Rightly Handling the Word of Truth
"Exegesis (correct interpretation) involves much more than the bare analysis of words. It involves context, train of thought, historical considerations, situational considerations, cultural considerations, etc. The analysis of words is merely the starting point." Eric Svendsen
In 2 Timothy 2:15, God, through the Apostle Paul commands Timothy (and us as God's people) to study to show ourselves approved by God, and to rightly handle His word. The obvious inference here is that without dilligent study it is very likely that we will wrongly divide the word, or give an illegitimate interpretation of it. This takes place with great regularity, and the trouble is that we can often times see when others do this, but we are blind to our own traditions. It takes a humble heart, graced by the Holy Spirit, to be prepared to constantly expose our traditions up to the light of God's word to find if what we believed was true actually is true. We tend to think that we have no traditions - when in fact, we might be blinded by them more than anyone else.
Some time back, April 26, 2006 to be precise, I wrote a short article here called "Playing Marbles with Diamonds." There I suggested the use of a dozen ground rules to help each of us in the holy task of rightly handling the word of God. I believe the way we handle the text of the Bible can very much offend God as its Author, and to be hap-hazard in our approach is very displeasing to Him.
Along this line, I came across two things today online that I felt would be helpful for everyone to read:
1) A pdf file from John Piper on the subject of biblical exegesis here. This is a lengthy document but I feel is well worth printing out and reading when you have some free time to do so.
2) I found these comments by Dr. James White regarding the improper use of a text and passage (and wrongly dividing the word) to be helpful in showing how many misinterpret the clear words of a text/passage in its context:
"Another example of "tradition glasses" overthrowing the text can be found in the ever-popular game, "Let's Chop Romans 9 Up and Mute Its Teaching." This game, popular on national radio programs, in books, commentaries, and in Bible college dorm rooms worldwide, seeks to allow those who do not want to believe God is the Potter, we are the clay, and He makes from one lump vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor, i.e., that He mercies whom He chooses and He hardens whom He chooses--to pretend they are still believing the Bible while rejecting the meaning of this text. The "this is only about blessings and nations and service and stuff" excuse is still quite popular, but it doesn't survive even a casual reading of the text in context, so a little more tricky gambit is often used. It goes like this.
First, cut the text up. Almost anyone reading from Romans 8:28 through 9:24 will be overwhelmed by the consistency of the argument and the inexorable force of the flow of the text. Throw as many roadblocks in the way as you can, and, it is always good to toss in The Big Three, i.e., 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, and Matthew 23:37 (in fact, go ahead and misquote the last one, nobody seems to notice anyway) even though none of these texts are actually relevant to the topic at hand. For those who are predisposed against Romans 9, they sound like they are relevant. But whatever you do, don't let anyone follow the argument and note, just like in John 6, that if you start at the beginning, follow the argument, note the use of terms, the text really does interpret itself. That would be disastrous. Chop, chop, chop. You can come up with a plausible excuse for a few verses, but that's impossible for the whole thing. Isolate and conquer. The motto of eisegesis.
Second, once you have isolated the really offensive part (9:19ff), chop even this portion up and then throw this canard out and wow your target audience. Ignore the Potter and the clay thing and get to the vessels of wrath/vessels of mercy portion. Yes, clearly, the "vessel for honorable use/vessel for common (dishonorable) use" parallel is still in view in 22-23, but tradition glasses don't see things like that. Ignore it. Just go to 22-23 and point out that "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" is a little bit different than "vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory." There is no "He" in the preparation of the vessels of wrath, see! Rely on the fact that the person you are talking to is desperate for a way out of the dreaded trap of Calvinism! See, God did not prepare these vessels of wrath! Yes, yes, of course, if they read it in context the Potter is the one who prepared both groups in verse 21 and 22-23 is the continuation of that argument but again, if you have made sure to use the right music and drag a few bright, shiny objects by you should be able to keep someone from noticing the fatal flaw of your argument. So, you either claim that the vessels of wrath prepare themselves (letting God off the hook and giving you room for your true ultimate prize, human autonomy!), or you let Satan do a drive-by here and do the preparation for the vessels of destruction (as if Satan is not, in fact, bound by God's sovereign decree). In any case, you get to give your audience a way out of the text for which they will be ever grateful.
Now, of course, it is true that the terms "God" or "He" do not appear in the preparation of the vessels of wrath in verse 22. It is also true that vessels of wrath, by nature, continue to be vessels of wrath and, in fact, outside of God's restraint upon them, would express ever greater detestation of God and His law. There is a modicum of truth in stating that vessels of wrath are complicit in their being what they are. Quite true. But that doesn't change the point being made by the Apostle. This kind of eisegesis ignores the flow of the text; it ignores that God is concerned about demonstrating His power and wrath (compare v. 17 with v. 22); it ignores the fact that the Apostle is responding to a particular objection against his teaching, an objection that is exactly the viewpoint of those who seek to get around this text!" - Dr. James White, www.aomin.org - 11/20/06