The years I spent in pastoring and teaching from the Word of God were years spent with a passionate desire to get as close to Scripture as I could—not unusual for a pastor. I studied words and forms in their respective historical contexts. My primary resource in studying was, therefore, grammatical. Formally, I was privileged to enjoy 3 years of Biblical (Koine) Greek and 2 years of Classical Hebrew before I continued learning on my own.
Most ministers—I surmise—retain a serious interest in the theological input of yesteryear’s scholarship as a religious legacy that must be kept sacred for and passed down to the following generations of believers. Rightly so! The value of history, and especially biblical history, is in point of fact God’s legacy, His involvement with His people: The Jewish nation and the Church.
Paying the record forward of the wonders as well as the tragedies God and His people experienced is a noteworthy calling or vocation for the clergy. To minimize the importance of this task is to imply nothing of value through church ages of persecution and cultural upheaval. The nation of Israel, and then the Church, that has survived forces that sought its desolation, is a worthy testimony to the grace and power of God to protect His own. The record of how they overcame and the role God’s Word played has much to say to our generation and the challenges we face. Passing the baton of their spiritual lessons and the hermeneutic that focuses on this historical truth is vital to the Church’s continuance as a cultural force for the generations to follow. Add to this the trumpet call we all sound of salvation only through the death and resurrection of our Savior and the pastorate has an effective ministry to God’s people:
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…. Revelation 12:11 [NIV]
But biblical history is the record of someone else’s burning bush! What about ours? The question of what their history has to do with ours is yet to be answered. That was a task I sought to take up as a would-be historical grammarian. But there must be also someone called an exegetical grammarian to more completely equip the people of God for service.
Translations of Scripture were primarily based on an exegetical grammatical approach that sought to provide the best understanding of the Biblical text and, where possible, the closest word for word translation which may or may not be possible. In some cases, words were not translatable but scholars did their best to make sense from what was still unknown. Orthodox Christianity, nonetheless, has maintained that every word must be taken into account as part of the inspired text.
Anything less opens the way for eisegesis or personal interpretations. Even believers are capable of eisegesis in understanding Truth. They might make this mistake in an effort to support something they only think is or should be right in God’s eyes. (We tend to hear what we want to hear not what was said: pareidolia)
But “every word” presupposes that the original writings of the Bible (the autographs) were perfect, perfectly God inspired. Copyists or scribes might still have misspelled a word or might have lost their way in copying the text causing duplications and textual confusion. Errors in transcribing happened. Upon comparing the many copies and fragments of the New Testament, there are over 200,000 variants—none of which brings the message of grace and salvation into question.
In short, we need a translation of our Bible we can trust to bring us the message God sought to bring us when He carried it through the centuries, hidden away in clay jars or etched upon animal skins. To me, this is one of the greatest miracles of grace along with my salvation!
I wanted to be an historical grammarian when I grew up but that was not to be. I became a pastor. I wanted to trace the historical development of Biblical thought in the language as it evolved or changed from meaning to meaning. Some of these ideas directly impact theology; others clarify meaning that encourages faith.
My focus as an amateur—or would-be—historical grammarian is to understand the meaning of the passage through the author’s choice of language and words and then to apply this meaning to faith. In a real sense the goal is to own the text by applying it to our lives as believers.
Three Areas of Focus
Suffice it to be said that all three approaches are required for comprehending the message of Scripture, to give the believer a fuller love for God’s Word.
- Yesterday’s theologian and biblical commentator,
- a readable translation of the text, and
- an in-depth appreciation of the meanings of words contextually
All three are considered to be devotional approaches to a study of the Word of God. What is not listed here because I do not endorse it is the historical-critical approach to studying the Bible which divests it of its inspiration and leaves the words a record of ancient literary achievement—nothing more. Including the Document Hypothesis, purporting to be a truer record of transcription, the historical critical method to interpreting Scripture reassigns the authorship of much of the text to writers after the Babylonian exile. (Moses had no part in writing the first 5 books of the Old Testament, for example). It goes without saying: this approach challenges any effort to trace the history of Hebrew thought in word and syntax.
Beware “theological distancing”! As I wrote in “Broken Bones” (An exposé or commentary on the 51st Psalm) “I refer to the ability to interpret … words academically but avoid any emotional contact or personal application of its inspiring message. Theological distancing is the art of extracting the theology from the text without owning its truth as a life-changing force, without discovering how the words apply to faith. Theological distancing is an intellectual exercise which might allow us to pass a written seminary exam but fail at faithfully living for Christ.”
Tenets of Faith
In simplest terms I endorse wholeheartedly the Affirmation of Faith outlined on the website of the church, Chapel of the Cross, I attend as of this writing. These tenets line up with Converge Northeast, the local network of churches in New England of which Chapel of the Cross is affiliated. But there is more to my convictions that builds on these foundational beliefs.
[What about Speaking in Tongues?]