The Purpose of Scripture and Determining its Meaning

I’m reading The Future of Biblical Interpretation from IVP Academic (disclaimer: received free copy to review) and Richard S. Briggs in his chapter on “Biblical Hermeneutics and Scriptural Responsibility” has an interesting discussion on how different hermeneutical approaches result in different types of interpretation seeming plausible. He writes:

Different interpreters at different times simply do have different goals, and while some interpretations may be ruled deficient in that they do not attend to the details of the text (or perhaps misread them as something other), many interpretative disputes that actually occupy anyone’s time are not over such matters, but over competing construals of the nature of the text’s purpose and specific contribution to that purpose.

Briggs point is worth thinking about, how much of interpretation depends not on what the text says but on what we think the text is?

In essence, Brigg’s idea is an extension of Gadamer’s ideas in Truth and Method, and it is one that is often left out when evangelicals discuss the meaning of scripture. But what we think about scripture matters (and here I’m not talking about inerrancy and infallible). If we think scripture is a historical book simply recording what happened, that will, for example, influence how we make assumptions on whether a certain passage is descriptive or prescriptive. Likewise, if scripture’s primary purpose is to reveal the nature of God, or to tell the story of Israel, or Jesus (Christological readings), or the church, or whatever else we can imagine then what becomes important is understanding how each text relates to this purpose.

Therefore, as Briggs identifies, when someone reads a text differently disagreement can come not because we disagree with their reading, but because their reading does not fit with our framework. I guess the questions I have are:

  • can we, myself included, identify our primary framework for scripture?
  • when we begin to argue over the meaning of a passage would it help if we started by outlining our framework? 
  • can multiple frameworks exist together? if so, does one always have to be primary?


8 thoughts on “The Purpose of Scripture and Determining its Meaning

  1. These are good questions and ones I am interested in trying to answer as well. I’m thinking I might mull these over as I start work on my thesis since I’ll be looking at theological interpretation. Very interesting!


  2. You should read this book even though it is about philosophical hermeneutics primarily it talks a lot about theological interpretation. For full disclosure not always in glowing terms, some draw a distinction between theological hermeneutics and theological interpretation.


  3. Great questions. For instance, when people talk about Nehemiah’s leadership through the book with his name, I take away the restoration of worship and relationship with God.


  4. Yes, well put. I really think this is crucial – that we reflect on what we are reading the Bible as, before we engage disagreements on what we think it means. In my own exegesis classes we begin by talking about what it means to read this work as Christian canon. Thanks for your continued reflections on the book – I appreciate your thoughtful reading


    1. Thanks for reading. I enjoyed the book (wish I would have been at the conference to hear the discussions). I am using your phrase ‘Cruciform Interpreter’ this coming week in class as we discuss faithful hermeneutics.


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