God’s Lordship in Interpretation -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 50:1 (Spring 1988)
Article: God’s Lordship in Interpretation
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


God’s Lordship in Interpretation*

Vern Sheridan Poythress

Since philosophical and theological circles are increasingly dominated by concerns for hermeneutics, it is important to work out explicitly the implications of God’s Lordship for hermeneutics. Because of the vastness of the implications, I can only begin the task in this article.

1. The Enlightenment desire for religiously neutral exegesis

In our time, subtle pressures tempt us to say that God is irrelevant to exegesis. Biblical scholars are justifiably concerned to interpret the Bible with discipline and intellectual rigor. But in an academic atmosphere dominated by the Enlightenment idea of autonomous human reason, rigor gets confused with scientific “neutrality.” To be neutral supposedly implies that religious viewpoints are set aside. Scholars therefore aspire to conduct the central steps of biblical exegesis in a manner independent of their relationship to God. For example, early proponents of the historical-critical method wanted to free biblical interpretation from “dogmatic prejudice” by providing an objective method of investigation that was in principle open to historians belonging to any

* An expanded form of an address delivered by the author on the occasion of his inauguration as Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary on October 15, 1987.

religion, just as the results of natural science were open to all.1

In contrast with this idea of neutrality, Christian believers through the ages have always acknowledged the necessity of piety and spiritual discernment in appropriating the Bible’s message (1 Cor 2:10–16).2 Superficially it might appear that these contrary views can be reconciled by assigning them to distinct stages in the process of interpretation. The stage of exegesis itself becomes scientifically neutral, while the subsequent stage of application is conditioned by presuppositions.3 For example, if we are evangelicals we acknowledge at the beginning that God is the origin of the biblical text. After the exegesis of a text is complete, we deduce from God’s truthfulness that the assertions of the text are to be believed. We also acknowledge that God may help us to accept the implications of the text for our lives. But what happens in between these endpoints? The basic issues of interpretive objects, methods, goals, validity, and evaluation we seem to explain without reference to God. Such explanation can be misleading. For o...

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