Short-circuting Meaning by Interpreting Scripture with Scripture

I listened to a sermon this week (not at my home church so you won’t be able to figure out who it was) where I noticed something good being taken to an extreme and made useless.

Many will be familiar with the saying, “Scripture interprets Scripture.” In this sermon I listened to this principle was taken to an extreme, and in my opinion, ended up distorting Scripture. What happened was that this preacher was in a text and instead of starting from the local meaning, immediately jumped to other parts of Scripture that use some of those same words and used the other passage to interpret the first passage. He ended up with a meaning to the first text that struck me as oddly not close to what the text was saying in its own context. What was short-circuted was the local meaning of the first text.

So where does “Scripture interpreting Scripture” come in to play? After all, if we believe there is ultimately one Author behind the whole Bible, as I believe there is, then this must be true at some level. I believe it comes into play after the local meaning of the text has been worked out. Only then is it easier to see whether the other texts being used to interpret the first are even getting on about the same thing.

Better, “Scripture interpreting Scripture” should work on a biblical theological plane instead of a strict exegetical plane. That is, I don’t believe we can exegete a text simply by noting the meaning of a text elsewhere that also uses some similar words or something [a more robust lexical analysis is appropriate but that is beyond the scope of this post]. Rather, once we have worked on the meanings of each text in their context then we can talk about how to integrate them on a higher plane, that being, a biblical theological plane. I.e., how do these texts fit into the larger storyline of the Bible?

And, in the end, we may find that we have to adjust our exegesis of individual texts based on our biblical theological reading, but that is acceptable. There isn’t a perfectly linear line from exegesis to biblical theology to systematic theology. There are feedback loops. Our systematics will affect our exegesis as will our biblical theology affect our exegesis, etc. But by trying to integrate too quickly at a local level we lose the opportunity to understand how the local level affects the other levels.


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