Biblical Texts—Past And Future Meanings -- By: Clark H. Pinnock

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 43:1 (Mar 2000)
Article: Biblical Texts—Past And Future Meanings
Author: Clark H. Pinnock


Biblical Texts—Past And Future Meanings

Clark H. Pinnocka

I. The Test Of Cruciality

Millard Erickson has remarked: “I think that the issue of contemporizing the biblical message is possibly the single most important issue facing evangelical hermeneutics today.” 1 He is referring to what I would call the test of cruciality. That is, in order to follow Jesus in our generation, we need to have an ear for the word of God even as we listen to the word of God. We need to be able to speak a timely word in our modern situations and circumstances. This is not so easy for evangelicals who have a certain fear of new interpretations owing to the trauma of the experience with liberal theology, but God is calling us nonetheless to grow as hearers of the Word of God. 2

Some readers seem content to be antiquarian with regard to Scripture. Once they have established (as they suppose) the past meaning, they think the job is finished, but it is not. We have also to be concerned about the Word coming alive in new contexts. Scripture ought not to remain a dead letter but constitute a living challenge to people of every present time. When I speak of “future” meanings of the Biblical text, I refer to the ways in which the Bible addresses us today. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once asked: “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” To be sure, one could say that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Nevertheless, the proclamation comes to people in ever new ways through the Spirit. The present context always represents an opportunity for a fresh hearing of the gospel, and Bible reading that is mature requires the readiness to consider fresh interpretations and applications, even if they shake us up.

Cruciality, then, is a test of theological faithfulness. It means that we ask not only whether a given interpretation is true to the original meaning but also whether it is pertinent to the present situation or an evasion of what really matters now. Is this reading (we ought to ask) what God wills or not?

There is the original meaning of words, and there is the truth toward which they are pointing. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a sense of this when he wrote to fellow clergymen from a Birmingham jail and said it was the time for white churches to stop standing on the sidelines and take a stand against racism. In his discernment of the will of God, he named the truth toward which the Scriptures were pointing at that moment, and time has confirmed his conviction. He was alive to Jesus’ distinction: “You tithe mint, ...

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