“How Can I Understand, Unless Someone Explains It to Me?” (Acts 8:30-31): Evangelicals and Biblical Hermeneutics -- By: Iain W. Provan

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 17:1 (NA 2007)
Article: “How Can I Understand, Unless Someone Explains It to Me?” (Acts 8:30-31): Evangelicals and Biblical Hermeneutics
Author: Iain W. Provan


“How Can I Understand, Unless Someone Explains It to Me?” (Acts 8:30-31): Evangelicals and Biblical Hermeneutics

Iain Provan

Regent College

This article explores the question: What kind of biblical hermeneutics ought evangelical Christians to embrace for themselves and to advocate to others? It takes as its starting point the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (1982) and subjects this document to an extended critical reflection. The Statement, it is concluded, is in various ways an unsatisfactory articulation of evangelical hermeneutics, if hermeneutics is about helping people to perceive “what the biblical revelation means and how it bears on our lives” (Chicago Statement, Article IX). In the second part of the article, an alternative articulation is then attempted.

Key Words: Evangelicals, Bible, hermeneutics, Chicago Statements

And Philip replied, “WE AFFIRM that a person is not dependent for understanding of Scripture on the expertise of biblical scholars… . WE AFFIRM the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed… . WE AFFIRM that the Bible’s own interpretation of itself is always correct, never deviating from, but rather elucidating, the single meaning of the inspired text. The single meaning of a prophet’s words includes, but is not restricted to, the understanding of those words by the prophet and necessarily involves the intention of God evidenced in the fulfilment of those words.”1

And the Ethiopian rode on, none the wiser because, unfortunately, he was dependent on a biblical scholar for his grasp of the scriptural passage in question; he didn’t himself understand its grammatical-historical sense—that is, the meaning that the writer had expressed. Moreover, he had an uneasy feeling that there was something wrong somewhere when it was claimed that the Bible ought to be interpreted in terms of the meaning that the writer expressed and yet at

the same time that “the single meaning of a prophet’s words includes, but is not restricted to, the understanding of those words by the prophet and necessarily involves the intention of God evidenced in the fulfilment of those words.” The more he thought about this last point, in fact, the more confused and troubled he became; and he was glad when at last the voice of the apostle, affirming still, faded into the distance, and he found himself alone once more in the desert, with only his mute charioteer and his puzzling text for company, his horizons still confused.

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