Method of Biblical Interpretation

I’ve rediscovered a radical method of biblical interpretation that I must confess I like very much. I like its simplicity. I like the limitations it places on interpretation. I even like and respect its origin.

It’s found in I Corinthians 4:6, and apparently was taught by Paul and/or Apollos:

“Do not go beyond what is written.”

I find hints of it in other places: I Thessalonians 2:13, Revelation 22:18-19, I Corinthians 2:2, Galatians 1:8-9 …. and so on.

Yet I’m drawn to the simplicity of “the saying” in I Corinthians 4:6.

(As if it isn’t challenging enough just to go with what is written!)

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7 thoughts on “Method of Biblical Interpretation

  1. As I understand the original Church of Christ doctrine [by which I refer to the church to which my parents belong], the goal was to speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where the Bible is silent. Christian history before and after the rise of this ideal has shown that no one seems to be able to do it. We always have to apply the scripture to changing situations [slavery], and the fact is that <>what is written<> is not always consistent. [An example is what Jesus told the apostles to take with them when he sent them out on the first preaching tour. We can reconcile the differences by saying these refer to different events, but that is perhaps begging the question.] So we have to try to figure out how to reconcile things, what is no longer applicable, and so on.Still, it is a valuable discernment principle that too few of us even try to apply. Coming from the Catholic tradition, I am all too familiar with the tendency to fill in the [perceived] gaps in scripture with all-too-human rationalizations. [I won’t dignify some of it by saying it is human reason.]One puzzler in using New Testament texts from Paul about relying on scripture is that his own letters predate all <>written<> forms of the Gospel, so he cannot be referring to what is written in Matthew, Mark Luke or John. The <>word of God<> that the Thessalonians received was not the text at all, but the proclamation. We believe what was proclaimed and what later was written are consistent through the work of the Holy Spirit, of course, but we need to be clear about what Paul is saying. Since he wrote to the Thessalonians before he wrote his great letter to Rome about the mystery of grace, even that would not have been in their hands, although they may have heard aspects of it in his preaching.But enough of my rambling. I clearly cannot stick to what is written…

  2. Good points, Damien. My Campbellite roots are showing (as well as some sun-lightened and some grey hairs)!Though I won’t insist that Paul’s letters necessarily predate a written gospel, he doesn’t seem to quote from any of them – and the strong probability is that he’s talking about prophetic Old Testament scripture as “the written word.” (Though in II Peter 3:16, the old fisherman includes Paul’s letters as “scripture”!)I still think the principle is sound: stick to what’s written. Don’t over-speculate. Don’t read too much into it. Don’t try to extract too much out of it. It wasn’t meant to be comprehensive (see the closing words of John’s gospel).But it is sufficient!

  3. Only for the sake of argument, there are many people who question the authenticity of II Peter… if it’s not authentic, then it would kinda throw that whole argument out…Not that I necessarily doubt II Peter personally… let’s just say that I know there is at least one or two of your readers that doubt it.

  4. This is pretty much where I am right now, too. It’s just so easy to make it more complicated than it is–but I think I am going to <>try<> to hang on to “simplicity” as my hermenuetic! Thanks for encouraging me on!JB

  5. <>But it is sufficent!<> <>Amen<> to that, brother! The Second Vatican Council, in its document on revelation, says “Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.” [<>Dei Verbum<> 11] I [we?} trip myself [ourselves?] up when we mistake what is put there <>for the sake of salvation<> and what is just there. [In my wish-it-were-humble opinion, this is the reef on which many of the evolution debates founder.] On Damien’s Spot I have been talking about how well we do or do not deal with ambiguity. That enters into the equation, too.As for keeping it simple, I am all for that because the truth, grounded in God, is absolutely simple. The trick is that <>simple<> and <>easy<> are two different things…

  6. The KISS method to Bible interpretation….But we, overtalk, overwrite, overthink, overanalyze and then we become immersed in guilt because we cloud the simple truth with our own words and fail to live up to them.Hmmm, that was simply put!

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