Divine Meaning of Scripture -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 48:2 (Fall 1986)
Article: Divine Meaning of Scripture
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


Divine Meaning of Scripture

Vern Sheridan Poythress

WHAT is the relation between God and human authors of the Bible? Does God’s meaning at every point coincide with the intention of the human author? Can we use the same procedures of interpretation as we would with a noninspired book?

Even if we hold an orthodox, “high” view of inspiration, the answer to these questions is not easy. Many, of course, would deny that God is the author of the Bible in any straightforward way. They argue that the books of the Bible are to be interpreted as so many human writings, subject to the errors, distortions, and moral failures of human beings everywhere else.1

If, however, we believe in the testimony of Jesus Christ, the apostles, and the OT, we know that books of the Bible are both God’s word and the word of the human authors. The exact historical, psychological, and spiritual processes in-

volved in the production of individual books of the Bible may, of course, have varied from book to book. In many cases we simply do not have much firm information about these processes. In all cases, however, the result was that the literary product (specifically, the autograph) was both what God says and what the human author says (see e.g., Deut 5:22–33, Acts 1:16, 2 Pet 1:21).2

Suppose, then, that we confine ourselves to people who hold to this classic doctrine of inspiration. We still do not have agreement about the relation of God’s meaning to the meaning of the human author. A recent article by Darrell Bock3 delineates no less than four distinct approaches among evangelicals. The specific issue which Bock discusses is the question of NT interpretation of the OT. Does NT use of OT texts sometimes imply that God meant more than what the human author thought of Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., says no, while S. Lewis Johnson, James I. Packer, and Elliott Johnson say yes.4 Bruce K. Waltke introduces still a third approach emphasizing the canon as the final context for interpretation. A fourth approach, represented by E. Earle Ellis, Richard Longenecker, and Walter Dunnett, emphasizes the close relation between apostolic hermeneutics and Jewish hermeneutics of the first century.5

Admittedly the NT use of the OT has some complexities of its own. We cannot here look...

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