Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Some Benefits

*Posted by Everett Berry

During my doctoral studies, I remember an occasion where a student majoring in New Testament jovially teased me and a friend because he learned that we as majors in Systematic Theology were going to be his patrons in an upcoming seminar on Paul. He jokingly asked why we would bother taking the class when our concerns pertained to Theology rather than the Bible. As our interchange continued, its casual tone changed slightly when my friend retorted chidingly that You New Testament guys accuse theologians of making the Bible say things it doesnt say. But in reality you New Testament guys make the Bible say nothing at all. Now again this statement was made in the context of friendly banter. Yet it still highlighted an unfortunate mentality in many academic and seminary guilds that biblical and theological studies are mutually exclusive pursuits.

Initially one is compelled to ask why this is case. But laying aside all theories of derivation, my primary concern is that this polarity hurts the church first and foremost. It is for this reason that I hope the current dialogue between biblical scholars and theologians about the idea of TIS (Theological Interpretation of Scripture) can foster meaningful cooperation between the disciplines. I think there is hope for this because discussions about TIS were partially triggered because of the fragmentation caused by so many interpretive extremes in biblical-theological venues. Many began to realize that no matter the claims to the contrary, exegesis is always a theological endeavor. Indeed this is a good start. But what evangelicals must address in more detail is how Scripture can be interpreted holistically while maintaining sensitivity to its historical and literary diversity. Up to the present, many sources of engagement have been produced on TIS but the jury is still out on whether it can beyond theory to consistent praxis. Hopefully, it can offer at least two benefits.

One is that TIS could re-emphasize the unity of the Bible. This would be a tremendous contribution because some evangelicals are comfortable with downplaying the supernatural nature of Scripture as well as its canonical symmetry. Consequently, if this approach could be crafted in such a way that it undergirds the churchs commitment to the Bible as a collection of books that form one BOOK, then it can aid scholars and laity alike when it comes to being truly biblical in ones hermeneutic. The second benefit could be the building of bridges between exegesis, theological formulation, and confessional identity. Unfortunately today in many academic settings, it is deemed intellectually dishonest to interpret biblical texts in their original contexts and at the same time allow the confessional commitments of a given tradition to contribute to that process. Many follow the motto, What hath a creed to do with Scripture? Nevertheless, if evangelicals can utilize TIS in ways to bring theological cohesion and exegetical precision together in innovative ways which show continuity with past generations of interpreters, then the church can glean fresh insights into how to understand and live out Gods word.

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