Book Notes: Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church

Michael Lawrence supplies a number of illuminating thoughts as he introduces the idea of exegesis in his book, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church.

Describing the role of the interpreter or biblical reader, Lawrence quotes Jerome saying,

The office of a commentator is to set forth not what he himself would prefer, but what his author says (41, Jerome’s letter “to Pammachius, 17).

Then discussing the task of exegesis, Lawrence cites John Owen,

There is no other sense in it than what is contained in the words whereof materially it doth consist . . . In the interpretation of the mind of anyone, it is necessary that the words he speaks or writes be rightly understood, and this we cannot do immediately unless we understand the language wherein he speaks . . . the [idiom] of that language, with the common use of and intention of its expressions (41, John Owen, Works, IV: 215, quoted in J. I. Packer, Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, 101)

Finally, Lawrence supplies his own helpful axioms that the parts of Scripture (words and phrases) must be related to the whole.

So the basic unit of meaning is not the word, but the sentence.  And the unit that determines what sentences mean, and therefore the words in them, is the paragraph (42).

Interpretation actually begins with the whole, not the part. Then, in the context of the whole, we work backwards through the parts, back to sentences, back all the way down to individual words.  What we learn and discover there then takes us back to the whole with a more accurate and perhaps nuanced understanding of meaning (42).

Today, ponder these thoughts and put them into practice.  Much interpretive error stems from microscopic reading of Scripture and trying to interpret the Bible in light of our personal opinions and experiences.  Rightly, Lawrence’s observations, if taken to heart and applied, will help correct much improper Bible reading.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss