The Presence Of God Qualifying Our Notions Of Grammatical-Historical Interpretation: Genesis 3:15 As A Test Case -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 50:1 (Mar 2007)
Article: The Presence Of God Qualifying Our Notions Of Grammatical-Historical Interpretation: Genesis 3:15 As A Test Case
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


The Presence Of God Qualifying Our Notions Of Grammatical-Historical Interpretation: Genesis 3:15 As A Test Case

Vern Sheridan Poythress

Vern S. Poythress is professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, 2960 W. Church Road, Glenside, PA 19038. The article was previously presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, November 18, 2005, Valley Forge Convention Center, King of Prussia, PA.

What is grammatical-historical interpretation? Do we know as well as we think we know? For many scholars, grammatical-historical interpretation means an objective procedure for determining the meaning intended by the human author through an examination of the language of the text and its historical circumstances. But just how objective can we make it? Objectivity, in the eyes of many, implies at least two conditions. First, by rule-based procedures we can weigh the information from language and historical circumstances, and on the basis of that information construct a probable total meaning. Second, the meaning in question belongs to the human author. The divine author can effectively be left out of consideration until after the analysis is complete.

I wish to question this second assumption concerning the elimination of the divine author. And questioning it leads logically to revising our estimation of other assumptions as well.

I. The Convenience Of Eliminating The Divine

In our present environment the scholarly world would no doubt find it convenient to eliminate the divine author. For if one must debate about the divine author, there is little hope for consensus about meaning. To begin with, not everyone in the scholarly world accepts that God was involved at all as a divine author of Scripture. According to the atheist there is no God to supply the involvement. According to the deist he exists but is uninvolved.

Even if God is somehow involved, the nature of his involvement might vary. Orthodox thinking about the Bible has confessed over the centuries that the Bible is the word of God. But there are modern alternatives. According to one kind of liberal thinking about inspiration, God gives the human authors inspiring thoughts. But they then mix those thoughts with their own and come out with a product that shows God’s influence to varying, unpredictable degrees. In neo-orthodoxy the words of Scripture are a witness

to Christ and to God in Christ. But only indirectly, in the moment of a divine encounter, do they somehow become the word of God.

And what God (or god) are we talking about? The rise of process theology and open theism has made us more aware of t...

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