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Theological Interpretation of Scripture

Recently there has been a whole spate of works devoted to a theological interpretation of scripture.  The two works edited by Kevin Vanhoozer are a collection of articles on the New and Old Testaments taken from the much larger Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (896 pages).  Just doing a cursory search on Amazon will yield a number of works by Stephen Fowl, Dainer Treier, J. Todd Billings, and Christopher Seitz.  This emphasis on the theological character of Scripture is a welcome response to the ever increasing field of biblical and theological studies.  In seeing the proliferation and expanse of works devoted to the topic of theological interpretation and the Bible, one must ask why the surge of works at this particular time?  Secondly, should we assume that this interpretive stance (theological angle) be just another voice in the crowd and will die down shortly?

Although the cultural milieu we live in still shakes it wary finger at any substantive truth claim regarding texts and assertions, there is still room for critical engagement with texts and truth claims.  Regarding the theological interpretation of Scripture, many scholars see this as another voice in the crowd among many interpretive stances.  For instance, a strong theological stance toward Scripture might be seen as a voice among other strategies such as liberation theology, womanist readings of Scripture, and Third-World readings, (not forgetting about African, black, and Hispanic readings of Scripture).  The problem with this view is that these interpretive strategies are often seen as a man trying on different hats to see which one fits his head best.  The strategies are easily discarded when they do fit the particular context in which a specific writer comments in.  Evenmore, there is nothing transcultural about the way his/her reading strategy fits into the overall context of the biblical text they are engaging.  Now, I have nothing particulalry against readings of the Biblical text that come from feminist, liberation, or African scholars, but rather my disagreement with these views is of a much more fundamental shape. 

Readings of the biblical text that take their cue from a specific cultural or political stance often fail to discern the specific intentions of the biblical writers.  Rather than listening to the text for the concerns and claims of the text, they superimpose a worldview and ideological structure that only yields answers that directly relate to their questions.  We find at the present time in North America a great furor of debate surrounding questions of origin in relationship to the first few chapters of Genesis.  One of the great problems that I found in any discussion regarding Genesis 1-3 is people's insistence that we find specific answers to the question regarding the approximate age of the creation days.  This might be a valid question but it is not one that the author of Genesis is answering specifically.  His specfiic intention is both polemical (to show to all the nations that one God created all things by the work of his hand) and theological (to show forth the character and nature of the one true God).  So how do theological interpretations of Scripture help us in hearing the words of Scripture and the intentionality of the text we read?

As we begin to read the Bible, we immediately notice that we are not just dealing with the meanderings and interactions of human characters alone.  We come face to face with the biblical writers concept of God, his character, his actions, and the world in which he made.  In other words, the biblical writers assume a number of presuppositions or preconceptions regarding God.  To put it more clearly, a theological interpretation of Scripture is necessary for the very reason that the whole corpus of Scripture deals concretely with God, not just in one instance, but in every way.  From start to finish, Scripture is theological in its scope, in its intentions, in its applications, and in its canonical form.  We cannot escape the fact that we come nose to nose with God in every page of Scripture.  Not only this, but the biblical writers also assume that this God has a character that is revealed, that can be known by his creations.  John 1:14 says that "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  John is saying that the foundational principle of the world, the principle that holds everything together, namely Jesus Christ became man, took the form of a man for his people.  John goes here from a polemical argument regarding the word 'logos' to defining that term in relationship to Jesus Christ, equating God with Jesus Christ.  At many points in Scripture, the authors of Scripture use the language and customs of the world they lived in and infuse them with new meaning in concert with the work and words of the God they serve.  If the authors of the Bible have a specific theological as well as pastoral concern for writing their letters, then it behooves us to understand the theological character of their writing.

Lastly, I think that a theological interpretation of Scripture helps us to see the overarching narrative of Scripture in a more specific light.  In our desire to be heard by others, we sometimes put all our theological eggs into one basket and fail to see the overall story of Scripture.  I am certainly guilty here.  When I first started reading about the doctrines of grace and Calvinism I became obsessed with predestination and doctrines concerning the decrees of God.  I think there is merit in discussing these things, but these ideas are far, far away from the grand tenor of the Bible.  As I began to read more in Reformed Theology, I noticed a common thread of understanding the covenants in the Bible in an overarching manner, linking them with the promises of God (I am thinking of Geerhardus Vos and O. Palmer Robertson)  This kind of theological reading of Scripture brings great clarity to both the character of God and his goal in history regarding the created order in which he made. 

A few points concerning the overarching story of the Bible and theological interpretation need to be made.
First, any theological interpretation of Scripture that fails to account for the role of the whole of creation in God's action in history loses sight of the character of God's love for what he has made.
Secondly, although Christological readings of OT texts are important for the church and believers, we must not discount the immediate context and audience of specific OT books.


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