6 Factors for Interpreting Scripture

When interpreting Scripture, these are the 6 factors that I endeavor to keep in focus at all times. Unlike personal, private, spiritual enlightening which can only truly effect the person who experienced such an event, this method is obtainable by everyone. It is a guideline that can be shared by all which ultimately leads to the same result — an historically accurate, culturally dependent, true interpretation.

1. The biblical text is paradigm dependent

By that I mean that just like all human language, the meanings of the words are derived from the way the words were used by the author at the time he wrote in his culture. Sometimes the text is in Greek. Sometimes in Aramaic. Sometimes in Hebrew. But the meaning of the text depends on the ethos of the author regardless of the language he uses. This means we must know the historical period, the political situation and the human dynamics of the author before we can pontificate about his theology.

2. The author’s paradigm may not be the interpreter’s paradigm

Since the text itself is a product of the paradigm of the author, an interpreter who does not share that paradigm is likely to misinterpret the text according to the interpreter’s paradigm. History bears this out. Examples are prolific.

3. The author’s paradigm may not be the reader’s paradigm

Christian interpretation of the text depends on a Christian paradigm. Adopting a Christian paradigm presupposes certain views of Jesus, Paul and other authors. In particular, the Christian Church has a long history of interpreting the text according to its doctrinal positions and it continues to do so because it has a vested interest in this paradigm. But this does not mean that the original authors shared the same paradigm. In fact, I would argue that the original authors and the original audience did not share this Christian paradigm and it is incumbent on us to notice and articulate the differences.

4. We must understand the social-political environment of the authors

The authors of the text wrote over a long period of time and the message changed in its details during that time. This was the result of political and social influences as Israel experienced various stages in its development. Certain critical issues like the idea of the Messiah evolved over time as the thinking of the authors was altered by their circumstances. This historical development is crucial for understanding the text. Ignoring it, or interpreting the text as if it were written from a timeless perspective, radically alters the message. Interpreters today must begin exegesis with the social-political environment of the author.

5. We must understand the Hebraic worldview of the authors

The authors of the text were Hebraic in their point of view regardless of the language they used. They were devoutly monotheistic, Torah observant, nationalistic, and exclusive. Any interpretation of the text that steps away from this orientation carries the burden of proof to show exactly why the authors would leave this cultural and historical mindset. Paradigm conversion explanation cannot rely solely on the text since the proofs from the text will be paradigm dependent.

6. The biblical text is not theology

Above all else, the biblical text is the product of actual human beings in relationship with YHVH. Proper interpretation of the text requires recognition of the human dynamics and emotions of these people. The text is not raw theology. It is life experience and any interpretation of the text must strive to understand this human component before theological conclusions can be drawn.

 

*These six points are adopted from Skip Moen.

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