This approach to reading Scripture lays heavy emphasis on knowing the original languages, culture, history, and the theology of Scripture. Just reading that sentence probably runs shudders up and down your spine. It is the approach of professional theologians.
David deSilva, a New Testament specialist, suggests that a careful study of a text should include the following:
- A detailed analysis of the text.
- An examination of how the text converses with other texts in its own environment.
- An investigation of the world that produced the text.
- An analysis of how that text affected the world in which it was written. 1
Sounds like an arduous task, one from which most Jesus followers shrink. In October 2003, in a personal conversation with Eugene Peterson, 2 we talked about pedagogy. He told me, “There needs to be someone who is trained to provide instruction to God’s people.” The postmodern influence on the church often denies this possibility as it presents a “conversation” motif as its replacement pedagogy. He continued, “Mere conversation groups only produce no truth and no authority.” So the historically informed approach needs to be available for the “someone” to be trained in, so he/she can give instruction about Scripture to church congregants.
This approach seeks to come to an understanding of what Scripture meant to its original hearers/readers and what the intent of the author who wrote it might have been. Church congregants, it is safe to say, are not going to pursue this option. What is important is that those who are charged to teach a congregation should be involved in this approach. As feeder of the flock, this approach to study should be a vigorous part of the pastor-teacher’s “call.” How can one expect to say what the Scripture means without first understanding what it meant?
The problem in this approach is that everyone who is a follower of Jesus is not going to give the time, energy, and money to adequately interact with the original languages, culture, history, and the theology of Scripture. What has taken place has been the rise of the devotional approach to reading the text.