The Scriptures Were Written For Our Instruction -- By: George W. Knight, III

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 39:1 (Mar 1996)
Article: The Scriptures Were Written For Our Instruction
Author: George W. Knight, III


The Scriptures Were Written For Our Instruction

George W. Knight, III*

The theme of my paper is the question of the intent or purpose of the Scriptures, Old and New, for Christians and the Church throughout the centuries, including our own. The current background for this subject includes the often appropriate but sometimes exaggerated distinction between meaning and application, and particularly the emphasis laid on the ad hoc character of the NT, especially but not exclusively the letters. With regard to meaning and application, it is held that the exegete is to ascertain the meaning intended by the writer for the first recipients but that is not necessarily the same thing as what it means for us who are not the original recipients. With regard to the ad hoc character of the documents, this fact is assumed at times to carry intrinsic significance for our understanding of the intention or purpose of the Scriptures. Since the letters, for example, are written to this church or individual in this time and situation, with this problem or set of problems, then is it not evident that its contents and teaching are intended for the original recipients and only by extension or application to us? 1

No one should want to deny or contradict the obvious with reference to the situational setting about which most of the documents of the Bible themselves speak. In fact one should even enlarge the scope to say that every book within the canonical Scriptures would seem to warrant the designation of being ad hoc. That is the very nature of Scripture. It consists of documents given by God through the writers to his people in the particular situations in which they find themselves.

But the subtle fallacy is to draw from this obvious fact a kind of general operating conclusion that the contents and teachings must be therefore ad hoc, “for a special case only, without general application” 2 —that is, to deduce from the ad hoc writing situation (written to this group in

* George W. Knight, III, adjunct professor of New Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, P.O. Box 9279, Greenville, SC 29604, delivered this presidential address at the 47th annual meeting of the ETS on November 16, 1995, in Philadelphia, PA.

this place) the hermeneutical deduction that the contents are ad hoc (written only or primarily for this group as specific instruction for them in that situation but not as a general principle or teaching). But it does not follow that ad hoc documents contain only ad hoc teaching for two reasons.

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