- Religion and Philosophy
“The E2’s of Scriptural Interpretation”
How to Study the Bible
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (Apostle Paul, 2Timothy 2:15)
We may do well to ask, and answer, the question: What is E2? E2 is our chosen symbol for Expositional Exegesis, as this concept applies to Exegetical Ecclesiology, and Exegetical Eschatology. Thus the title of this letter: “The E2’s of Scriptural Interpretation.” Both ecclesiology (the study of the Church) and eschatology (the study of last things) are necessary disciplines for understanding the Mystery of God (Revelation 10:7). To apply oneself to either discipline, and study it for all it is worth, certain laws of interpretation must be followed for proper Expositional Exegesis.
The essentials of these laws are:
- The law of: Context.
- The law of: Witnesses.
- The law of: Addressee.
- The law of: First Mention.
- The law of: Apostolic Example.
- The law of: Didactic Interprets Narrative.
- The law of: Clear Passages Interprets Unclear Passages.
While all of these are employed in the art and science of exegesis (the explanation or critical interpretation of a text), by far, of the seven laws just enumerated, the most important is the first: The Law of Context.
To approach any given passage exegetically is to take the text in its context and perform an exegesis (a close examination of each statement: phrase by phrase, word by word), keeping within the context of its setting. We must always remember that, “a text without context is a pretext” (pretext: a purpose stated or assumed to cloak the real intention or state of affairs). Truth may be discovered only within the context of any given passage. Error will always take a text where the author never intended. Take this next statement and brand it in your hearts: Truth has boundaries, error has none.
In applying E2 to the study of the Church (Exegetical Ecclesiology) or to the study of the end-time (Exegetical Eschatology) it is local context that is the most important; that is to say; the verses above and below the text being considered.
EXAMPLE: An example of the importance of “local” context may be seen in Matthew 24:36-42, were the subject is eschatology (the end-time). Jesus speaks about his coming (verse 37) in this way: “Two shall be in the field, one will be taken and one left (verse 40); two grinding at the mill one will be taken and one left (verse 41). Now, most of us have heard this preached in this manner: The one taken, is taken in the rapture of the Church. But, such an understanding does violence to the context of the passage. An expositional exegesis demands the consideration of the context. the context is found in verses 37 and 38 and 39. Notice that the coming of the Lord is set against the backdrop (within the context) of the “days of Noah.” The people of Noah’s day carried on their lives as usual until the very day judgment arrive (namely, the flood), and took the wicked away. Therefore, the context demands that: the one “taken” from the field, and the one “taken” from the mill are taken in judgment—not in the rapture! Those who teach otherwise take the text outside its context, in order to present their pretext.
The above example shows how the E2 paradigm is employed to extract the true meaning from a particular text.
Any topic (biblical are non-biblical) may be approached in one of two ways: exegetically or eisegetically. The difference between an exegesis and an eisegesis of a text may be simply explained in this way: An exegesis, as has already been stated, is a critical interpretation of a text—the approaching of a text with no preconceived notions, permitting the text to speak for itself; an eisegesis, on the other hand, is the opposite approach—eisegesis is taking a preconceived idea and approaching the text to prove, or find, evidence for that particular notion. An eisegesis type study makes it far too easy to read an idea into a text that it never intended. An exegetical approach to Scripture is the most honest and safest way of studying the Word of God.
While the “Law of Context” is indispensable in studying scripture, all laws of interpretation are important and must be applied where applicable. A true exegetical paradigm will employ the following laws:
- The Law of Context: This law must never be violated. It includes local, universal, historical, and cultural context.
- The Law of Witnesses. This law is established in Deuteronomy 19:15; it requires two or three witnesses to establish any matter in any legally binding sense. The law is applied by both Jesus and His disciples in the following records: Matthew 18:16 and 2 Corinthians 13:1 respectively. Unless Scripture gives more than one witness to a subject, the ground is too unstable to support any dogma. A negative example may be found in Paul’s statement concerning baptizing for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29). The Bible says no more about it; therefore, too much uncertainty exists as to Paul’s meaning, to establish any doctrine on the passage.
- The Law off Addressee. The person or persons to whom the passages is written, or spoken to, must be considered in order to ascertain the correct interpretation and application. An example is Jesus’ command in Matthew 19:20 to: “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor; and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me:” Is this command universal in scope? Or is it intended for a limited audience (crowd specific)? The “Law of Addressee” would answer the question.
- The Law of First Mention. From time to time one will come across a metaphor (a figure of speech in which a word for one idea, or thing, is used in place of another, to suggest the likeness between them [as in “the the ship plowed the...”]) whose application is difficult to understand. The “Law of First Mention” requires a student to go back through the Bible tracking the use of the word or phrase until arriving at its initiation into Scripture. The manner of its use at its first mention is to be the primary consideration for its meaning throughout Scripture—unless the context of a particular passage demands an alternative understanding. (This “law” does not apply only to metaphors, but to any subject of doubtful meaning.) An example of this law is the term “the right hand of God;” as found in such passages which state Jesus to be at God’s right hand. (Some of these passages are: The Acts of the Apostles 7:55; Hebrews 1:3; 1:13; 10:12; 12:2; etc.) Since God is a Spirit (John 4:24), and as such is omnipresent, and as such has no particular right-hand, it is seen to be impossible to be at, on, or even near, God’s “right-hand,” in any literal sense. So the meaning is figurative. But we would ask at this point, “Figurative for what?” When following the term antecedently, one arrives at Exodus 15:6 where the “right hand of God” is a metaphor for God’s strength. Thus, throughout holy Scripture the phrase “right-hand” (when applied to God) never means a literal position, but is a Hebrew-idiom for power and might.
- The Law of Apostolic Example. How did the apostles do? Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1; see 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9; 1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7; 1 Peter 5:3). The importance of this law is demonstrated in determining the correct formula for water baptism. Matthew records Jesus commanding the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19). When this command was executed by the apostles the formula was into the single name of Jesus (The Acts of the Apostles 2:38; 8:15; 10:48; 19:1-7). The apostolic example of executing the command of Matthew 28:19 shows how the words of Jesus are to be understood and obeyed.
- The Law of Didactic Interprets Narrative. Didactic (teaching) passages should always interpret narrative (story) passages which are on the same subject. The example of the benefit of this law is seen in understanding the stories of the infilling of the Holy Spirit, with speaking in tongues (see The Acts of the Apostles chapters 2, 8, 10, 19). First, one reads the narratives (stories) of the Holy Spirit’s infilling with the accompaniment of speaking in other tongues, or languages. Then, there are the passages that actually teach on the infilling of the Holy Spirit and on the phenomenon of speaking in other languages as the Spirit gives the utterance (see Mark 16:17; John 3:3-8; 1 Corinthian’s chapters 12 and 13, and 14; not the least of this group is chapter 2 and verse 4 of the Acts of the Apostles). The application of this law requires the teaching passages to take priority over the stories, and impose authority over them, by way of being the authoritative interpreter of the narrative.
- The Law of Clear Passages Interpret the Unclear. This law applies simple logic that says: If there are multiple passages on any given topic and the meaning of some of them is murky while others are clear—the shadowy texts are to be understood in the light of the ones well illuminated.
None of the above laws may be ignored in the application of the E2 model for the study of either the church, or last things. This letter may well assume a pivotal position in all of our studies, for it actually establishes the ground rules for interpreting holy Scripture.
Now to him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, the glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen.
☩ J L Hayes