The History Of Bible Interpretation
Most of us have been taught to read and interpret the Bible in a certain way…and we also teach that our way is the only “right “way to read the Scriptures.
The prevailing method is something close to a literal exposition of the text, except where a literal take is obviously in error.
What if…there was more than one way to read the Bible…and people actually read it in other ways in other times?
I’m taking some classes from Dr. Pete Enns (Bible for Normal People) and this outline is his…I found it fascinating.
1.Second Temple Judaism
This is how the Jews interpreted their scripture…they believed the bible was relevant to their time, cryptic (you had to get below the surface meaning to find the real meaning) it was coherant and inspired by God.
2.New Testament Use of the Old Testament
Paul uses many of the same methods used by faithful Jews in writing and in his use of the Old Testament. He re-interpreted Old Testament texts looking for the cryptic meaning underneath what was written to make the text relevant to his time and circumstances. For example, Matt 2:15 is a re-interpretation of Hosea 11:1…
There were two primary schools of thought…depending on geography and your preferred or resident teacher, you either read it “literally” or allegorically…there is much allegorical interpretation in the writings of the early fathers.
This era brought us the concept of multiple meanings in Scripture.
Gregory the Great – 3-Fold Meaning
- Job’s 7 sons and 3 daughter…In an attempt to “read below the surface” Gregory said that seven are more than three, thus men held preeminence over women…you get some weird stuff beloew some surfaces…
Nicholas of Lyra – 4-Fold Meaning
- Literal/Historical Meaning: What does the text say in the plain sense?
- Allegorical/Christological Meaning: How do we better understand Jesus as a result?
- Moral Meaning: How do I live as a result?
- Anagogical Meaning: Where is all this heading? What’s the big picture?
The Reformation stopped all that noise with the insistence that there is only one meaning in Scripture and it was the interpreters job to tease it out of the text. This is where the concept of Sola Scriptura arose and the seeds of the various shades of inerrancy were planted. When Protestants couldn’t agree on what the one interpretation was, they started their own denominations…20-33,000 of them at this point…
Science led to a radical rethinking of creation stories and led to a period of “demystifying” the Bible…also a time when scholars were determined to separate church and state by stripping both of their power.
Something of a return to the medieval time, with a twist…”identity issues are introduced to exegesis as every group interprets the Bible through the lens of their community. Thus, you get feminist theology, queer theology etc…
This is obviously a greatly truncated summary of the history of interpretation, but you can see that what most of us hold to is some variation of what stated in the Reformation…and is a little over 500 years old.
I probably read and teach as Nicholas of Lystra did in this outline…
If you’re interested, you can buy the whole class here…