The Hermeneutical Implications of Scripture’s Theological Location

INTRODUCTION

Theological hermeneutics – human understanding and interpretation in light of the identity and acts of the triune God – faces two problematic questions that, I believe, every biblical and/or theological scholar must be prepared to address. First, should the Bible be read in some special sense as divine revelation, or should we read the Bible like any other text? And second, should biblical and theological studies be one discipline, or two?

In what follows, I propose that we can best account for both (1) the relationship between general and special hermeneutics and (2) the relationship between biblical and theological studies by first attending to Scripture’s theological location regarding its subject matter – the all-encompassing story, to which it bears witness, of how the triune God creates and redeems a people unto fellowship with himself.

In the first section, I will argue that the Scripture plays an authoritative role in the all-encompassing story to which it bears witness. After briefly summarizing the subject matter of Scripture, I will explain Scripture’s role by explaining the relationships between Scripture and (1) God, (2) creation, and (3) God’s people. With respect to God, Scripture is the authoritative and inspired word of the triune God, which God uses to reveal himself and redeem his creatures. With respect to creation, because Scripture’s subject matter is all-encompassing, there is no domain outside of its purview. And with respect to God’s people, Scripture is unavoidably and irreducibly ecclesiological.

Once we clarify the relationship between Scripture and its subject matter, if the story to which Scripture bears witness is true, then the relationships between (1) special and general hermeneutics and (2) biblical and theological studies become much less problematic.

In the second section, therefore, I maintain that, because Scripture plays a uniquely authoritative role within its all-encompassing subject matter, theological hermeneutics encompasses both special and general hermeneutics. This has implications for two related hermeneutical triads: the general hermeneutical triad of author, text, and reader, and the special hermeneutical triad of historical, literary, and theological analysis. My approach calls for giving theology pride of place in both triads. That is, the divine author, the Christ-centered text, and the Spirit-led interpretive community of the Church are of primary importance. Nevertheless, due to the historically particular way(s) in which the triune God has revealed himself and redeemed his people, a theological hermeneutic requires attending to the historical and literary particularities of all authors, texts, and readers – especially to those involved in the interpretation of Holy Scripture.

Finally, in the third section, I offer an account of biblical and theological studies as a single multifaceted discipline, one that includes both biblical studies and the various theological sub-disciplines of historical, systematic, and pastoral theology. Because Scripture’s subject matter is complex, unified, and irreducibly ecclesiological, biblical and theological studies need each other. This has, I believe, implications for how the contested and contentious fields of biblical theology and the theological interpretation of Scripture ought to relate to each other.  Furthermore, because the Church’s understanding of and participation in Scripture’s subject matter is historically, conceptually, and practically complex, the theological subdisciplines need each other. Continue reading “The Hermeneutical Implications of Scripture’s Theological Location”