Faithful Exegesis: A Mark of Humility

Colin Adams, at Unashamed Workman, posts a thought-provoking nugget this morning about the faithful exegesis and the example of John Calvin.  He writes:

There are many loose ends in Scripture. All too frequently in my preaching I feel gravely tempted to tie some of those ends together: or at least to make educated guesses regarding ‘unknowns’ beyond the text. I was interested, then, to read of John Calvin’s attitude to these “One might imagine….” comments:

“There were…necessary safeguards to [Calvin’s] reasoning process. In dealing with any biblical text, Calvin purposed not to exceed what Scripture itself taught. The Reformer was careful not to enter the realm of speculation. As Calvin said, ‘Where the Lord closes His holy mouth, let us also stop our minds from going any further.’ In other words, he would say no more than Scripture” (Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin, p 79).

With Colin, I have felt that angst, seeing in Scripture possible connections, plausible connections, even probable connections, but connections that lack explicit textual warrant.  This is part of the joy of biblical theology–seeing the intertextual types, patterns, and allusions employed in Scripture.  Nevertheless, making too many connections may become a theological and exegetical snare.

In fact, the temptation to say more than God says, takes us back to the Garden.  It pulls on our sinful longings to be like God (cf. Gen. 3:1-6).  So, I appreciate Colin’s reminder this morning that faithful exegesis is hard and humbling.  Hard because we are called to say what God says, and this is sometimes difficult to grasp; and humbling because it restricts us to say only what Scripture says, nothing more.  Overly speculative exegesis is not faithful exegesis.  In this instance, Proverbs 13:3 is sage advice:  “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.”

Deuteronomy 29:29 is another timely word: The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deut. 29:29).  God has given us his Word that we might know him; he has fully revealed himself in Jesus, the incarnate Word (cf. John 1:1-3, 14; Heb. 1:1-2:4).  But at the same time, God’s word is not like google.  There is a defined limit and we cannot simply search out whatever our vain curiosities desire.  By design, there is sixty-six book limit, and as such, we are humbled to wrestle with what God has said–not what he might have said, not what he could have said, not what he will say, not what he left out, but should have said.  God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, and for that we are eternally helped and gratefully humbled.

This week as we consider God’s word, may we speak the revealed things boldy, loudly, persistently, and may we with reverence and silence cover our mouths concerning the unspoken mysteries of God.  As Solomon tells us “there is a time to keep silent and a time to speak” (Ecc. 3:7)

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

2 thoughts on “Faithful Exegesis: A Mark of Humility

  1. Pingback: Submitting to the Bounds of Scripture – Wielding the Sword

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