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Parameters of Meaning – Rule 10: Never interpret the Bible via assumptions based on extra-biblical data (e.g. “science”, philosophy, history). These can help but they should never preempt Scripture.
This “parameter” is of course just a reiteration of the principle of the Sufficiency of Scripture, although the emphasis is upon the whole of Scripture’s content, not just that pertaining to the doctrines of our salvation.
The Bible is made up of all kinds of literature, some of it clearly defined, some of it less so. We are often told that each of these “genres” demand their own forms of hermeneutics, which is bolstered by studies in many non-biblical disciplines. I am not here talking about the work of men like Richard Burridge (What Are The Gospels?) and Craig Keener (Christobiography) on the Gospels as a special type of biography, but about ideas like the latest attempts to interpret the Bible through a Cosmic Temple motif, John Walton’s views on the ANE background of the Genesis creation story, the views of all and sundry about apocalyptic, and likewise those who interpret Bible books (esp. Revelation) in terms of intertestamental apocalyptic writings, or the philosophical hermeneutics which have caused so much confusion in the definition of the discipline in recent years.
One should not use the supposed findings of science to interpret Genesis 1-3. I respect a person’s right to be an old-earth creationist, but many of them fall foul of importing the conclusions of scientists into their understanding of Genesis 1-3, essentially using say Big Bang cosmology or distant starlight or radiometric dating to guide their hermeneutical approach to the chapters. R. C. Sproul quotes Bertrand Russell’s “proof” for the unreliability of Jesus’ as a prophet on Matthew 24:34, since “this generation” (i.e. J. S. Mill’s and Bertrand Russell’s belief that it was Jesus’ own generation) did not witness the things He predicted. This led Sproul to a Preterist view (The Last Days According to Jesus). But it’s not only covenant theologians who do this. Pop Dispensationalist Hal Lindsey’s interpreting the scorpions of Revelation 9 as helicopters (There’s A New World Coming).
Even in terms of what we know about the beliefs of people in the biblical period is impacted by this concern. For example, OT scholar Richard Hess has said that,
In terms of the future and the Messiah, Routledge views things from an amillennial context. Everything prophecied in the future was symbolized and fulfilled in Jesus. There is no future temple or time of peace before the new heavens and new earth. So when Ezekiel 40-48 describes this in detail, he was just condescending to people who could not otherwise understand except by making them think there was really going to be a temple and a repopulated Promised Land. Somehow Routledge doesn’t find this deceptive in the least, despite the fact that every example we have until after the New Testament was written believed in a literal fulfillment of a restored temple.” (Richard Hess’s review of R. Routledge’s OT Theology in Denver Journal, Volume 14, 2011; emphasis mine)
I have used this quote before, but here my focus is not to prove a point relating to Temple expectations per se, but to call attention to the fact that the Hess comment corroborates the plain-sense interpretation of passages such as Ezekiel 40-48. Being corroborative it ought never to be given the authority to be a decisive influence on the interpretation of a text. This is why the lauded Grammatical-Historical hermeneutic cannot be trotted out as a sort of “Band Aid” for “what to do” without knowing what one is doing. For instance, as John Sailhamer pointed out, G-H interpretation is really G (i.e. grammatical) interpretation, and that for the reason that how much one really knows from history is up for grabs.
The basic issue being addressed in this “parameter” is that God has infused the Bible with a self-sufficiency; no one needs to grab for external helps to interpret God’s Book. The principle boils down to a concerted belief in the Holy Scripture’s self-attestation, even in its self-interpreting character. I have provided reasons elsewhere for the validity of this belief. These include the “God’s words – God’s Actions” motif wherein what God says He is going to do is what He does; and the nature of the biblical covenants as hermeneutical fixed points to which everything else in the Bible must agree.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.