeavor. I can briefly recommend the following for the Old and New Testaments respectively:

  • Archer, Gleason, L. A Survey of the Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press, 1994.
  • Longman, Tremper III & Dillard, Raymond B. An Introduction to the Old Testament 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.
  • Hill, Andrew E. & Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
  • Carson, D.A. & Moo, Douglas J. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.
  • deSilva, D.A. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods and Ministry Formation. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
  • Gundry, Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

[42] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg & Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 312.

[43] Kaiser & Silva, Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 117.

[44] Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part one),” p. 5.

[45] Many scholars emphasize the role of the author. Geisler for example says that the “objective meaning of a text is the one given to it by the author, not attributed to it by the reader” (Geisler, Systematic Theology: Vol 1, p. 173). Others have said “We believe God intended the Bible to function not as a mirror reflecting the readers and their meanings, but as a window into the worlds and meanings of the authors and the texts they produced” (Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, p. 264). Lastly, Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks explain that “To understand any piece of literature, you have to come to terms with the author; you have to interpret his words” (Howard G. Hendricks & William D. Hendricks, Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible [Chicago: Moody Publishers], 261).

Additionally, building of off Aristotle’s six causes, Geisler has helpfully made the following distinctions as it pertains to the author and the text of Scripture (Geisler, Systematic Theology: Vol 1, p. 174):

  • The writer is the efficient cause (that by which something comes to be) of the meaning of the text.
  • The writer’s purpose is the final cause (that for which something comes to be) of its meaning.
  • The writing is the formal cause (that of which something comes to be) of its meaning.
  • The words are the material cause (that out of which something comes to be) of its meaning.
  • The writer’s ideas are the exemplar cause (that after which something comes to be) of its meaning.
  • The laws of thought are the instrumental cause (that through which something comes to be) of its meaning.

[46] Geisler & Rhodes, Conviction without Compromise, p. 196.

[47] Geisler strikingly brings this point home as he explains that “Meaning is found in what the author has affirmed, not in why he affirmed it. Purpose does not determine meaning. One can know what the author said without knowing why he said it” (Geisler, Systematic Theology: Vol 1, p. 173).

[48] Geisler & Rhodes, Conviction without Compromise, p. 196 and Fee & Stuart, How to Read the Bible, p. 30.

[49] Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part one),” p. 6. This is especially important since isolated verses is all over social media. Think for example of Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 7:1, and Philippians 4:13. One rarely see examples where someone goes through the effort of taking the larger context into account when quoting these and other verses.

[50] Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, p. 294.

[51] Geisler & Rhodes, Conviction without Compromise, p. 196.

[52] See Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part one),” p. 6; Duvall & Hays, Grasping God’s Word, p. 120.

[53] Thomas A. Howe, “Does Genre Determine Meaning?,” Christian Apologetics Journal, vol. 6(1): p. 3. Many scholars have it the other way around. Consider the following statements for example:

  • “As we saw previously, we must consider the type of literature if we are to correctly extract the meaning of a passage” (Lisle, Understanding Genesis, p. 79). Without meaning in the first place, how would one consider the type of literature one is working with?
  • “All writers couch their messages in a certain genre in order to give the reader sufficient rules by which to decode that message. These hints guide the reader (or hearer) and provide clues for interpretation” (Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation [Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press], 26). The hints referred to hear must be the text itself and must first be made sense of to discover the genre.
  • “The recognition of different forms (“forms” used here in a general, non-technical sense) of biblical literature is important for hermeneutics because it provides the initial clue to the meaning of a passage” (Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company], 16-17). One must first discover the initial clue in the passage to establish the form of literature in front of you.

[54] This principle has also been referred to as “Scripture interprets Scripture” and was especially prominent in the writings of the 16th century reformers. This title can, however, be misleading. Howe strikingly addresses this issue when he writes that “to claim that one is interpreting Scripture with Scripture often simply means that the interpreter has interpreted one Scripture passage in one way and is using his interpretation of that passage to support or clarify his understanding with that of another Scripture so as to interpret it in a comparable way. But, if an interpreter’s interpretation of a given passage is questionable, his appeal to other passages does not serve to support his interpretation of the passage in question, because his interpretation of those other passages may be equally questionable. Even the choice of which Scripture relate to which, and which do not relate at all, is an interpretive process that is influenced by the prior hermeneutical… framework of the interpreter. Stating the principle sounds very pious, but it ignores the fact that the Scripture to which appeal or reference is being made is just as subject to the interpretive approach of the interpreter as the Scripture passage to which the comparison is being made” (Thomas A. Howe, Daniel in the Preterists Den: A Critical Look at Preterist Interpretations of Daniel [Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers], 9). It is also worth pointing out that “not every Scripture is interpreted by another Scripture. For example, there is no other Scripture that gives us the correct interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:29 (‘Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?’). In fact, no other Scripture even mentions baptism for the dead. There are, however, other Scriptures regarding salvation and death that eliminate some interpretations of this passage. We know, for example, that it cannot mean that vicarious baptism can save the souls of those who are already dead, because this interpretation contradicts the clear statement in Hebrews 9:27 that after death comes judgment” (Thomas A. Howe, The Analogy of Faith: Does Scripture interpret Scripture? Available at https://ratiochristi.co.za/the-analogy-of-faith-does-scripture-interpret-scripture/, accessed May 3, 2021).

[55] Ricahrd A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic), 25.

[56] M.S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. New edition, thoroughly revised. Edited by G.R. Crooks & J.F. Hurst (New York; Cincinnati: Eaton & Mains; Curts & Jennings), 449.

[57] Howe, The Analogy of Faith.

[58] Sire, Scripture Twisting, p. 58-59.

[59] The idea of undersigned coincidences in the Bible is based on an incredibly careful comparison between different portions of the Bible, and even stretches to a comparison between the Bible and secular sources.

[60] Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 222.

[61] The cults, for example, are guilty of both these types of abuses.

[62] Howe, Daniel in the Preterists Den, p. 10.

[63] Sire, Scripture Twisting, p. 58-59.

[64] Howe, Daniel in the Preterists Den, p. 9.

[65] Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, p. 2. Howe explains it as follows: “Persons may reach different conclusions due to a difference in technical competence in the original languages of the biblical text. Interpreters who are not proficient in the languages may not be able to deal with some of the intricacies of the text and my be subject to inaccurate reading of the text leading to misunderstanding and conflict. Conflicting interpretations may be due to shortage of historical background information that creates ambiguity. And not every conflict is necessarily resolvable at the present level of knowledge. A lack of historical background information may put a resolution beyond reach until more information is discovered.” Also use page 82-83 of Howe’s book here

[66] Thomas A. Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part two),” Christian Research Journal, vol. 26(2003):1-2.

[67] Howe comments on the role of one’s metaphysic in hermeneutics as follows: “So often disputes between rival interpretations cannot be settled by appealing to Scripture verses. Why? Because so often the dispute is not an interpretive question. It is a philosophical question. In order to adjudicate between views, one must examine the philosophical assumptions and presuppositions of the interpreter. Because the influence of philosophy is greater today due to the proliferation of printed and electronic materials, philosophy of hermeneutics is more relevant than it ever has been” (Howe, Philosophy of Hermeneutics, p. 6). Elsewhere he also states that “If metaphysical assumptions are unavoidable and determinative of interpretive outcomes, bad metaphysics can produce bad interpretations. An excellent example of this is the recent controversy of Open Theism” (Thomas A. Howe, Hermeneutics and Metaphysics, Christian Apologetics Journal, 3[2]:3).

Elsewhere Howe analyses the interpretive conclusions of Finis J. Dake. He explains the reason why Dake does not take John 10:9, stating that Jesus is a “door,” literally, as follows: “The reason Dake cannot interpret literally those passages that talk about Jesus being a door is because of the nature of a person and the nature of a door. The Bible does not go into a philosophical, biological, or ontological explanation of the natures of these things. The biblical writers assume that the reader is familiar with doors and persons and can understand the differences and similarities between them. So, the underlying principle for taking such a passage figuratively is not that the text specifically says to take it figuratively, but that the author expected rational people to have knowledge about the natures of these things. We all know the differences between doors and persons. We could schematize this reasoning in the following manner. Jesus is a person. A person is not an inanimate object. Therefore, Jesus is not an inanimate object. A door is an inanimate object. An inanimate object is not a person. Therefore, a door is not a person. But, the Scripture says that Jesus is a door (Jn. 10: 7). If we interpret this literally, then there must be an error in Scripture. If we interpret this figuratively, there is no error in Scripture. Therefore, since the Scripture cannot err, this must be taken figuratively. The resolution of the question of whether this statement is figurative is the process of analysis whereby the statement and its conclusions are reduced to the principle of being and non-contradiction. It is contradictory to assert that Jesus has, in the same sense, the nature of a door and the nature of a person. The assertion must be resolved in such a manner so as to avoid the contradiction. Although the statement, “I am the door,” is not deduced from or inferred from the law of non-contradiction, it can be reduced to this law. It is based on this foundation law even though not deriving from it. Of course we also assume inerrancy of the text. But, once again the resolution is conducted in terms of reducing the relevant claims in such a manner so as not to assert contradictories as equally true… The same reasoning is true for statements about God. The reason Dake takes some passages literally and some figuratively (for example, Dake does not believe the God literally has wings) is because he comes to the text with a presupposition about God’s nature. A being that has bodily parts is a being that has a body. A person that can see and walk is a being that has bodily parts (eyes and legs). Therefore, a person that can see and walk is a being that has a body. God is a person who sees and walks. Persons who see and walk are beings who have bodies. Therefore, God is a being Who has a body. But, the Scripture says that God is spirit (Jn. 4: 24) who sees and walks. If we say this cannot be interpreted literally, then there must be an error in Scripture. If we interpret it literally, then there is no error in Scripture. Therefore, since the Scripture cannot err, God must be a spirit-being Who has a body. Since various passages use the same kinds of language and the same kinds of expressions in the same kinds of genre when talking about God’s eyes and His wings, it cannot be the texts qua texts that dictate which is to be taken literally and which is to be taken figuratively. Dake takes references about God’s eyes as literal because, since he comes to the text with the presupposed idea that God is a person, and since, according to Dake, persons have literal eyes, these statements must mean that God literally has eyes. The reason Dake takes references to God’s wings as figurative is because, since he comes to the text with the presupposition that God is a person, and since persons don’t have wings, these statements must not be claiming that God literally has wings, else the Scripture would be wrong. Since the Scripture cannot be wrong, these statements must be figurative. Dake, like all interpreters of the Bible, comes to the text assuming that God must have a certain kind of nature” (Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, p. 221-223).

Interestingly, metaphysics can also help one to know when to interpret specific passages literally, and when to interpret them metaphorically. Consider Genesis 3:8 where one reads that God walked “in the garden in the cool of the day.” Did God literally walk with His legs in the garden? Or should it be understood metaphorically? There is nothing in the immediate passage of Genesis 3 which indicates whether one must interpret it literally or metaphorically. To solve this interpretive problem, many scholars often cite John 4:24 stating that “God is spirit.” If God is spirit, then to literally walk, which requires literal legs, is not something God literally did in Genesis 3:8. This is al fine and well, the question, however, is how does one know whether to interpret John 4:24 literally and not metaphorically? There is also nothing in the immediate context of John 4 to assist one in making this judgement. In fact, in John 4:24 the noun of “spirit” (πνεῦμα) is being used. However, in Galatians 6:1 Paul refers to those “who are spiritual,” using the adjective (πνευματικοὶ) of the same word for “spirit” that is used in John 4:24. Surely, Paul did not mean that those who are “spiritual” are “spiritual” beings the same way God is a “spiritual” being. In a case like this, for example, one’s metaphysics, particularly natural theology, can help to navigate one’s exegesis. That God is a pure spiritual and immaterial being can be the implied conclusion from other of His attributes established through the use of proper natural theology (I am indebted to Prof. Richard G. Howe for these insights).

[68] Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, p. 210. Elsewhere Klein et al. also insists that “all interpreters bring their own presuppositions and agendas, and these affect the ways they understand as well as the conclusions they draw” (p. 45). Later they also comment on this aspect explaining that even though someone has his own worldview, with presuppositions and preunderstandings, the person’s worldview as such does not determine the meaning of the text: “It may color how they interpret that text. We believe that the textual meaning is fixed (the text means what it meant); but readers bring more or less baggage to their pursuit of that meaning” (p. 226).

[69] Duvall & Hays, Grasping God’s Word, p. 89 & 384. Kaiser and Silva share the same positions as they mention that people assuredly interpret the text of the Bible through the framework of certain theological presuppositions and sometimes force a fact to fit these presuppositions, resulting in a distortion of the text (Kaiser & Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 28, 306 & 307). Philips Long also states that if “interpreters approaching a given text disagree fundamentally on how they view reality, they will likely also disagree on how to interpret the text, or at least on whether the text, once interpreted, is to be accepted as trustworthy and authoritative” (V. Philips Long, “The Art of Biblical History” [In Silva, M. ed. Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996], 390).

[70] Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part two),” p. 2.

[71] Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, p. 210. A potential problem with this view is, as phrased by Howe, that “If there is no objectivity, if all conclusions are the product of equally viable preconditional frameworks, and if everyone’s framework is the product of his historical situatedness, then on what basis can interpreters adjudicate between conflicting interpretations?… If everyone interprets the world through his or her own preconditional framework, then the possibility of adjudicating between frameworks seems to be impossible. Everyone would simply understand his opponent’s framework in terms of his own, and any criticisms would be valid only within the framework of the particular interpreter” (Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, p. 25).

[72] Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, p. 517. In his turn Tremper Longman III also explains that “We must remember that no one can approach the biblical text objectively or with a completely open mind. Indeed, such an approach to the text would be undesirable. Everyone comes to the text with questions and an agenda. One’s attitude, however, should be one of openness toward change” (Tremper Longman III, “Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation” [In Silva, M. ed. Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996], 120). Note Longman’s self-defeating statement here, but also take note of his encouragement to be open towards change with regards to your prior agenda which is formed by your worldview.

[73] Long, “The Art of Biblical History,” p. 375.

[74] Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part two),” p. 4.

[75] This point is the whole purpose of Howe’s book: “This is the principle concern of this book, namely, how is it possible to maintain the fact of the preconditional framework of every interpreter and at the same time maintain the possibility of objectivity in interpretation?” (Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, p. 29). The argument of this book is summarized as follows:

  • Everyone comes to the world with his own framework of understanding.
  • No particular framework of understanding is universally valid.
  • But, universal validity is precisely what is implied in the notion of objectivity.
  • Therefore, no interpreter can be objective in interpretation.
  • But, if no interpreter can be objective, then no interpretation is universally valid.
  • But, if no interpretation is universally valid, then the concept of a “correct” interpretation is at best relative or at worst empty.
  • Since there is no such thing as a correct interpretation, there is no means of adjudicating between interpretations.
  • In fact, the very idea of adjudicating between interpretations is at best relative and at worst empty.

[76] Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, p. 155. Elsewhere Howe also points out that Christians like to use the term ‘worldview,’ however, “a point which seems to be overlooked… by Christian writers, is that when one considers one’s own world view, one must look at one’s world view through one’s world view” (Howe, Philosophy of Hermeneutics, p. 5). This also serves to illustrate the point, that unless there are “trans-worldview” truths, you will always be stuck in your worldview with no way of going beyond it and making objective truth claims about reality which includes the written text of the Bible.

[77] (“Why It is Harmful to Depict a Worldview as Glasses” by J.P. Moreland, p. 3-4, available at http://www.jpmoreland.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/JPM_Critique-of-WV-as-glasses-042321-Web.pdf accessed June 20, 2021.

[78] Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part two),” p. 2.

[79] Ibid., p. 4. The presence of universal principles of communication also serves as a solution to the problem of distance in culture, geography, and language between the modern Bible reader and the “worlds of ancient texts” (Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, p. 54). Osborne also introduces this problem as follows: “The problem of interpretation begins and ends with the presence of the reader. How does the reader get back to the perspective and message of an ancient text?” (Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, p. 517).

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid., p. 5.

[83] Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, p. 210.

[84] Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part two),” p. 5.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Ibid., p. 5-6.

[87] Geerhardus Vos, “Christian Faith and the Truthfulness of Bible History,” Princeton Theological Review 4:3(1906):300.

[88] Howe, “Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret your Bible Correctly (Part two),” p. 6.

JOIN OUR MAILING LIST

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MAILING LIST

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!