Who Determines the Meaning of Scripture?

A study of Scripture lacking thorough interpretative guidelines can lead to inaccurate beliefs. The foundational...
September 13, 2021

A study of Scripture lacking thorough interpretative guidelines can lead to inaccurate beliefs. The foundational task of hermeneutics is deciding who determines the meaning of Scripture.

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

Ezra 7:10

The True Authenticator

  • The Reader – If the reader determines the meaning, we arrive at subjective contradictory conclusions, which detract all authority of the text.
  • The Text – If the text determines the meaning, we expect the text to take on a life of its own with a meaning detached from the author.
  • The Author – If the author determines the meaning, we search for the authorial intention to properly understand the truths.

Now, these Jews were nobler than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Acts 17:11

The Authorial Intent

  • The intention of the author determines the meaning.
  • In the case of the Bible, we interpret the meaning by the dual authorship of the divine author and the human author.
  • The author of any text is the ultimate authority of its meaning.
  • Only with the Bible do we absurdly assert that we can determine the meaning of someone else’s message.
    • Government Agency
    • Bill Collector
    • Human Resources
  • The most dangerous question to ask in a Bible study is, “what does this passage mean to you?”
  • A text could have multiple meanings if the author intended to communicate those meanings.
  • It doesn’t matter what the Bible means to us but what it means to God.
  • Be careful that you don’t over-spiritualize a passage and miss the plain meaning of a text.

The Holy Spirit

  • The Holy Spirit doesn’t teach a secret meaning of Scripture, but he reveals the intended meaning of Scripture.
  • Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would teach us and remind us regarding Scripture’s claims.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 14:26

The Helpful Questions

  • Author – Who wrote the book?
  • Audience – For whom was the book intended?
  • Context – What is the context of the passage?
  • Before – What precedes the passage?
  • After – What follows the passage?
  • Totality – How do other passages interpret this passage?

The Interpretive Journey

  • Grasping the text in their town – What did the text mean to the original audience?
  • Measuring the river’s width to cross – What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?
  • Crossing the principlizing bridge – What is the theological principle in the text?
  • Consult the biblical map – How does our theological principle fit with the rest of the Bible?
  • Grasping the text in our town – How should individual Christians live out the theological principles today?