Interpretation

How can I understand unless someone guides me?

How can I understand unless someone guides me?

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

In Acts 8, we are reminded of the familiar story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. The wealthy Ethiopian had been worshipping in Jerusalem.  Upon his return home he began to read aloud the words of the prophet Isaiah. Intrigued by them, he sought the help of someone who was capable of interpreting that text. The Ethiopian found an interpreter of Scripture, but also an interpreter of life. Philip’s interpretation was not only a Messianic interpretation but also a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:14-15, which promised that Yahweh would sprinkle the nations. The Ethiopian was sprinkled/washed clean from his transgressions. He began to see that Messiah suffered so that he might have life.

This passage establishes in many ways the need for biblical counseling. Counselees are asking Philip’s questions. Their lives torn by a host of events have clouded their understanding of life, and sometimes even the Bible itself. It is incumbent then, for counselors, to come alongside the hurting and the needy and provide an accurate view of their lives through the lens of the Bible.

Jesus is the starting point of all healing. He is the suffering servant, who received no justice, according to Isaiah’s prophecy. The interpreter/counselor begins by pointing to Jesus. He guides the counselee to see that Jesus is the answer to his despair. But he is not simply pointing him to a concept, but to a Person. Jesus, as Person, died and suffered. Jesus, as concept, offers no hope.

Notice that Philip ran to him. Philip understood the pain and despair of the eunuch. Philip was troubled by the eunuch’s lack of knowledge. The Spirit guides us to those who are most troubled, whether rich or poor. Philip, the counselor, then asked a question.

A few observations concerning the text above:

Notice that Philip asked him a question. Counselors are in the question-asking business. A porn addict may benefit from a stern rebuke, but the porn addict has already been rebuked by his own conscience, which is why he is seeking interpretation. A porn addict needs to probe his motivations and his justifications behind seeking his sinful habits. He needs to think through his worldview before he can see that it is deeply flawed. Questions will bring these assumptions to the surface.

The counselee needed help. Counselors cannot help those who do not wish to be helped. The counselee acknowledged that his answers, his attempts to be good, his efforts to get away from certain habits were not paying off. He realized that unless someone guides him his efforts will all be in vain.

Guiding someone is a form of life interpretation. The counselor needs to take the counselees’ assumptions about the world and dissect them so that the counselee can see the context surrounding his sins. He may be oblivious to his own environment. He may not know that the culture he is imbibing is causing a greater urge to immerse himself in those sins. He needs guidance to see that his interpretation is flawed.

Finally, notice that the eunuch invites the counselor to come and sit by him. This is not always the case. The work of the Spirit, of course, was already humbling the eunuch. His worship experience had already softened his own mind to seek wisdom. In some cases, the counselor needs to make aware to the counselee that he needs help and guidance. At times pride will keep the individual from seeking any help. He is certain that his lack of knowledge of the text and of his own life is not a problem and that in time he will learn to deal with it. This is where community life becomes crucial to the individual. If sins are simply seen as separated acts from the community, then they bear no weight on anyone else besides the individual. If, however, sins are communal by nature, then making known to the addicted man that he needs guidance becomes a necessary component of community life. The hurting has little hope of finding a right interpretation if he has no one willing to point out his need of one.

The eunuch was baptized. Philip’s interpretation offered him a perspective that changed him and caused him to act upon it. Counselors offer interpretation that will change the course of action of the counselee. Counselors, by God’s grace, will offer a message of hope. Jesus is that hope. The One who received no justice offers justice in the sight of God to those who humble themselves and seek his guidance. Jesus sat with us and offered us an interpretation of our lives that made us whole.

Interpretive Maximalism and James B. Jordan

Last night we had the honor of attending the send-off party for the Jordan family as they move to Birmingham, AL. Jim and Brenda Jordan have been dear friends of mine and my church community for some time. During my first three years as pastor I had the privilege of working side-by-side with Jim at Providence. He was especially encouraging in that first year. Not only did he add his tremendously musical gifts to our congregation, but his Sunday School series for those three years were life-changing.

Part of what Jim Jordan brings to the table is a life-long commitment to Sola Scriptura. He is, to borrow John Frame’s language, a true biblicist. He bleeds biblical theology. The fact that he does not simply repeat old slogans and the sheer fact that he is so innovative in the field of biblical theology make him a target to many.

His book Through New Eyes offers a profoundly rich theology of symbols; a theology, which if embraced, will make Bible studies not only fascinating, but will make the student of the Bible enlivened to read the Bible again and again and to find connections that affirm the remarkable onenes of biblical revelation.

Jim Jordan goodbyeMany have attached the hermeneutic of interpretive maximalism (Hence IMax.) to James Jordan’s theology. In his 1990 article What is Interpretive Maximalism, Jordan affirms that this hermeneutic contrasts with the minimalist interpreter. David Chilton is his famous Revelation commentary was the first to apply directly the rich nature of Jim’s theology to John’s inspired account. Jordan himself had already given a clear example of that hermeneutic in his Judges commentary, which Chilton references.

In fact, in his Judges commentary he contrasts his approach to the modern evangelical one:

“We have to explain this [i.e., the business about types and prophecies] in order to distance ourselves from the interpretive minimalism’ that has come to characterize evangelical commentaries on Scripture in recent years. We do not need some specific New Testament verse to `prove’ that a given Old Testament story has symbolic dimensions. Rather, such symbolic dimensions are presupposed in the very fact that man is the image of God. Thus, we ought not to be afraid to hazard a guess at the wider prophetic meanings of Scripture narratives, as we consider how they image the ways of God. Such a `maximalist’ approach as this puts us more in line with the kind of interpretation used by the Church Fathers.”

So, part of James Jordan’s controversial hermeneutic is an attempt to affirm the inherent beauty of the Old Testament narrative without depending on some New Testament affirmation. Further, as Jordan writes, IMax. offers a richer Old Testament narrative, since the typological images offer a fuller and more robust picture of Christ in the pages of the pre-AD 70 world.

Jordan sees the grammatico-historical interpretation to be valid, but incomplete without the aid of a rich biblical theology. And this was part of what led his break with some of the well-known theonomic figures. Jordan writes:

I think that those who take this kind of typology seriously are the only people doing justice to the Biblico-theological dimension of interpretation, and my criticism of the Bahnsen-Rushdoony type of “theonomy” is precisely that I don’t think they do justice to this dimension. In common with most of my teachers, I believe that the grammatico-historical “methods” of interpretation need to be complemented by Biblico-theological considerations, and that is what I have sought to do in my own work. (On “theonomy” see James B. Jordan, “Reconsidering the Mosaic Law: Some Reflections — 1988,” available from Biblical Horizons.)

In conclusion, James Jordan uses the term maximalist as a way of communicating that the Bible reader can gain more from the pages of Scripture than they can ever imagine. The Bible is given to us by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit does not waste his breath. His inspired data is not given simply to fill in empty space, but to provide a fuller and more beautiful portrait of the Gospel.

Revelation Study #6, Interpretive Maximalism

Revelation Study #6, Interpretive Maximalism

If you are interested in an introduction to Revelation, here is my sixth introduction to the book focusing on the hermeneutical method called “Interpretive Maximalism.”

“The minimalist is often quite literal and focuses exclusively on the grammatical-historical interpretation. Though this method is necessary, our interpretation should not be limited to it. I am currently working on a project on the book of Ruth, and at first glance it seems like a simple narrative, but the more one digs into the meaning of the names of each character, the places mentioned, the theology of the land and of gleaning, the nature of Boaz and his relationship to Ruth, one is compelled to realize that Ruth is really a miniature picture of the entire gospel message from Genesis to Revelation.”

(Scroll down on the main page for all six lessons)