The Bible Cannot be Interpreted Like Any Other Book


The enlightenment mindset enthroned human reason and scientism as the objective adjudicator of truth claims. The enlightenment influence on biblical interpretation resulted in a need to eliminate, in principle, the supernatural authorship of God from biblical interpretative methodology. The key to objectivity in biblical interpretation was thought to be the process of getting behind the text rather than the text itself. The prior interpretive debates in the ancient church had primarily been about the proper method to discover Christ-centered divine intentionality in the Scripture not whether or not it should be sought.

In theologically liberal circles the result of enlightenment influence was the fragmentation of the Bible through historical-critical methodology. According to this interpretive approach, nothing is accepted authoritatively at face value; everything must be verified or corrected by rational re-examination of the evidence. Thus, the God of the Bible is judged at the bar of human reason. The human interpreter is the final judge of the authenticity of the biblical text and claims. The result is an errant, human Bible that contains contradictory theologies and possesses no theological unity of message and purpose.

In theologically conservative circles, post-enlightenment, the Bible was fragmented by the wooden use of grammatical-historical interpretive methodology. The approach tenaciously defended the infallibility of the Scripture and its supernatural claims while at the same time interpreting the biblical text with methods that did not account for divine authorship. A strict application of this approach contends that a text must be understood via the single intended meaning of the original human author and that theological observations should only be drawn from the text and from antecedent texts. In other words, the interpreter is to understand the text only by looking backwards and is to ignore in the pursuit of meaning where the text fits into the total unity of biblical revelation.

Adherents to an enlightenment-fueled, methodologically anti-supernaturalist understanding of biblical interpretation often assert, “The Bible is to be interpreted like any other book.” But a presupposition that eclipses the supernatural is the key to objectivity in biblical interpretation stands in direct opposition to the biblical witness.

Psa. 111:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”

Prov. 1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Prov. 4:7 “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”

Prov. 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

Luke 24:27 “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

1 Cor 10:11 “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”

Eph. 1:9-10 “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Col. 2:2-3 “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”

Supernatural divine authorship and presence are foundational for any hope of interpretive objectivity according to the biblical testimony. Christ is the interpretive key to the entirety of Scripture and life. The New Testament writers urge readers to reconsider the Old Testament in light of Jesus Christ (Rom 15:4, 1 Cor 10:1-12).

Contemporary interpreters can often be intimidated by the charge of subjectivity from liberal historical-critical scholars and from conservative single-authorial-intention advocates. The charge presumes the attainment of some sort of scientific precision in determining the historical situation and intention of the original author. This presumption is unwarranted. Apostolic sermons show no hesitation to interpret Scripture through Christ and his kingdom, and they give no warnings against the practice.

Once the light of Christ and his kingdom has illuminated the types and shadows of the Scripture, it would a denial of reality to obscure that light in a pursuit of an arbitrarily presupposed standard of hermeneutical purity. The faithful preacher must see Christ as the center of the Bible horizontally (typologically) and vertically (eschatologically). This does not mean that every text should be leveled out and treated a-historically, but one must understand that there is not one text of Scripture that is not illuminated by the kingdom of Christ.

A Christ-centered reading of the Bible does justice to the dual authorship of Scripture and liberates the preacher to proclaim the entire Bible, Older Testament and Newer Testament, as Christian Scripture. When God is recognized as the ultimate author of Scripture, more concentrated attention should be given to the unique contribution of the human authors, not less, because God’s revelation presents itself in history. Uncovering the distinctive testimony of the diverse range of human authors will illuminate canonical divine intention and the astounding organic unity of biblical revelation.

Faithful biblical interpretation demands trust in the God-breathed Scripture and repentance of supposed interpretive autonomy.


By |June 25th, 2014|Categories: Blog|Tags: , , |

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today