Where is the Interpreter to Learn Proper Hermeneutics? Part 2

  • proper hermeneutics

1 Peter 1:10-12 is another pivotal text in this discussion of proper hermeneutics:

 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

In this passage, Peter speaks of “the prophets” as representative of the Old Testament prophetic writers (Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37 of The New American Commentary, 72-73). Two things are clear in the text: first, it was “the Spirit of Christ” (1 Pet 1:11) who spoke through the Old Testament prophets; and second, they understood that they were writing for a future people to whom the Messiah, about whom they wrote, would come.

Though they knew about the Messiah and “made careful searches and inquiries” in the Scriptures to know more, there were clear limitations in their understanding. These limitations have been removed for us in light of “these things which have now been announced” through the gospel of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:12). The message of the Old Testament prophets was always intended to have fuller meaning and be of greater benefit to later generations via progressive revelation. Edmund Clowney observes, “The least disciple of Christ is in a better position to understand Old Testament revelation than the greatest prophet before Christ came” (The Message of 1 Peter, 59-60).

This text not only permits the interpreter to exegete Old Testament texts in light of later New Testament revelation, it demands that the interpreter do so. Such a demand is necessary because there is not always a confluence between the intention of the human and divine authors. Walter C. Kaiser’s analogy of antecedent Scripture ignores, in method, the divine authorship of the Bible. While guarding against anachronistic interpretations, the uniqueness and supernatural unity of biblical revelation demands that all of the parts be read in light of the whole for a full and adequate determination of meaning.

Robert H. Stein boldly asserts,

No book of the Bible claims God as its immediate author! Christians, of course, believe that behind the books of the Bible stands the living God, who has inspired his servants in the writing of these works. But the Scriptures were written by men, not God (A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules, 28).

Stein’s remark minimizes the uniqueness of divine revelation. Certainly the Bible claims for divine inspiration more than Ron Julian, J. A. Crabtree, and David Crabtree suggest: “In other words, God authored the lives of each of the biblical writers, who in turn authored books that were the direct result of the shape of their lives” (The Language of God: A Commonsense Approach to Understanding and Applying the Bible, 60).

The Bible teaches that its books were written by men and that God is the author. As Louis Gaussen declares,

Meanwhile, it is of consequence for us to say, and it is of consequence that it be understood, that this miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit had not the sacred writers themselves for its object—for these were only his instruments, and were soon to pass away; but that its objects were the holy books themselves, which were destined to reveal from age to age, to the church, the counsels of God, and which were never to pass away. . . . What they say, they tell us, is theopneustic: Their book is from God. . . .

[It] is always the inspiration of the book that is presented to us as an object of faith, never the inward state of him that writes it” (God-Breathed: The Divine Inspiration of the Bible, 39, 112).

It is also necessary to exegete Old Testament texts in light of later revelation because the prophetic message was always forward-looking, which is to say that it has always been eschatological. Joel B. Green explains in reference to 1 Peter 1:10-12,

This does not mean that the words of the prophets were devoid of revelatory value before Christ; after all, God made known to them that their words were forward-looking (v. 12). It does mean, though, that their words lacked the clarity provided then when set alongside the career of Christ” (1 Peter, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary, ed. Joel B. Green and Max Turner, 31).

The Scripture possesses a broader canonical context by which the preacher is to understand the meaning and significance of any given text. David Dockery has observed that the interpreter must see “the biblical text, rather than the author’s mind, as the place where meaning is concentrated” (Christian Scripture: An Evangelical Perspective on Inspiration, Authority and Interpretation, 161).

Thus, consulting later Scripture is imperative in order to interpret earlier Scripture. Consider the words of Kunjummen:

If Messianic prophecies are primarily intended for people living after the coming of Christ (as 1 Peter 1:12 indicates), then the prophecies must be interpreted in the light of the Cross. Thus, 1 Peter 1:10-12 legitimizes analogia fidei as a proper principle of interpretation. This would mean also that Christians of the first century and later are better able to discern the full implications (i.e., details which were planned, purposed and executed by God) which belong to the meaning of the message of the prophets (“The Single Intent of Scripture” 102).

The divorce of hermeneutics from preaching in the books being produced by homileticians on the one hand and biblical scholars on the other can serve to weaken both the pulpit and the seminary classroom. Poor or inadequate hermeneutics midwife poor and inadequate sermons, no matter how engaging their delivery, how entertaining their style, or how spectacular their reception. Charles H.H. Scobie is right when he asserts,  “In short, homiletics needs to focus more on hermeneutics, and hermeneutics needs to focus more on homiletics. More lines of communication need to be opened up and dialogue encouraged” (“Biblical Theology and Preaching,” in Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Craig Bartholomew et al., 465).

The apostles were convinced that every part of the Bible was to be received as the word of God and that the canonical Scripture as a whole possesses a harmonious Christ-centered unity of message. Martin Luther rebuked those who viewed the older testament as inferior to the new and disassociated its message from Christ as though its message was simply for a bygone era. He wrote, “Here you will find the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies. . . . Simple and lowly and these swaddling cloth, but dear is the treasure, Christ, who lies in them” (“Preface to the Old Testament, in Luther’s Works, vol. 35, 235-236). The method of interpretation we find the apostles employing is the one Jesus taught when he said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).


By |December 10th, 2014|Categories: Blog|Tags: |

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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


  1. Rich Barcellos December 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    “the interpreter must see “the biblical text, rather than the author’s mind, as the place where meaning is concentrated” amen!

  2. David E. Prince December 11, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Thanks Rich!

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