10. Recapture a rigorous commitment to the critical role of the Holy Spirit in exegesis and hermeneutics.
As I stated in last week’s post, I spent 10 years in Seminary having Grammatico-Historical exegesis pounded into my head as the only legitimate way to interpret scripture. Not once in that ten year period do I ever recall any mention of the role of the Holy Spirit in Biblical Interpretation? Huh?!? What up with ‘dat? I was pretty much taught that exegesis is essentially like a scientific process, and if you follow the process (literary, social/historical setting) you will come out with the right answer (correct meaning, i.e. interpretation). If this were true, we would certainly not be facing the massive diversity of Biblical Interpretation would we (at least not among properly trained exegetes)? This is what Christian Smith calls “The problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism” the foundational argument in his critique of Biblicism. Anyone who has ever done a little comparative reading between a few Bible Commentaries on a given passage knows that, even among the best trained Bible Scholars there is nothing close to unity when it comes to Biblical Interpretation!
Bruce Waltke sees a decline in emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in modern hermeneutics. Specifically the drop off occurs in the doctrine of illumination. In contrast, the reformers maintained a balance between the scholarly and spiritual in their treatment of hermeneutics. To quote Calvin: “the Holy Spirit enlightens us to make us capable of understanding what would otherwise be incomprehensible to us.” Similar to his colleague, Gordon Fee, Waltke sees a tension set up between spiritual formation and exegetical competence in modern theological education (as I discussed previously in this series).
The other principal neglected in modern exegesis, according to Waltke is the spiritual qualification of the interpreter. The apostle Paul, in explaining the new life, speaks of being “renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Eph. 4:23 ESV, cf. Rom 12:2), so clearly there is something inherently corrupt in the unregenerate mind, especially when it comes to comprehending spiritual things. And unless we come to God’s word with a sincere heart to hear the truth, we may end up off track in our interpretation. But modern exegesis tends to rely solely on human reason. Humility is another key ingredient in exegesis, for “the truth of God can never coexist with human pride.”
Waltke goes so far as to describe Bible study as “more a devotional exercise undergirded by spiritual illumination than a scholarly procedure.” The true aim (or dare I say telos) of both exegesis and devotional reading of scripture ought to be knowledge of God and of ourselves. Indeed it is the divine author behind scripture that we want to know not so much the scripture itself (see last week’s post on Radical Biblicism and Bibliolatry).
Waltke offers a couple of suggestions that we should consider as, at least part of the solution to the identified unwarranted disconnect between exegesis and devotional reading of scripture: 1) that a “textbook on hermeneutics… should at a minimum include a chapter on how to read the Bible devotionally” and 2) theological institutions which claim to prepare men and/or women for ministry in the church of Jesus Christ should consider incorporating “the transformation of our spiritual lives through the Holy Spirit” into their curriculum and/or mission as Regent college does.
*This section was taken largely from my 2008 ETS Paper, Toward a Hermeneutic for Devotional Reading of Scripture: The S.O.A.P. Journaling Method as a Test Case in which I borrowed liberally from Waltke’s Crux articles “Hermeneutics and the Spiritual Life” & “Exegesis and the Spiritual Life.”
So what do you think? If we follow the right method, can we rightly interpret the Bible based on human intellect alone? Even if we could, would that matter? Would that truth still lead to transformation without the work of the Spirit in the life of the reader? Can an ungodly scholar whose life is filled with habitual, unrepentant sin still produce “good” exegesis? Does this point out a gaping hole in our current, typical mainstream method of Theological Education? Should there be a call for radical changes in the way we go about training our future leaders, Pastors, Teachers for the church in the next generation? What happens if we approach God’s word for “devotional” reading without humility? What is the role, or what should be the role, of the Holy Spirit in Biblical Interpretation?
Thanks for joining me on this ten-week journey toward (hopefully) reading the Bible better, more inline with God’s intent. So which was you favorite post in this series? Let me know in the comments below. Grace & Peace be with you my friends!
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