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Christian interpretive guidelines

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DavidC View Drop Down
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    Posted: 20 December 2006 at 3:39am
There has been a lot of interpretation of Christian Scripture here, so I thought I would post a common set of interpretive guidelines. These are Presbyterian, and they are pretty well accepted by most denominations.

Biblical interpretation is not tafsir. There is a tremendous emphasis in Christian exegesis on context and relating the text to the entire world of Christian teaching and the example of Christ.

I look forward to a discussion of the methodologies behind interpretation of Scripture in Islam and Christianity.

Guidelines Concerning What the Text Says - exegesis

A. The Use of Original Languages
The biblical text in Hebrew and Greek is to be used in theological work. Translations are to be tested by these original languages.

B. The Employment of the Best Manuscripts
The best text as determined by textual criticism is to be used as the basis for study and translations.

C. The Priority of the Plain Sense of the Text
Various ways of reading and construing Scripture (allegory, second or deeper or spiritual meanings, free association) have been and may be useful in the many roles that Scripture has in the church. However, when establishing what the text says for the purpose of doctrinal and ethical deliberations, the objective is to identify the plain sense.

1. The Definition of Literary Units
Words, expressions and sentences should not be read in isolation from the context of which they are an integral part Literary units are to be understood in terms of the relation they bear to the larger whole of the book in which they stand.
2. The Recognition of the Cultural Conditioning of Language
Language itself is a historical phenomenon The validity of implications drawn from what a text says and the appropriateness of using it for theological purposes depends upon the recognition of its historical character.
3. The Understanding of Social and Historical Circumstances
While a particular text may name a subject with which we are also concerned in the present, the assumption should not be immediately made that the contemporary subject is the same as that addressed in the biblical text or that the circumstances and conditions of the biblical writer and modern interpreter are similar The implications drawn from a text should not violate its purpose and character.

 Guidelines Concerning How the Text Is Rightly Used - theology

A. The Purpose of Holy Scripture
The purpose of Scripture has to do with questions about the ultimate origin, meaning, and goal of human life in relation to God Scripture is not authoritative for any and everything, in any and every question.

B. The Precedence of Holy Scripture
In matters of faith, life, and salvation, Scripture takes precedence over all other authorities. However, the precedence of Scripture does not call for the disregard of other authorities.

1. The Priority of Holy Scripture
The witness of Scripture on matters within its purpose is authoritative over all other knowledge, opinions, and theories. Since God is creator of all things, respect for the priority of Scripture does not exclude but requires respect for the subordinate, relative authority of such secular disciplines as the natural sciences, psychology, sociology, philosophy, economic and political research.
2. The Use of Knowledge
The way in which the biblical testimony should be used needs to be thought out in the light of contemporary claims, insights, and theories that bear on the question. Scripture as norm does not exhaust or limit what faith needs to know in seeking the most faithful course of obedience and confession.
3. The Use of Experience
The entire company of believers is both a resource and a participant in the process The church in its institutional life must not discount the experience of its members, but hear their questions and receive their insights as opportunities to read Scripture again in the continuing search for positions and patterns of contemporary faithfulness.

C. The Centrality of Jesus Christ
No understanding of what Scripture teaches us to believe and do can be correct that ignores or contradicts the central and primary revelation of God and God's will through Jesus Christ Any teaching of the Bible on a matter of faith or life is to be used in a manner consistent with scriptural accounts of Jesus' own teaching and embodiment of the person and will of God.

D. The Interpretation of Scripture by Scripture
The observance of this principle involves searching of the whole of Scripture for all texts bearing on the question under consideration and using particular texts or groups of texts in the light of the whole A special dimension of this guideline has to do with the interpretation of the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, as well as the interpretation of the New Testament in light of the Old Testament.

E. The Rule of Love
The fundamental expression of God's will is the two-fold commandment to love God and neighbor, and all interpretations are to be judged by the question whether they offer and support the love given and commanded by God Any interpretation of Scripture is wrong that separates or sets in opposition love for God and love for fellow human being.

F. The Rule of Faith
Scripture is to be interpreted in light of the past and present Christian community's understanding of Scripture The confessions understand full well that the church's traditional interpretation of Scripture is fallible and subject always to revision and correction. Nevertheless, they give it initial precedence over the interpretations of individuals, both because the understanding of the whole church over time is likely to be more adequate than the opinion of individual persons at one point in time and because Christ himself through the Holy Spirit has been at work in the church.

G. The Fallibility of All Interpretation
Every reading, confession, and theology that refers to Scripture is subject to testing by further and more faithful searching of the Scripture to see if it is genuinely in accord with the Bible's witness.

H. The Relation of Word and Spirit
After we have done the best we can with all the means at our disposal, we depend upon God's Spirit to enable us rightly to hear and believe and obey.

I. The Use of All Relevant Guidelines
No interpretation of Scripture based on a single one or several of the principles of interpretation we have mentioned is to be accepted without testing it also be all the others that may apply, or by still further principles of interpretation that may help us in the faithful, honest, and accurate use of Scripture.

Christian; M.Div. from a Wesleyan seminary.
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