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Reformed Hermeneutics: How We Read Scripture

The things covered in this series thus far have been plain from Scripture with little need for advanced hermeneutics. But God’s Word is not always an easy thing to understand. There is a reason why we are commanded to study and meditate on it. Many things, especially those things which are necessary for salvation, are clear. Not all things, however, are quite so clear. God does not hand us all doctrine on our first reading; He expects us to read Scripture many times and to think about it long and hard. He also expects us to read Scripture in the context of the church and to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.

The questions still arise, though. How are we to deal with difficult passages in Scripture? What rules must guide our approach? When Jesus says He is a door (John 10:7), how do we know whether or not we should take him literally? What should we do with the book of Revelation when it starts reading like a Pokemon novel? Jesus as an entryway and locusts with scorpion-tales and lion’s teeth sound a bit absurd. But then, doesn’t a man being eaten by a great fish and a disembodied hand writing in code on a wall seem a bit far-fetched as well? People who start reading in the prophets usually go cross-eyed within the first dozen chapters and those souls brave enough to dare reading Revelation typically let out a cry of exasperation about half way into chapter 5. What are we to do with all this weird stuff?

Beyond the language and imagery that Scripture uses, we also have the problem that man’s heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. We are eternally prone to use Scripture not to understand God and His will, but to justify our sin and promote our own cause. Scripture says this and history illustrates it (2 Peter 3:16). How are we to find a stable place to stand as we study the Scriptures when even our or own reason is called into question?

The Analogy of Faith

We know that Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). The men who wrote it were moved by the Holy Spirit to say those things which God wanted said (2 Peter 1:21). We also know that God does not lie (Hebrews 6:18). The only stable place to stand when interpreting Scripture, then, is Scripture. This is why the Westminster Confession of Faith states:

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

Westminster Confession of Faith 1.4

This is referred to commonly as the analogy of faith. When Jesus came to earth, He needed to correct their understanding of Scripture severely. This illustrates the analogy of faith. It was the Spirit of Christ which gave Revelation to man (1 Peter 1:11) and when He came in the flesh, He corrected His contemporaries’ understanding of His own writings. It is always best to be corrected by the author Himself; to do that now we turn elsewhere in Scripture.

This allows us to form doctrines which are more complicated than can be stated in 1–2 verses. There is no single verse or passage which tells us of the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet we are told in some places that the Father is God, in others that Jesus is God, in others still that the Holy Spirit is God; all the while, we are told time and time again that there is but one God. No individual passage would reveal this to us, but when we read all of Scripture together, it becomes clear through good and necessary consequences that God is three Persons in one God.

A Christian’s standard is not to be “what he feels to be a consistent application of the literal principle of interpretation of Scripture,” (Ryrie, Dispensationalism p.116). Rather, we are bound to say about Scripture precisely what Scripture says about Scripture. When we’re reading Genesis 12, we don’t need to restrict ourselves to reading Genesis 12. We are encouraged to humbly approach Paul’s writings about our passage and ask what he has to say about Abraham. When we’re reading about locusts in Revelation, we’re encouraged to read the rest of Scripture to learn what they refer to there. This divine commentary sheds tremendous light on Scripture.

The things you read about in upcoming posts, like the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, are not explicitly spoken of in Scripture. But if Scripture teaches us what a duck is, it expects us to be able to identify as ducks things of identical appearance and quackery—even if it doesn’t label them for us. I’ll be making arguments for these metaphorical ducks that come from several places in Scripture, not just one.

I’ll ask you to bear with me as we move forward. Please understand that the analogy of faith is the method by which we arrive at many important truths (like the trinity). Before you call “foul” about me calling an unnamed fowl a duck (or an unnamed agreement a covenant), please give the doctrine a chance and see how it holds up against all of Scripture.

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This article was posted on 09/26/2014 . It relates to these topics:
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