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7 Principles underlying fruitful theological use of Bible

6 October 2010

Walter Kaiser Jr in his book on Hermeneutics summarized 7 key principles that underlies a fruitful theological use of the Bible:

1. Chair Passages must carry the main burden of doctrinal teaching. Chair passages are those that contain the largest amount of material in one place on a particular doctrine. For example Gen 1-2 (creation); 1 Cor 15 (resurrection); Isa 53 (nature of the atonement); Phil 2:1-11 (nature of Incarnation).

2. Exegesis is prior to any system of theology. We should make our systems fit the Bible, not the Bible our systems. When the propensity to form a theology turns to extrabiblical sources (eg. existentialism), there is no end of trouble.

3. Doctrines must not go beyond Scriptural evidence. The temptation to say more than Scripture says is always a hazard.

4. The analogy of Scripture must take priority over the analogy of faith in exegesis. The use of biblical theology as an informing theology from the analogy of antecedent (earlier) Scripture can be helpful in illuminating later passages. Later Scripture that provides teaching on the same topic can likewise form a total analogy of faith.

5. Only what is directly taught or really implied in Scripture is binding on the conscience. In cases where the matters become more debatable, such as where cultural background is involved (eg. command to wash one another’s feet John 13:14), our interpretation must become more tentative.

6. No doctrine should be based on a single passage of Scripture, a parable, an allegory, a type, or uncertain textual reading.

7. Theological Interpretation must recognize responsibility to the church. The Holy Spirit did not begin to work only in modern times. Today we benefit from centuries of faithful accumulation of insights and understanding of the body of believers. One can be so beholden to what the church and former believers have learnt from Scripture that it is raised to the status of an authoritative tradition (or another scripture). But some others will cut off all previous insights and work as if all doctrinal knowledge began with them. Both extremes should be avoided.  The interpreting work must be done in the spirit of inviting other believers to inspect our work and evaluate it against Scripture. This need has to do with the inadequate nature of both the readers and the  interpreters of the Bible. The Reformers had a check and balance when they emphasized the priesthood of all believers as well as the appeal to the original languages of the Bible.  Where individual believer’s interpretation takes priority, chaos ensues. Where the appeal to original languages takes precedence, we would be at the mercy of scholars who consider themselves the final authority of what a text says.  Hence the need for the scholar and the layman to depend on each other.

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