Romans 7 Refers to a Man Under the Law, Not a Man Under Grace

Here are some thoughts on the identity of the “wretched man” of  Romans 7:14-ff. These verses refer to a man attempting to serve God under the law of Moses (Torah), not a man under grace and serving in the “way of the Spirit.” These are preliminary thoughts and I would appreciate any feedback that you may have for me.

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Principles of Interpretation Seminar

Principles of Interpretation Seminar

These are notes from a seminar given prior to the Great Commission Churches Pastor’s Conference, June 13, 2011. This seminar represents my own views and not necessarily those of Great Commission Churches.  — David Bovenmyer

In 2002, I took a course offered by BILD International entitled Interpreting the Word I: Principles and Procedures The following principles and the other writings on interpretation on this web site largely come from what I learned through this course.

This BILD course included two chapters summarizing principles of interpretation written by Walter C. Kaiser, currently President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Old Testament and Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, MA.  These two chapters are Legitimate Hermeneutic from the book Inerrancy, Norman L. Geisler (editor), Zondervan, 1980, and The Single Intent of Scripture from the book Evangelical Roots, a Tribute to Wilbur Smith, Kennith S. Kantzer (Editor), Thomas Nelson (June 1978).  Most of the quotations in this seminar are from these two chapters.

Today, there is little consensus on interpretation

“Much of the current debate over the Scriptures among believing Christians is, at its core, a result of failure on the part of evangelicals to come to terms with the issue of hermeneutics…while many evangelicals may find a large amount of agreement on the doctrines of revelation, inspiration, and even canonicity, something close to a Babel of voices is heard on methods of interpreting the Scriptures.”  — Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Definition of interpretation

No definition of interpretation can be more fundamental than this: To interpret we must in every case reproduce the sense the Scriptural writer intended for his own words.

“Yet today in our ‘All knowledge is relative’ culture, a return to the author’s own meanings is considered both unnecessary and wrong. Instead, meaning has often become a personal, subjective, and changing thing.  ‘What speaks to me,’ ‘what God impressed on my heart,’ ‘what I get out of the text’ are the significant concerns, not what an author intended by his use of words.” — Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

1) The Bible is to be interpreted in the same way and by the same rules as other Books.

“God has deliberately decided to accommodate mankind by disclosing Himself in our language and according to the mode to which we are accustomed in other literary productions.   While the content is vastly different, the medium of language is identical.” — Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

2) The principles of interpretation are as native and universal to man as is speech itself.

Rules of interpretation are only formal clarifications of what we do all the time when speaking or listening to one another.

“If birth and providence had so favored us that we were part of the culture and language when one or another of the prophets or apostles spoke, we could dispense with all background and language study.  We would understand these areas as immediately as we now understand speakers and writers in our own day.” — Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

The difference between the Bible an other books is not about the manner that we interpret it, but the matter that is within it.

3) My personal reception and application of an author’s words is a distinct and secondary act from the need first to understand the meaning of his words.

Significance follows meaning.

Meaning refers to the ideas, concepts, and truths that the author intended to communicate by his particular use of words.

Significance describes a relationship between that meaning and a person, a conception or a situation.

Before I try to discover the significance of a passage to me, I must first discover the author’s meaning that he was seeking to convey to his original audience.

Challenges to authorial meaning as the goal of interpretation:

1) The author wrote for future generations, not just for a particular time and place.

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. ” (1 Corinthians 10:11, ESV)

God intended scripture to be used beyond the generation to which it was written.  However, although it was written for later generations, it was written to the generation to whom the human author was communicating.  Had it been written too our generation, it would have been written in English or another modern language.

2) God is the One who speaks in the Bible and not men. Men were mere receptacles of what God wanted to say. Therefore different interpretive rules apply.

“What God spoke, He spoke in human, not heavenly language!  Moreover, He spoke through the vocabularies, idioms, circumstances, and personalities of each of the chosen writers.” — Walter C. Kaiser

3) Since a person must be spiritually enlightened to understand the Bible, this calls for a different set of rules of interpretation.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. ” (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV).

The argument is overstated. Paul does not say that the Spirit will give us additional meanings, he only says that we need his help to understand the author’s intended meaning and how to apply it.

It’s one thing to need the Spirit’s help to understand an author’s meaning.  It’s another thing to assume that the Spirit will give us additional meanings beyond the author’s intentions

4) The prophets confessed that they themselves sometimes did not understand the words they wrote. Therefore the goal of finding the author’s intended meaning is not achievable.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. ” (1 Peter 1:10–11, ESV)

Nothing in the verse indicates that they were confused about what had been revealed.  Rather, they were inquiring about what had not yet been revealed.

Sometimes God or an angel spoke directly to a prophet, who merely wrote down God’s words.  In this case, God alone was the author.  Yet, since God spoke to the prophets using their own rules of communication, we should assume that they understood what God was saying.  Their inquiry was not about what God had said, but about what He hadn’t said or about how what He said fit together in time or place or person.

Whether God or the inspired human is considered the author would not seem to make any difference, unless we assume that God has a hidden meaning behind the clear meaning, which He did not.

5) Because some prophecies have a dual fulfillment, those prophecies must have a duel meaning.

The dual or multiple fulfillment of some prophecies should not be understood as a dual meaning to the prophecy, but as a multiple fulfillment of the one meaning in two or more events.

A better term than “multiple fulfillment” might be “generic prophecy.”  The prophecy had one meaning, but that meaning was broad enough that the one meaning was fulfilled in multiple events.

6) New Testament writers, under inspiration of God, re-interpret Old Testament passages, showing that they had a hidden meaning.

“Some modern evangelical scholars affirm, on shaky hermeneutical grounds, that the rather free new Testament quotation of the Old Testament sets for us a precedent that allows for a ‘fuller sense’…of the Old Testament text than what the original Old Testament human authors intended or understood.” — Walter C. Kaiser Jr.

New Testament quotations of Old Testament verses often stress an application of an Old Testament passage, rather than strictly referring to the Old Testament author’s intended meaning.  Therefore, New Testament quotations can not always to be used as a model of how to interpret scripture.  They were sometimes applying the scripture, not interpreting it.

“We certainly recognize that a passage may have a fuller significance than what was realized by the writer…But the whole revelation of God as revelation hangs in jeopardy if we, an apostle, or an angel from heaven try to add to, delete, rearrange, or reassign the sense or meaning that a prophet himself received.  In so doing, the friends of Scripture imperil the Scriptures as much as do her enemies.” — Walter C. Kaiser Jr.

More Principles of Interpetation

1) God’s revelation has been progressively revealed throughout history.  Yet later revelation never contradicts previous revelation or makes it defective, inferior, unimportant, morally primitive, or inaccurate

2) Antecedent theology­–-When interpreting a passage, we may appeal to previous theology that has already been revealed that the reader and author share knowledge of, but we should not appeal to later revelation that was unknown to the reader or author.

“Only the doctrine and the theology prior to the time of the writer’s composition of his revelation…may be legitimately used in the task of theological exegesis.” —Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

“The “analogy of Scripture” then was the ‘pre-understanding’ of both the writer and of those in his audience who were alert to what God had revealed prior to this new word of revelation. — Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

3) As much as possible, we must seek to understand the assumptions, cultural norms, and world view of the Biblical author and his audience and interpret his words in light of what he believed




Natural Theology

Liberation Theology

The Importance of Accuracy in Interpreting the Word

The spiritual battle that Christians are engaged in is essentially a battle with deception.  Our enemy is a liar and the father of lies.  His great strategy is to deceive us, as he did Eve and lead our minds astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).  The weapons of our battle are weapons that battle deception.  All the pieces of the Christian armor mentioned in Ephesians chapter six relate to understanding, believing, or holding to the truth.  Victory in this battle begins with understanding the truth of God, and this can only happen as we properly interpret and understand God’s word.  Indeed the devil’s most subtle and often most effective strategy is to deceive us through the use of God’s own Word, as he attempted to do when he tempted the Lord Jesus,  boldly quoting the scripture, “It is written” (Matthew 4:6).

The apostle Paul, in his exhortations to Timothy, his fellow apostle, stressed the importance of applying diligence to rightly interpreting the Word and holding to the truth accurately.  Some of his exhortations can be summarized as follows:

Timothy was to train himself for godliness, which, in context, includes avoiding godless myths and old wives’ tales and embracing good teaching.  This would imply that part of his training was to rigorously study the Word.  Paul states that this training in godliness is superior to physical training, since it can yield fruit not only in the present age, but in the one to come.

Timothy was to watch his life and doctrine closely it, resulting in his own salvation and in the salvation of those who heard him.  Most likely, Paul had in mind a broader concept of salvation than only eternal salvation from God’s wrath, but salvation from all sorts of problems and enemies in this life as well.

Paul told Timothy to “command” and “teach,” the truths of God.  Yet how could he do so with this kind of conviction and strength unless he thoroughly understood them and was convinced they were true.  This implies a need for diligent study.

Paul strongly and repeatedly exhorted Timothy to “be diligent in these matters; to give himself “wholly to them, so that everyone can see your progress” and to “persevere in them.”  (1Timothy 4:15-16).  In context, the matters Paul is referring to are understanding and teaching the Word accurately.

In a later letter, he again exhorted Timothy to do his best to accurately handle the Word, stating that a minister who incorrectly handles the Word has reason to be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15).

He warns that those who indulge in godless chatter (including false doctrine) will become more and more ungodly and their destructive teaching will spread like gangrene.  They will destroy some people’s faith.  They must be opposed and gently corrected.  (2 Timothy 2:14-26).

He tells Timothy that in order for a person to become an instrument useful for noble purposes and useful to our master and prepared for every good work he must cleanse himself from several things.  One of these things is incorrect doctrine (2 Timothy 2:18-21).

Paul warned Timothy that the time will come when men will not endure sound teaching.  Instead they will accumulate teachers that will tell them what they want to hear.  They will turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside to myths.  We must strongly exhort those we lead in correct teaching, implying that we must thoroughly be grounded in it.

These exhortations show the importance for the minister of the gospel to be diligent in study and proper interpretation of the scripture.

Foundational Guidelines for Interpretation

  1. The goal of interpretation is to understand the meaning of the passage as the author intended it to be understood by the audience he was writing to.
  2. The Bible is to be interpreted by the same rules as other books and other communication.  God has communicated to us in human language and in a manner that is identical to the way we communicate with one another.
  3. The significance and application of a passage to me is a distinct and secondary action that should occur only after I have understood the author’s intended meaning to his original audience.
  4. The words of scripture do not have a secondary, allegorical meaning in addition to or underneath their natural meaning.  Many of the words of scripture are figurative, just as in all other communication.  But they must be understood as figurative only when the context requires it.  And in this case, the figurative meaning is the natural meaning.
  5. The author’s intended meaning must be ascertained from the words of the text in their context, including whatever knowledge we possess of the historical and theological context.  We must draw the meaning from the passage, and not impose our own ideas or agenda based on prior assumptions.
  6. The textual context in which a phrase is used is the primary factor in determining its intended meaning. A word’s or a phrase’s entomology (history) or its meaning in other passages or other literature can assist in understanding its use in the passage in question, but the word’s or phrase’s context is always the controlling factor in determining its meaning in that passage.
  7. In defense of the goal of finding the author’s meaning, the scripture nowhere supports the idea that Biblical authors did not know the meaning of what they were communicating.  Prophets did not know many of the specifics about the subject they were prophesying about, such as when they would occur or who, specifically, they were speaking about.  Yet they did understand the specifics of their predictions.  They understood what God was revealing through them, yet had questions and made inquiry about what had not yet been revealed.  Biblical authors at times did not understand the words of an angel or the significance of a vision, yet they always understood the meaning of their own statements.  Thus, it is always possible to seek the author’s intended meaning.
  8. There are many difficulties in understanding scripture that require diligent study. Peter shared Paul’s culture and language, yet he stated that Paul wrote some things that were difficult and hard to understand.  Today, the difficulty of understanding the scripture is further exacerbated by the fact that we are removed from the original languages and from the culture and times in which the biblical authors wrote.  So, we should not be surprised or alarmed if we are unable to determine with certainty the meaning of a passage.
  9. God’s revelation has been progressively revealed throughout history.  Yet later revelation never contradicts previous revelation or makes it defective, inferior, unimportant, morally primitive, or inaccurate
  10. Antecedent theology­–When interpreting a passage, we may appeal to preciously theology that has already been revealed that he reader and author share knowledge of, but we should not appeal to later revelation that was unknown to the reader or author.
  11. New Testament quotations of Old Testament verses often stress an application of an Old Testament passage, rather than strictly referring to the Old Testament author’s intended meaning.  Therefore, New Testament quotations are not to be used as a model of how to interpret scripture.
  12. The dual or multiple fulfillment of some prophecies should not be understood as a dual meaning to the prophecy, but as a multiple fulfillment of the one meaning in two or more events.
  13. Since scripture is inspired by God, the biblical authors were not constrained by their limited knowledge of cosmology, natural history, or the sciences.  We should expect their statements to accurately describe reality.
  14. Direct divine commands to specific individuals in specific situations should not be taken as normative for all believers in all ages.  They will have significance for all believers in all ages, yet are not intended to be strictly obeyed in all ages.  Guidelines for application of commands that include cultural elements are

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Guidelines for Interpreting Literary Forms

 The Epistles:

1) Recognize the customary letter form: 1) name of writer, 2) name of recipient, 3) greeting, 4) prayer or thanksgiving, 5) body 6) final greeting and farewell.
2) The epistles are occasional in nature, so it is essential to try to understand the historical situation that was being addressed.  A good procedure might be

  1. Consult a Bible dictionary to learn about the church that is written to and it’s particular surroundings
  2. Several times, read the whole letter in one sitting;
  3.  Ask questions about who were the recipients and their circumstances, the author and his circumstances and attitudes;
  4. List any key themes or key phrases that are often repeated.

3) A working outline is very helpful in understanding the flow of the author’s thought. Continue reading

Procedures for Understanding and Interpreting a Biblical Text

Begin by asking God for wisdom.

  1. Ask for God’s understanding of the book.
  2. Ask God to reveal any cultural or theological biases I may have.
  3. Read the book and identify portions that may be threatening to my current theology or lifestyle.  Ask God for grace to receive anything these passages may be saying in contradiction to my beliefs or life.
  4. Review “A Foundational Guide to Interpreting the Word” to be reminded of general principles.

Summarize the message of the book.

  1. This summary should answer the following questions:
    1. What is the author talking about; what is his subject?
    2. What is he saying about the subject; what judgments does he make about the subject?
  2. Read the book several times with the above questions in view.
  3. Seek to discover the circumstances surrounding the writings of the book, including whom the book was written to, who the author was, and what was happening in their world.  Look for this information in the book itself as well as through study aids, such as Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias.
  4. Make a tentative division of the book into its sections and briefly summarize each section to see how it contributes to the book’s message.
  5. Determine the literary style of the book and review the paper “Guidelines for interpreting literary forms” to see which, if any guidelines relate to determining the subject.
  6. Ask these questions to help find the subject.
    1. Does the author clearly state his subject and purpose?
    2. Is there an organizing or unifying topic to which everything else relates?
    3. Is there a topic of prominence that other topics are subordinate to?
    4. Are there terms or synonyms that are repeated throughout the book that could give clues to the subject

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History of Interpretation

This is Dave Bovenmyer’s summary of Chapter two of Hermeneutics, Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, by Henry A. Virkler

Ancient Jewish Interpretation

Peshat – Literal interpretation.  This may have been assumed by everyone and therefore not stressed.

Midrashic – tended to find hidden meanings from incidental grammatical details and contrived numerical speculations and often lost sight of the actual meaning of the text Continue reading