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I’m a big fan of Graeme Goldsworthy’s writings. In his book Gospel-Centred Hermeneutics he has a chapter on the wrong ways that we Evangelicals sometimes read the Bible. It might be a bit hard to hear this, but it’s great food for thought. We all make these mistakes. Please don’t read it as finger-pointing (unless the finger is pointed back at me/ us).
#1 The “me-centred” approach. The text of the Bible ‘speaks to me’. Not in the sense that I read what it means and apply it to myself. That is absolutely right and good. This sort of reading plucks words or phrases right out of their context so that they “speak” to my situation. The historical background and context are ignored. Exegesis is a dirty word. I open the Bible wherever, read a text, and let it mean whatever I want it to mean in an inspirational way for me today.
#2 Literalism. Not in the sense of reading the Bible according to its literature – there is a right literal reading of the Bible. This means reading Old Testament prophecy in a literalistic way. Such a reading doesn’t read it in light of the New Testament and Jesus, but jumps in application straight to us today. Such a reading would take the book of Joshua and have us declaring jihad, like the Crusades. Fulfilment in Jesus is ignored in the cause of what is wrongly called a literal reading of the Bible. But the New Testament reads the Old Testament Christologically (; ): OT prophecy is about Jesus.
#3 Legalism. A selective reading of laws in the Bible so that some apply rigidly today, and others are ignored. We rail about keeping the Sabbath, but eat prawns. The relationship of law and grace, gospel and works is misunderstood.
#4 Subjectivism. My reading of a passage is right because I felt a peace from God, or just felt that it was right. Or I declare my wrong reading to be a leading from the Holy Spirit. It may be that I assign Greek and Hebrew words a meaning that they do not actually have. We may read into the text what is not there, rather than working out what it is actually saying. For example, the “peace of God which surpasses all understanding” () is wrongly thought to be about an inner feeling.
#5 Pluralism. This is an assertion that the Bible has many interpretations. While it is true that there may be many applications of a passage, this is not what is meant. Different highly acclaimed Evangelicals read a passage in different ways: therefore there must be many different possible interpretations. The authority of Scripture is undermined.
#6 Pragmatism. It feels good, so it must be right. There are more people at church, so what we are doing must be right. We interpret events, or what we do at church, not according to the Bible, but according to “what works”.
Can you add to the list?
Graeme Goldsworthy’s solution? Keep asking questions of the Bible passage we are reading, every time, even if it seems tiresome. What does this passage actually say? How does the gospel shape our understanding of this passage or church practice? Are we reading the Bible correctly?
25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.