I recently had the privilege to teach Sunday School for a whole month at All Saints Church on part of the life of David. In my teaching I thought it would be useful to the congregation to begin the series by talking about basic rules for interpreting Scripture texts (especially OT narratives). While I lectured on some of the basic principles one may find works by Gordon Fee, Douglas Stuart, Moises Silva, Richard Pratt and Vern Poythress, I articulated a broad approach to exegeting and interpreting a text of Scripture.
Micro-meaning: The immediate purpose, idea, meaning of a text. An entire book is part of the micro-meaning of a text.
Macro-meaning: This encompasses surrounding content and meaning in our interpretation of the text. This may take the reader outside a particular book or pericope. For example, part of the meaning of Joshua may need to go back to Deuronomy and Numbers, or even Exodus.
Meta-meaning: Goes across entire genres of Scripture, even across the testaments. The specific pericope/text is connected to the overarching story of the Bible from Genesis-Revelation. This meta aspect surely presupposes a sensus plenior quality to the biblical text. Some may call this the ‘redemptive-historical’ perspective to the text, and I think that is a fair label.
I assume most hermeneuticians and biblical theologians would agree in general with this formulation, though it is very basic (though more than sufficient in teaching a Sunday school class). Yet, I do think this has implications for the act of preaching in corporate worship. If faithful preaching seeks to preach the ‘center of the text’ read that Lord’s Day, then does that mean the micro-meaning is always preached? Yet, even if you want to preach the micro-meaning, the macro and meta meanings need to be placed somewhere in the sermon since it may be hard to truly see the center of the text with an ‘extreme zoom in’ perspective. Yet, only looking at the macro or the meta meanings will rob God’s people and seekers attending the service of the very specific instructions and words that God has given us for our growth in grace and holiness.
It seems to me that a preaching ministry, in general, will seek to do justice to all three m’s. This doesn’t mean every sermon is equally balanced in terms of all three perspectives. Nor should the preacher explain each meaning in some technical or wooden sense. Yet, it seems that faithful, fervent, fruitful preaching will naturally, beautifully, and artistically communicate all three levels of meaning of a text that is both committed to scriptural content and contextual in its delivery.
Any thoughts, suggestions, disagreements, compliments would be appreciated.
It would appear that the emphasis of your blog is on context to determine meaning. And that is oh so important.
There is, however, one question that begs to be asked and is of penultimate importance here: Who’s meaning?
The cardinal rule of interpreting literature, and the Bible is in this sense literature, is to find what the original author meant and without that as a starting point we WILL run amok! There is only one correct meaning for any given passage of Scripture though there may be multitudes of applications.
Preachers and teachers have this tremendous privilege and responsibility to open God’s Word to the people and tell them what He is saying in it. That is the charge to us from God. The Spirit uses the Word to sanctify, not man’s vain philosophies concerning what they think about the Word! John 17:17
Given this tremendous responsibility (Matt 18:6 & James 3:1) we should humbly, on our knees, seek the Spirit’s guidance to help us rightly divide the Word of Truth. The way we handle it will show the flock how to approach the Word. May we show them the proper way! And our skill in handling the Word is an upward spiral that is even linked to our understanding and sanctification, it is never complete this side of glory! (cf Let the Reader Understand McCartney, Clayton)
Daniel Wells said:
I think in the end I agree with the thrust of your comment. Though perhaps I didn’t articulate some definitions in my blog post that may cause confusion.
You are correct to assert that the starting point of interpreting Scripture is knowing the original authorial intent. However, given a “two-author” view of the Bible and the doctrine of “sensus plenior” it is also the case that part of the meaning of a text may not have been on the mind of the author. For example, reading throughout the NT different exegetical points on OT passages concerning Christ shows this point. And to maintain accountability in interpreting OT texts, we should seek the NT hermeneutic of the OT as our paradigm.
I agree that there is “one meaning” to a text, but that meaning includes legitimate applications drawn from it. This is the basic hermeneutical paradigm from men like Richard Pratt and some RTS profs. I am pretty sure McCartney would agree as well.
Thanks for your comment! Blessings to you during the holiday season!
Of course God is the original author in every case! So He has always had His meaning in mind. Don’t mean to be simplistic and yes He did use means. It would be acknowledged that the means might not have fully understood the meaning.
And of course the applications, well they may well be countless.
Much to be humble about when approaching the treasure of God’s Word.