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Exegetical methods and the Gospel

Many people wonder what types of interpretive method the New Testament authors used, and how that relates to the interpretive methods used today. Seathrun M. from Ireland wrote:

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Dear Sir, Calvin Smith and Richard Fangrad, in their video on Creation Magazine Live, say that we should use only the literal historical-grammatical approach to interpreting Scripture. I note that David Stern’s JEWISH NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY (e.g. on Matthew 1:15, 23) claims that the New Testament often uses the fourfold Rabbinical method of interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures. (Like the later fourfold approach which the mediaeval Christian theologians derived from the Early Church Fathers—but took to extremes—this does not deny the correctness of the "literal" meaning but claims that a passage can have additional true meanings.) The 4 Rabbinical approaches are: the Peshat ("simple", roughly grammatical-historical; the Remez ("hint", meaning that the Holy Spirit can hint at meanings not spelt out in the text); the Drash (the making of a "Midrash" on the text); and the Sod (roughly "mystical"). For short, these 4 methods are together called the "PaRDeS" from their initials.

Lita Sanders, CMI-US, responds:

Thank you for writing in. The very first rule of Bible interpretation is that the Bible is its own best interpreter, so we should look at how later Scripture writers interpret earlier books to see which interpretive methods they use. And they use historical exegesis, and we can look at a few different examples of that.

It is often claimed that Matthew is using the sort of interpretive method you mention, but he is actually using a different Jewish interpretive method—typology. A typological exegesis presumes that God acts consistently throughout history, so how God acts earlier in Scripture can foreshadow how He intends to act later. The Christian typology in the New Testament typically has Christ as its object. For instance, in Matthew 2:15, he cites Hosea 11:1. Hosea was speaking about the Exodus, not the Messiah. But looking at the life of Christ, Matthew saw an obvious typological fulfillment. Israel was called God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22), and Jesus is the Son of God. So it was perfectly consistent with that kind of exegesis to draw the link there.

But typology follows rules, and it is grounded in a historical reading of Scripture. God literally called Israel out of Egypt, and literally called Jesus’ parents to return to Israel after Herod’s death. And Christians today can engage in typological interpretation (but should be careful not to get too carried away!). For instance, God called Abraham to sacrifice his ‘only’ son (the LXX translates it with the word monogenes which is also used of Jesus). Isaac carries the wood for his own sacrifice and is bound willingly (a detail drawn from the text—Abraham is well over 100 by this time and Isaac is a young man capable of carrying a significant amount of wood—he could not be bound if he were not willing). While Scripture does not explicitly tell us that Isaac here is a typological figure of Jesus, Christian interpreters have, I think rightly, seen these similarities and interpreted this account typologically. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t historically happen—in fact, a typological reading requires it to be historical—but rather it simply recognizes that Isaac prefigures some details that Jesus fulfilled in His life.

I hope this helps.

It is important for all Christians to be able to point individuals who are concerned about the state of their soul to Christ for salvation. S.D. from Denmark wrote:

Hello, I have remembered that I have mocked the Holy Spirit Jesus and God. oen time I’m really sorry it’ll never do it again. I come now to hell? I’m afraid.

Thanks for writing in. You did not specify how you mocked the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God. But if you had committed the ‘unforgivable sin’, you would not be feeling sorry about it (people differ about what exactly the sin consists of and whether people today can commit it, but everyone agrees that someone who committed it would not desire to repent of it).

You mentioned being afraid of going to Hell. You didn’t mention if you’re a professing Christian, so if you are, think of this as a good ‘refresher’. All of us have sinned in a lot of ways—in fact, every sin in essence mocks God because it tells Him we don’t really care about His Law or His good gifts that He has given us. So every single one of us deserves to go to Hell because we’ve committed countless sins over the course of our lives.

The amazing gift of God is that He sent His Son, Jesus, to live a perfectly holy, righteous life, and then to take the punishment of death that our sins deserve. Because Jesus is God the Son in human form, He was able to atone for the sins of everyone who would trust in Him. When God raised Jesus on the third day, it was proof that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and that the way of salvation is open for us through Jesus. And when we trust in Him not only does His sacrifice atone for our sins, but we get credited with the righteous life Jesus lived. It’s like we’ve run up a debt that we can never pay, and not only does Jesus pay off the entire debt, but gives us a huge fortune that we can never exhaust.

So if you are afraid of going to Hell, the crucial question is: have you trusted Jesus to save you? And if not, will you? He is merciful and will not turn anyone away who calls on Him. I would encourage you to talk to your pastor about this. If you are not a member of a church, I would urge you to find one—any pastor would be happy to speak with you about salvation and how you can know that you are saved.

Published: 20 February 2016

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