The Hermeneutical Role of Biblical Theology

Here are some comments by Graeme Goldsworthy in his book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. The comments come from his chapter "The Gospel and the Theological Dimension (II): Biblical and Systematic Theology."

Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation"The biblical theological dimension in hermeneutics is thus the major way of addressing the question of the gap between the text and the reader. It allows the reader to find where he or she actually fits into the totality of biblical revelation. If done with care, it will then provide the valid links between the meaning of a text in its own context and its application to the modern reader. The offending gap is the theological distance of texts from the modern reader. But, if the gap is uniformly closed by the reader to give an undifferentiated immediacy to all texts, the result is hermeneutical chaos. Some forms of pietism and 'Spirit-driven' subjective theology result in such an approach, which lacks any differentiation of texts. The kind of piety that primarily focuses on questions concerned with what the text says about us and our Christian living lacks Christological depth. This premature desire for immediate guidance ignores the relationship of the text to Christ. If there is one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5), then to seek understanding of either God or man without recourse to the mediator is a procedure that is Christologically flawed. If we are truly to understand what a text says about ourselves, we must follow the biblical path that leads first to Christ, for he defines who and what we are in him" (p. 263).

When it comes to the relationship between biblical and systematic theology, Goldsworthy concludes that "doctrinal pre-understandings about the nature of the Bible" should be the starting point of biblical interpretation. Exegesis is guided by these understandings. Biblical theology seeks the unity of the exegesis of distinct biblical passages "by examining the development of ideas in the progressive revelation." The community of faith through historical theology influences each of these steps. Systematic theology then posits what is to be believed into doctrinal statements. Goldsworthy notes that doctrinal formulation may require a shift in the "doctrinal pre-understandings" with which the exegetical process started. Following Osborne, he sees a hermeneutical spiral rather than a linear progression and thus each step influences the next (see pp. 271-72).

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