One of the things that we should learn to do when reading the Scriptures is not to impose conditions on interpretations which we would not even impose in our daily conversations today. Language, at the crux of it, does not change as much as we think it does. This is not meaning to say that languages do not change in vocabulary usage, but refers to the structure and styles employed.
Take Romans 11:26a; may believe that this is a reference to the fact that all of Israel (those who are of Israel descent) will be saved. But to be dogmatically literal, without taking into factor the context of the passage and the letter is just willful ignorance. Why should we take it ‘literal’ (as though the word literal is a magic formula or a dogma of itself) when it is clear that in Paul’s other letters we do not do so; case in point Ephesians 3:6 in reference to ‘the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body…’?
Is interpretation a matter of taking a literal approach and running away with it, thinking that it is the de facto mode approved by God? That is merely an exageration of “historical-grammatical” rule of interpretation, which by itself is more of a guideline rather than a rule. It cannot be the ‘control’ of interpretation, although many may see it as that. But look harder and two controls can reasonably help in the matter of interpretation; context being the most important and biblical theology being the other. The former being the immediate, and the latter being the over-arching control of the entirety message of the Bible.
Another; Romans 11:25b, ‘a partial hardening has come upon Israel’. It is easy to take it as ‘the entire Israel (Jews) were partially (not fully) blinded (hardened)’. But this just ignores the context of God’s work of blinding (hardening; interchangeable usage) Israel. Look at Romans 11:7, and it shows that the elect was not blinded (hardened), while the rest were blinded (hardened). In other words, partial refers not to the ‘extend of hardening’ caused in verse 25b, but to the categorical/quantity of those being hardened. A better rendering is thus ‘part of Israel’. The control again is not dead ‘literalistic reading’, but having the context draw out the actual meaning. And of course this is not only the only context to appeal to, the whole of chapter 10-11 gives us the broad drive of Paul; a warning to the Jews of their complacency and what has occured by the Will of God, and the warning to the Gentiles of the similar complacency that will fall on them. All in all, the elect will be drawn out from both, as it is God’s own Sovereign choice for salvation (biblical theology control coming into place).
What does this mean to me about interpretation? Well, for one: more work and more responsibility in ensuring it is done properly. Two: a deeper sense of appreciation on how God so enables his verbal plenary mode of inspiration on His Word and how to give it magnificence not only in a narrow sense, but broad sense too. Three: how the first perspicuity of Scripture becomes realistic and practical to God’s people – how uneducated persons are able to understand much of Scripture without necessarily knowing or accepting ‘rules of interpretation’ that are just that dogmatic. Four: how easy it is to fall into a ‘formulatic mode of thinking’ and use that as a cheating approach to the entirety of Scripture, when Scripture itself does not mandate it. In fact, the Word confounds those who take this line very easily, in whatever forms it may come in.
This post is more of a note to me, from our recent Bible Study in church. Excellent series. Want to hear more, head over to http://www.rbcm.net >> MP3 Sermons 2007 >> Bible Study – under “The Israel of God”. Highly recommended.