Day 41 - 50 - Literary Interpretation of Scripture

1 Video Transcript

Video Transcript: The Literary Element (Dr Weima)

We now turn to the third hermeneutical principle, which we can title literary. And you may remember that this is a somewhat new category. It's not as if the ancient exegetes didn't know anything about a literary approach to Scripture, but they maybe didn't appreciate it to its fullest degree. And so in the last generation or so, there's been kind of an explosion of a literary understanding or reading a scripture, and I'm confident that it warrants then a separate category, and we've given it then the name literary. Now, literary means a lot of things. And the first thing we'll talk about is not all, but it's an important part. So let's start somewhere. And we'll start then with the question of genre the question of genre. So a literary approach, among other things take seriously the genre of the kind of writing. What does the word genre mean? It's just a fancy word for different kinds or categories of literature. 

So for instance, on this slide, if you went to the library, you might be reminded that there are autobiographical books, books about a person has written themselves, that could be biographies, or someone else has written a story about them. There may be comedy and humor, there may be books on crime and mystery. And the important point I want you to see is, if one of these books was Michelle, let's imagine you're looking for some comedy and humor, and then by accident, fine in that section of the library, a crime and mystery? Well, it would take you maybe not too long, but something wouldn't be right, you're expecting something funny. And yet, wait a minute, something bad has just happened. So it's really important when we interpret any literature that you look carefully at its genre, or its kind of writing. Now, the Bible is made up of different genres or kinds of writing. Or to put it differently, even though the Bible is one book with one overarching message. This one book, this one message comes to us in a variety of different genres, or forms or literary styles. One common style of writing found in the Bible are historical books, although actually, they're not pure history. 

They're more like theological history. They're selective in the historical events that they describe. And they're meant to reveal something about God more than just what specifically happened. We have something called letters. In fact, much of the New Testament is written in letters and letters is a unique form of writing, Paul, and john and Peter and James and so forth. They didn't invent a letter style, people writing letters already in their day, but they borrow, they made use of those letter styles, and the Holy Spirit use the biblical writers with those letter write styles to communicate the gospel. We have something called poetry. I know you know that already. But maybe you don't realize how, how widespread poetry is in the Old Testament. It's not just psalms actually, almost a third of the Old Testament is written in Hebrew poetry. And some of the newer translations are helpful in printing the text in a political style, thereby alerting the reader to the change in genre writing style. We have something called wisdom literature, which is unique and kind of difficult sometimes to explain. We have something called apocalyptic, we probably think it's kind of weird or strange, but it was rather common in that day, not just the book of Revelation, but parts of Daniel and Zechariah. and elsewhere in the scriptures. 

But this apocalyptic imagery, as part of the message, we have something called legal or law type text. There's also something called Gospels. What is the gospel? Is it biography? Is it history? Or is it something else? And then within gospels, we have subcategories of kinds of features something called parables. a parable is a special kind of writing. And it has therefore, kind of unique characteristics, which we need to think about when we interpret. So in other words, the Bible is made up of this one book with this one overarching message. It's made up of all these different genres form styles of writing. Now, is that important for interpretation? Yes, it is. I want to give you some examples of how differences in your genre impact interpretation. Or to put it differently, even though most of the Bible ought to be interpreted in a straightforward, literal way. You heard me say that, didn't you? Most of the Bible out to be interpreted in a straightforward, literal way, even though that's most often the case, not all of the Bible should be interpreted in a straightforward literal way. 

And its genre tells you that if you don't believe me, let me give you some examples to illustrate the point. So the First example comes from Psalm 92. And it goes like this. It is good to praise the Lord to make music to your name almost tied to proclaim Your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night. Now if I want to be a straightforward literalist interpreter and preacher, my sermon might go something like this. Brothers and sisters, God's word says that it is good for us to praise. It doesn't say it's great. It just says it's good. That's what it literally says. And wait a minute morning is lunchtime. So brothers and sisters, when you wake up in the morning, I want you to think about I want you to reflect, I want you to celebrate God's love. Well, there's nothing in there but the afternoon. So I guess you can take a siesta or break in the afternoon, but come nighttime, then you have to shift gears and you got to focus on God's faithfulness. You're looking at me kind of strange, aren't you? I mean, you recognize that that's not really the meaning of the text. Well, that's what we find here. Sometimes what the Bible says, doesn't exactly equal what the Bible means. 

Sometimes what the Bible says doesn't exactly equal what the Bible means. It starts off by saying it is good. If I just for a moment, reach into my grammatical hermeneutical principle, and this is in Hebrew, and I realized that in Hebrew is something that is good is a lot more powerful than in English, something that is good in English, something that is good, it's just something that would be nice, okay, fitting or proper, I just came from a restaurant and we sell it would be good to leave a tip for the waitress, or the server, okay. But good in English is very powerful, not very strong. Whereas in Hebrew, it is good means it is final, it is essential for your relationship to God and your neighbor. So right away the grammatical element illuminates and, and, and brings out a fuller meaning of the text. And then you have to say yourself, poetry, it's made up these what we call parallelisms parallelisms. That's where the one line is parallel by the second line, you can see the way it's printed, even there on the screen, how the one line is meant to be balanced by the second line. This is a very common form of Hebrew poetry. And you can't separate the two lines from each other because the author intended that they would be taken together as a whole. 

So be wrong for me to isolate love in line three, from faithfulness in line four. They're meant to go together, just like it'd be wrong for me to separate morning and night. And what's more this morning and night is actually a technical term. It's a literary device, we give it the name merismus, what is merismus? That's where you take two extremes. And you use it to describe the whole two extremes to describe the whole. Well, we have that in English too. If you buy a car, you might hear the salesman say it's got bumper to bumper warranty, right? And then you don't have to ask him. So does it cover the steering wheel? What about the backseat? No, no, no, you pick the two extremes of the car bumper to bumper covers everything in between. In English, we might talk about the root of a tree to its fruit. It's a nice rhyming merismus, from the root to the fruit, but it shows you everything in between. And so the psalmist when the psalmist talks about morning and night, he's not thinking morning, in distinction from night, he's picking the two extremes of the day in order to describe the whole 24 hour period. 

And so what the psalmist is meaning, not exactly what the psalmist is literally saying, but what the psalmist is meaning is that it is good, it is vital, it is crucial for God's people to want to celebrate His love, His faithfulness, His mercy, His kindness, those characteristics that define God all the time, all the day, morning, noon, or night. You see, what I'm trying to show you is the meaning of a text has greater fullness or significance when you take seriously its genre, its type of writing. This is part of a literary way of reading scripture. Let's look at another example. Here's an example from Mrs. Smith I gave you earlier right? If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away. Well, again, we see how what the Bible says doesn't exactly equal what the Bible means. It would be wrong to take this literally because Jesus didn't intend these words to be taken literally and he was actually quite confident that is hearers wouldn't take him literally. He knows that this is an example of hyperbole, hyperbole. It comes from Greek. 

It comes from the word who pair something up high and bolay balo to it's to throw something up high. It's to throw words way up there. Well, that's not a very helpful definition of hyperbole. Let me give it to you this way. hyperbole is the gross use of exaggeration, in order to make a memorable point. Hyperbole is the gross use of exaggeration. In order to make a more memorable point, Jesus could have said this. Instead, Jesus could have said something like this. disciples sit down, I have something very important to tell you listen carefully. Sin is serious, serious business. Or Jesus could have said to them, if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away. If your right hand cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. And the disciples kind of look at each other and go, Wow, sin is serious, serious business. You see, they both mean the same thing. But the second way, when you say it with hyperbole, it has a lot more punch, you said in a more memorable, powerful way. And again, Jesus was confident that his readers wouldn't take him literally. And he didn't intend to be understood literally either. 

And so therefore, we would be wrong to take these words, literally. And it's only when we don't look carefully at its genre. When we don't understand its historical context. When we're maybe distance from the text and land, language and culture that we we we make mistakes. Maybe one little quick, somewhat humorous anecdote which illustrates this point. I have in my seminary where I teach, I have a lot of Korean students directly from Korea. And I remember a few years ago, I saw one of my Korean students coming in the first thing I said, It was my mistake. I said, How are you? Okay, now, now, I think you would hear me if I say how are you basically saying hi, hello. But he took those words, literally, he probably said to us, oh, my professor just asked me how I and he cares about me wants to hear about my life. And so he proceeded to explain to me his life. And he said, you know, life is really bad. Now. Um, you know, I mean, I'm happy to be here studying in the States, but it's just so hard. The homework assignments are very difficult. My English is very poor. And so it's hard for me to complete my readings. And what's more, my wife is crying every night because she's so homesick, she misses her family back in Korea. 

And then I committed a second problem, I put my arm around his shoulder, and I said, hang in there. Now, you heard what I said, right? Hang in, there was an expression meaning, don't give up. Don't be discouraged, persevere. But he probably could have taken those words, literally, he could have said to himself, wait a minute, I just told my professor how bad my life is. And now he's telling me to hang myself to commit suicide. You see, dear friends, the potential for misinterpretation when we don't understand the language, the culture and expressions, some literary phrases or devices. And so it's really important for us when we read the Bible to also think about it literarily. Well, here's a third example. A third example. And I saw a beast rising out of the sea with 10 horns and seven heads with 10 diadems upon its horns and a blasphemous name upon its head. Now, if you take this literally, you need to believe that either one day in the past or when they in the future depends on how you treat the book of Revelation. But you need to believe that out of one of the great sees of the world will come some funny looking creatures, something looking like this, but this creature is going to have seven heads and on all the heads are going to have 10 crowns and, and there's gonna be blasphemous names and all these things. 

That's what you ought to believe. If you take this literally. However, wait a minute, you say this isn't normal writing. This is a special form of writing. We call it apocalyptic. And you might say, wait a minute, I know enough about apocalyptic writing that, that apocalyptic writings use things like natural phenomena like lightning, and hail and storms. And it uses numbers. And it also uses animals in a metaphorical or symbolic way. What's not so surprising to say, we have the same thing today, if you and maybe compare apocalyptic to a political cartoon, right, so here's a cartoon that I found. And you need to know again, it's not found on the comics, the funny pages, it's found in the editorial page. Now, if I read this comic, literally, I will look at that I will go Wow, I've never seen an elephant like that. And elephant with a new set. It's no it's kind of strange or unusual. Kind of interesting to see that. I mean, that's what the comic literally reads. But wait a minute. 

You might know enough about American politics to say wait a minute, the elephant stands for something the elephant stands for the Republican Party. And I added the year 1998 so that you would know its historical context. That was the time when President Clinton was convicted of lying under oath and the republican led Congress was pushing for his impeachment. And so what this political cartoon means slightly different than what it literally says what it means is it's referring to the Republican Congress, which is trying to hang President Clinton and his presidency. And this isn't just an American thing. I found a similar political cartoon from an Asian context. Now, again, if I took this comic literally, I might go Wow, look at that dragon is huge. I couldn't imagine a dragon slowing the whole city that must be amazing. Wow. But remember, sometimes what a text literally says doesn't equal exactly what it means. And you might right away recognize women and Asian Asian dragon is this is an image is a metaphor for the country of China. And the heading underneath the comic says today, Hong Kong dot dot dot question mark, and then I added July 1 1997. Why? Because Hong Kong was this capitalistic jewel in a sea of China's communism. And Hong Kong was actually under British control for 99 years. And that was coming to an end on July 1 1997. And so a lot of people wondered and worried what what happened to this, this financially successful city once communist control took over. So to go back to the cartoon, or I shouldn't say cartoon the image, pardon me back over here. from Revelation. 

Again, the the animal in apocalyptic literature is very common for representing something and what kind of people were crowns on heads, those referred to Kings and rulers. And so this text is a more picture. So a more metaphorical or symbolic way of referring to successive kingdoms that would arise and sadly oppose God and His people. Again, sometimes what the Bible literally says doesn't equal exactly what the Bible means you need to take seriously its genre. Well, here's yet another example. Proverbs 26. Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself, answer a fool according to his folly or he will be wise in his own eyes. Now, if you read this, literally, you might go, Oh, no. Oh, no, the Bible contradicts itself. It would be bad enough if these were in different parts of the Bible. But here they are not only in the same book, but their verse diverse back to back what could be worse than that. But then after maybe those moments of panic, you, you, you you calm down and say, wait a minute. This is wisdom literature, it's a special form of writing. And that needs to be taken into account to properly interpret these verses.

Now with literature is not the easiest to define or explain. I find it helpful to contrast it with another kind of writing a different genre, namely law, or legal type writings. A law is something that is true in every and all situations, it doesn't matter. From time or circumstances. A law is a universal truth. It's always that way. And so if I, after this recording session is done, hop in my car and speed down the highway, and the cop pulls me over for speeding. I can't say Oh, today is Monday, I thought the speeding limit didn't apply on Mondays, not only give me a bigger ticket for being either foolish or smart alec, is he a law is true in every in all situations. And so when the Scripture is talking about loving the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength and your neighbor as yourself, there is no circumstance or situation where that is not true. That's law. That's legal type writing. But wisdom literature is different. Wisdom literature gives you more of a general principle by which you can really live in a right relationship with God or your neighbor. In fact, you actually need wisdom to know how to follow which are these texts because sometimes it's wiser to do one thing with a fool and sometimes it's wiser to do another. Both of these things are true, it just depends on the circumstances. 

One possibility, at least in some circumstances, the first text is the wisest thing to do, to not answer a fool according to his folly or you will be like yourself. I'm thinking of a situation. It was a number of years ago, when there was a retired missionary in my denomination came into my academic institution and said to a variety to us professors, you guys should be more mad at me. You see, he had, he had, in his retirement written a book that had challenged one of the, one of the teachings of the Reformed faith. And so he was kind of surprised when he was disappointed that, you know, we professors weren't saying, Oh, this missionary, he's a heretic, he's got this book, it's so bad, and so far that I think he was disappointed about being ignored, because book sales weren't very good. And, and he wanted more of a reaction. Now, I suppose what some of my colleagues and I were thinking about at the time was, well, no one's really reading this book now. So why draw attention to it? And what's more, this fellow is kind of old, he's later in life. And, you know, frankly, he may die sooner anyway. 

So it's probably wiser, just to be quiet, and to not, as our tech says, answer a fool, right? And, and otherwise, we can like and that was the wisest thing to do in that situation. However, in a different situation, a different course of action might be a wiser way to go to answer a fool according to his folly. I'm thinking of another situation that happened to me a number of years ago, I had a call from a former student. He said, Hey, Professor Lima, how you doing? And he was a youth pastor in a church in Alberta. And pretty quick in the conversation, he said, Have you ever heard of this? This Robert Van Kampen like, Oh, yeah, Robert Van Kampen, and he's this multi millionaire from the Chicago area, made his money in the financial markets. His family originally had publishing company, they move to Western Michigan, he built a five storey home 20,000 square feet with a helicopter pad on top called it massada. He's got some interesting views about the end times. He's written a couple of books about them. He said, that's the guy. That's the guy. I have somebody in my church, my former student said. 

Who's all excited about this book on the end time by this Robert van Kampen guy, and he ordered 50 copies of these books and has given him free to all the young people in my church. And in that context, I thought it was better to follow the second half of Proverbs 26, namely, to answer a fool according to his folly, because the teachings about the time in his books was unbiblical, and was likely to be confusing or misleading, especially for young, impressionable adults. You see, dear friends, wisdom literature is a little different than law or legal texts. Sometimes it's wiser to do the one and sometimes it's wiser to do the other. One last example and a quick explanation about it, I'm not going to take time to read the whole parable, I hope you're familiar with the parable. This is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It's found in Luke. And it's not surprising because Luke stresses and emphasizes, among other things are concerned for the poor. And so it's not surprising. It's a parable about a beggar named Lazarus. Now, the point I want to make with this last example, is, because it's a parable, we have to be careful in how we interpret it, or the implications we draw about it.

In other words, when it makes some statements in here, as it does in this parable, you can see it in the text where it talks about how the rich man can talk to God, right. So the people in hell can somehow talk to the people who are in heaven, I'm going to talk about being thirsty. And when it talks about the geography there being this great chasm between these two places, I'm saying that it would be dangerous, because it's a parable to draw conclusions from this passage about the temperature, about the geography, about conversation between these two realms in the life to come. And I say we should be careful or will be dangerous to do this, not because I'm liberal, not because I don't want to take this tech seriously, actually, quite the opposite. I want to take this tech so seriously, that I treat it as a parable. I mean, it would be different if Jesus said, sit down disciples, I want to give you some teaching about the end times are about life after death. That would be different if Jesus is giving straightforward teaching. But if he's giving the parable, that's a special form of writing. And you have to interpret it the right way in the way that it was intended. Most people would agree that parables are meant to make one major point. 

What about the details of the parable? Are they unimportant? No. But the details of the parable are important only insofar as they give life to and give greater weight to that one overarching point. And Jesus apparently tells the parable to drive home the point that there is no second chance after death, the rich man can have a second chance after death. And even though he wants to send someone to his family to warn them, so they don't make the same mistake. They too won't have a second chance. So in all of these examples that I've given you so far, they've had in common this, even though much or most of the Bible ought to be interpreted in a straightforward literal way. There are Many parts of the Bible, which were never intended to be interpreted literally, and it would be wrong for us to interpret them literally. Instead, it's very important for us to take seriously its genre, its form of writing. And this is what's so potentially dangerous about, you know, the TV evangelistic preacher with the big floppy Bible and one verse, you know, he cites from maybe the law, Exodus 20, and another verse from the Psalms poetry and another verse from a parable that Jesus tells and another verse from a letter that Paul writes, and then another verse from the book of Revelation. 

Now, I'm not saying when you do that, you're guaranteed to make a mistake and interpretation. But you do increase the possibility for eisegesis a wrong interpretation, because you're not taking seriously the kind of writing where each of these texts come from. I don't want to intimidate you. But in a certain sense, every form of Scripture, every genre, scripture has its own hermeneutic its own special way of interpretation. For example, if we wanted to look at letters in the New Testament, before, if I were going to teach you a course on how to, to interpret the New Testament letters, at the very beginning of the course, I would have to have some discussion about how do you interpret a letter as a letter? Right? Because you probably don't know anything about letters in the first century. I didn't either, right, I mean that letters today are different than they are then. But yet, Paul, and the New Testament letter writers inherited certain letter writing forms, and they use those forms, and they expected their hearers to hear those forms. And so we have to kind of educate ourselves in understanding a letter. So one example this is just one of many. 

One is there are in ancient letters, something called an appeal formula. You can see here that a Scandinavian scholar wrote a whole book on it. And the title of the book is really based on the Greek verb which is used in this appeal formula, para collateral. In the Scandinavian scholar, notice that there were four parts to this appeal formula for things that typically made up this appeal formula. And when I say formula, I mean, a fixed saying or expression, I mean, when you write a letter, you don't have to think about how it's going to begin, it's going to begin dear so and so, right? You didn't invent the word dear, that's a fixed formula two letters of this day. And when you end the letter, you don't have to think about how you're going to sign it. It's going to write sincerely, and again, you didn't invent sincerely you inherited it from the letter writing practices of today. Although Actually, we have to be a bit careful too. 

Because if you're writing your spouse, whoever he or she may be, you probably shouldn't sign it sincerely. In other words, we have to make sure that our letter writing formulas or conventions or fixed frames, they match what we are intending to say if I write my wife and sign sincerely, she'll think Wait a minute, my husband doesn't love me doesn't care about me. How can we doesn't sign love instead of, you know, uses this sincerely instead. So even we today have to be careful about the kind of formulas or expressions we use. But anyway, getting back to the first century, there was this appeal formula that had four parts. One was the main verb in Greek (παÏ�ακαλῶ) which can be translated appeal I appeal to you. Sometimes it has its synonym and a word that means almost the same thing I asked you, then secondly, you get the recipients of the appeal I appeal to you. Then thirdly, we get a prepositional phrase giving the source of authority on which you base your appeal. So if I said, I, Jeff winema, as a professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, that phrase as a professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, that's an appeal to the authority I have by which I would appeal or exhort you. 

And then finally, the last thing we get the actual content of the appeal, what it is that the writer asked the audience to do. And you can see that these four things are found in Paul's letters to a very well known common verses, Romans 12, verse one. And notice the four parts that are in there, I appeal to you, there's that Greek verb (παÏ�ακαλῶ) the first thing, and then to you, brothers, that's the recipients of the appeal, and then the little phrase by the mercies of God, that's the authority by which Paul is about to exhort them to do something. And then finally, we get that that clause where Paul tells them what it is that he wants them to do, namely, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. And notice at the bottom of the slide, how many different verses there are how many different times Paul newsletters makes use of this letter writing formula or convention. And you need to know actually, more importantly, not just that it exists What it looks like, but more importantly, what function does it have? That's where the payoff comes for interpretation. That's where the benefit comes for us today and learning these things. What does an appeal formula do? What function does it have? 

Well, it has two functions, its primary function is one of transition. I know that when Paul sort of say shifts gears when he's moving from one major topic to the next one, he signals that with this formula, this appeal formula. Now, you might be saying, Well, I don't need to think about that. I just look for a new paragraph, right? Well, wait a minute, these paragraph breaks aren't part of the original text. The original manuscripts had no verse divisions, no chapter divisions at all. Chapters weren't added till about the 10th century AD, verse divisions weren't added till the 14th century AD. So they're very artificial. So if you're one of those preachers or teachers who goes by a series, you know, chapter by chapter, that's a very artificial division to make. So the clues that we have chapter divisions, verse divisions, headings, paragraph breaks, those modern devices were done differently in the ancient world, they were done one way by these literary devices, such as an appeal formula. And so their challenges are we the kind of people have literary eyes, are we aware of these kind of literary devices, so we can see where Paul begins and where he ends. So that's an important function it has, but it has a secondary function, which is also important. And that is, the appeal formula is a softer, more user friendly way to exhort an audience to do something. 

In other words, instead of Paul, spiritually speaking, putting a gun to people's head and say, do this or else, instead of being heavy handed and saying, I command you, Paul deliberately chooses the softer, more user friendly, I appeal to you. We know this, from the ancient world were kings and governors who had a good relationship with their readers, they could confidently expect their readers to do what it is that they're about to ask them, they realize would only offend them to be heavy handed. And so they deliberately use that softer, more user friendly expression I appeal to you. And Paul definitely knows of the difference between commanding heavy handed in the softer, more user friendly, appealing, we know that he knows this because of his distinction in the letter to Philemon. Notice what he says, although in Christ, I could be bold and command, there's the heavy hand you to do what you want to do more because of love. I (παÏ�ακαλῶ) in Greek, I appeal to you, I Paul, an old man, and now a prisoner Christ Jesus. And then a second time I appeal to you concerning my child to whom I gave birth in prison on Onesimus. 

So Paul clearly knows the difference between commanding and appealing. And so this is one literary device that we have to kind of learn. Because it's not true of our day, it was true of the biblical writers day, Paul knew it had a special function for it, he could constantly Expect us here is to pick up on that. And so we have to kind of learn these epistolary or letter writing conventions so that we can become better readers, Paul, and other New Testament writers. Remember, this is just one literary device, one letter writing device among many that exists. Well, I picked one from letters, let me from the new test. Well, let me pick one from the Old Testament. This is one you may have heard before. This is an example of an Inclusio, and Inclusio. What's an inclusio? Well, that's where the writer repeats, a key word, phrase, or even a whole sentence at the beginning and the end, and they act like bookends, they mark the beginning and the end of one complete unit of thought. You can see this quite easily. For instance, in the Psalms, Psalm 118, says, Give thanks to the Lord for His good, His love endures forever. And then you get a whole bunch of other verses. And then it says again, at the end, give thanks a lot for you as good as love endures forever. 

And especially in that day. in that culture, when they were very sensitive orally, they were an oral culture, unlike us today who are visual culture, right? They were very adept at picking up at these repetitions or illusions. This is a clear way to show where the speaker begins and where he ends. And so if you're going to interpret a passage of the Bible, you have to make sure you begin at the right spot and you end at the right spot. And what's more, these inclusio are found not just in the Old Testament, but the new testament to because the New Testament writers know the Old Testament so well, that they copy they, they they're influenced by not just the content of The Old Testament writings, but even their literary devices. So Paul, even though he writes a letter will also make use of inclusio, you'll have the repetition of a key word or phrase at the beginning, in the end clear by marking off a paragraph. Or James does the same thing, a well known passage on faith and works, James chapter two. 

He begins with the phrase, what is the Prophet? And he spends talks for a little while. And then he ends the paragraph by saying, what is the Prophet, that little phrase what is the prophet and ends with the phrase, what is the Prophet are bookends marking that paragraph as one complete idea or unit of thought. And so it's important to read the Bible for all it's worth. That means having these literary eyes the ability to see these clever literary devices that the author's use, and especially what function they had. Well, let's try to bring this discussion on literary criticism to a close and I have some principles for principles that I want to quickly share with you. And they come from an article that I wrote a number of years ago on literary criticism. 

And the first principle goes like this a literary approach to Scripture and I'm hoping that you'll adopt this means that you have an appreciation for the sophisticated artistry and aesthetic qualities of the text. In other words, you realize that the Bible is not just written by some dumb fishermen who haphazardly wrote down or scribbled some things? No, it was written with some care with some precision, and with some forethought, Paul, for instance, when he writes a letter, he doesn't just start writing and not know where he's gonna end up, he has a clear idea about what he's going to say in fact, he Telegraph's he foreshadow some of the major topics at the opening of the letter. And so maybe you already have a view of Scripture which agrees with this, maybe you already have an appreciation for the aesthetic quality and sophisticated artistry of the biblical text. But if you don't, then maybe this is something you need to think about. thinking more that the biblical writers were more skilled in, in how they structured their arguments and how they said what they under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit were led to say. 

A second kind of common conviction from a literary approaches this, and that is a preoccupation with the form of the text with the form of the text. This is where I often make a distinction between It may sound funny to you at first, so so bear with me. And even though this is a longer lecture, don't give up on me yet, right? This is a distinction between what is said and how one says it. You can say the same thing, a lot of different ways. Remember my example earlier, from hyperbole about Jesus could have said to the disciples in a straightforward narrative way, soon as serious, serious business, or Jesus chose instead, to use hyperbole to make the same point and use hyperbole which made the same point lead the disciples in a more memorable way to say, Wow, sin is serious, serious business. So, so a literary approach means that you don't just ask you do ask what the text says. But you also ask, how does it say it? Why does it say it this way, and no other way not only in terms of genre, but whatever form or expression is used. And again, genre is important for interpretation, we saw a number of examples how we have to take seriously whether we're dealing with poetry or history, or law or letters, or apocalyptic or parable, or whatever the case may be. And then finally, in under this heading, biblical writers had these conventions, the stereotype phrases, these expressions, and we have to learn most of them because they're not common to speech or writing today, they were then so we have to kind of educate ourselves so that we can truly hear not just what they said, but how they said it and what they were communicating what function these literary devices had. I have a quote from a biblical Actually, it's an English prof This is interesting. 

This is Leland Ryken, who is an English prof at Wheaton. So you can see an English professor has an eye for form and structure and English professor is sensitive to a skilled writer and how they form their message. And so maybe it's not surprising that he comes to the Bible with that literary eye and says, we cannot fully comprehend the what of New Testament writers namely their religious content, without first paying attention to the how the literary modes in which The content is embodied. So you can see my distinction between what and how between content and form. Right? That distinction is found in in this particular quote. And that's why I have a slogan, though, because I'm worried that you might think that I'm separating these two from each other. Remember, the content deals with the what of the text, the foreign deals with the how of the text, in my slogan is forms supplements, but does not supplant content? In other words, both of these are important to the interpretation process. Yes, I want you to look carefully at what the Bible says, What is it content, what is just the meaning of the words, but what I'm appealing to you now under our third literary hermeneutic? Is give some care to how the writer said it, right? Why did they say it this way, with this genre, and in this form, or structure rather than another way? In what way does the form also communicate information to us, this is a huge matter and have great potential significance for interpretation. 

Finally (Thirdly), literary criticism is concerned with treating text as finished wholes as finished wholes. And there is a bit of a contrast with this point against both liberals and ultra conservatives. You may or may not know much about liberal scholarship, but especially in the gospels, they have a tendency not to take the texts at face value, but to kind of reconstruct either sources that lay behind what we find in the Bible. And they reconstruct in a very hypothetical way, the historical situation which gave rise to the sources. And as a result, they end up chopping up, especially the gospel stories and all kinds of different ways. Right? And literary criticism, no, let's, let's treat the gospel as a whole, and it's finished product. But conservative scholars can do the same thing from a different kind of perspective. If you're a really conservative Christian, and you believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and I believe that, but you might go overboard, you might say. 

Well, every word in the word is the inspired Word of God. And so as a result, sometimes conservative Christians get a little too excited, or they spend too much time explaining every single word in every single verse, some of the thinking, Well, every word is inspired. Therefore every word is super important, right? Sometimes the the definite article is just a definite article that isn't so significant. And as a result of this, maybe overview of the, of the of the inspiration of Scripture, this the sense that the Bible is the Word of God. Sometimes we chop it up, we take each individual verse by verse, in fact, many people preach that way, right? They go verse by verse through a particular passage. And that's not a bad way to treat the Bible, because at least you're treating the Bible, right, rather than telling stories or only doing application. But you also want to think about the finished hole. We have that expression in English, I don't want you to lose the forest for the trees. In other words, when you're doing your grammatical analysis, which you should, you know, looking at individual words, you should also literary look at it from a distance and say, why those words all packaged in this particular format or structure as opposed to another? 

And how does whatever versus I'm looking at fit within the larger hole? That's a concern for treating the text as a whole. Or when you get to especially Paul's letters, you want to say to him, he's got three points. Why is point number one, number one, instead of point number two or three? is there is there a reason Paul hasn't been this order than a different order? These are all questions dealing with form and structure. And they take very seriously the text in its finished whole. That's another principle of literary criticism. 

And then the fourth and last one is it has an a historical orientation. Now this is a little bit tricky, because what I'm saying to you now is true, even though I don't personally believe it. In other words, literary critics, usually from the liberal side of things have a very a historical another words a non historical way of treating the text. They don't really care who said it, they don't really care what was happening was when the text took place, they just want to treat the text in its finished whole. So I'm correcting telling you that a literary proach typically has an A or non historical orientation. But I don't agree with that, because as you'll see in the next session, our fourth hermeneutical principle is exactly that, namely, the historical element, how crucial it is to look at a passage in its historical context. 

So in the interest of completeness, I wanted to share with you this last principle, even though I personally don't adhere to it. Well, friends, this was a rather longer explanation, partly because literary will be likely the newest one to you, when you probably haven't thought about. It takes a while to kind of think about the implications of this approach, but it's an important one. It's an important one if you want to read the Bible for all it's worth.

Last modified: Friday, May 7, 2021, 8:35 AM