Theological Interpretation of Scripture? Three Dimensions

Jesus and the BibleWhat is Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS)? It’s kind of a hot new thing in the theological academy–at least among those of a more conservative orientation–but despite the various publications and authors laying claim to it, there doesn’t seem to be a clear, unified usage of the term. At least not that I’ve heard or read.

What I’d like to do in this (brief) post is simply note three threads, or types of TIS, I’ve seen in my little bit of reading on the subject as a bit of a quick reference to the interested, and then invite others to add what they’d like in the comments.

Theological location of the Text. The first thread or theme I’ve seen highlighted in theological interpretation is the idea that we read the text of Scripture in a theological context. By that I don’t simply mean that most of us read it in our churches. No, the idea is that the Bible is not just like any other book that we might happen upon in the library. It’s a book that is the result of God’s own saving activity. It is not only the story of redemption, but part of the activity of the Triune God’s “economy” of salvation. It is part of how God gets his saving work done, not only an informational book about it. In which case, we need to understand that we don’t approach this book like any other, treating as a mere product of history, but as the result of divine activity. What’s more, as Christians, we are to understand ourselves as readers dependent on the gracious illumining work of the Holy Spirit. Along with that, different accounts will place more or less emphasis on the community of faith as the proper location of interpretation in the “economy of grace.”

Reading for Theological Content. Second, either flowing from this, or separate, theological interpretation of Scripture means trying to read the text for, you know, actual theology. Instead of treating it as a bit of interesting history or “religious thought”, to be picked apart for the light it sheds on the beliefs and the experiences of ancient Jews and Greeks, we read it in order to learn about God. So, when we read Paul speaking of Christ as the Image of the invisible God, firstborn over all creation, and so forth, (Col. 1:15-20) it’s not enough to simply speak of the way his conception of Christ may or may not be related to Philo’s thought on Pre-existent Wisdom, or that of other 2nd Temple Jewish thought. We need to speak of what that text is actually telling us about the nature of the Triune God we worship. It’s not simply a text for there and then, but the revelatory self-attestation of the Triune God, meant for the church today. In other words, theology is not something we do after or in addition to exegesis. Exegesis is aimed at theological truth.

Reading with Explicitly Theological Presuppositions. Third, theological interpretation of Scripture also often means reading the text with explicitly theological presuppositions in mind. In other words, instead of acting as if we can come to the text “objectively”, without presuppositions, as neutral scholars, we come to the Bible openly acknowledging that we’re reading it as Christians, as Trinitarians, and so forth. For some, that means using a certain understanding of redemptive history to guide our reading. Others would emphasize a regula fidei “rule of faith” reading that takes its orientation from the Apostles’ Creed. For others, a “Christ-centered” hermeneutic is involved, or perhaps a more comprehensive confessionalism is called for. In any case, it’s not only a matter putting our theological cards on the table, but putting them to work, allowing our reading of Scripture to be shaped by what we believe to be true on the basis of Scripture, in order to arrive at more holistic interpretations. Hopefully, then, we will be reading in a way that honors the intended purposes for which God gave the Scriptures: a saving knowledge of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Obviously, as I noted before, this is incomplete, so I welcome further comment and correction. For those interested, it’s hopefully been a start.

Soli Deo Gloria 

By the way, if you’re really interested, I’d point you to Todd Billings The Word of God for the People of God, Kevin Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine, Scott Swain’s Trinity, Reading, and Revelation and John Webster’s The Domain of the Word. 

3 thoughts on “Theological Interpretation of Scripture? Three Dimensions

  1. Pingback: Five Practices for Actually Doing Theological Exegesis | Reformedish

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