August 2011

The Christocentric Principle

Series: Jesus the interpreter of scripture

I don’t usually quote much from sources other than the Bible, but today is different – today I feel a quote or two coming on.

Raymond Brown compared ‘the search for the perfect hermeneutic to the search for the Holy Grail. Everybody approaches the new hermeneutics with the conviction that this is the answer, and then after twenty years you will find its limitations.’ For those uninitiated into theology-speak, hermeneutics is simply the name given to the science and method of interpreting texts. Is Raymond Brown right? Do all interpretive systems have their limitations? Yes, I think he is correct in what he says and I am sure that any proposal will be found wanting to one degree or another. Perhaps the search should be for the best rather than the perfect hermeneutic.

Seeing as how I am in quote mode, let me give you what the famous Charles Spurgeon wrote; ‘O you who open your Bibles and want to understand a text, the way to get into the meaning of a text is through the door, Christ.’  From what you have read in my posts so far you will know that I heartily agree with Spurgeon. I have even had the boldness to give this hermeneutic a name – The Christocentric Principle (CP).
I define the CP as ‘Interpreting the Bible and the world primarily through the lens of Jesus’ Words, Works, and the biblical revelation of His Nature, Character, and Values’. I will need to expand on this in order to make it as clear as I can.
The principle is that we should look at the Bible and life through the lens of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we do this then we will have what Paul referred to as ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16). How do we know how Jesus viewed the world? We know His view-point because it is revealed in the Bible.

The Bible of course contains a lot more than a record of what Jesus said and did and so we also need to view the scriptures through His eyes. What He said and did reveals more than just words and actions, it also reveals His nature, character, and values. So the way to interpret the Bible and Life is to apply Jesus’ values and the revelation of His nature and character as demonstrated in what He said and did.

The argument I have been presenting in my more recent posts is this:
  1. Jesus is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15) ‘for God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him’ (Colossians 1:19).
  2. Jesus is the central subject matter of the Bible. ‘You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life’.  John 5:39-40
  3. Jesus is the interpreter of scripture. , “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago…  But I tell you…” Matthew 5:21-34
  4. Therefore Jesus is the primary interpreter of the Bible.
In my definition of the CP I use the word ‘primary’ because it is obvious that it is just not possible to apply the CP to all and every biblical text. Equally obvious is the need to use other interpretive methods to the biblical text, methods such as context, genre, grammar, and so on. However, I sincerely believe that the CP should be our primary interpretive method.

Other posts in this series: 
The Key Further Revealed
The Key Revealed 
Seeking the Key
Jesus the Interpreter of Scripture

The Christocentric Principle Read More »

The Key further revealed

Series: Jesus the interpreter of scripture
If you haven’t yet read my previous two posts ‘Seeking the Key’ and ‘The Key Revealed’ then please do so now so that you can get the full benefit of what I write in this post.

There is a silly tale about a man who was walking past a farmer’s barn when he noticed dozens of targets painted on the side with an arrow sticking out of the centre of each. The farmer was working nearby so the visitor went over to him and said, “Wow, I have never seen such accuracy before. I am an experienced archer but I could never hit the bull’s eye every time like that!” The farmer grinned sheepishly. “It’s my son” he bleated, “But he’s a bit strange, he shoots the arrows first and then paints the targets around them afterwards.”

The various schemes of interpreting scripture appear to me to much like that – arrows first and targets afterwards. My conviction is that we need to find the target in the Bible and then shoot at that. I believe that the Bible states the interpretive key (the target) in more than one place. Here are some instances.

The book of Revelation contains this angelic injunction to John; “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). The Good News Bible translates this verse as, “For the truth that Jesus revealed is what inspires the prophets”. The Amplified Bible adds interpretation by stating, “For the substance (essence) of the truth revealed by Jesus is the spirit of all prophecy [the vital breath, the inspiration of all inspired preaching and interpretation of the divine will and purpose, including both mine and yours]”.
The eminent scholar G.K.Beale writes in his exegetical commentary (commentary on the analysis and interpretation of the Bible) on Revelation that ‘a subjunctive genitive connotes the idea that all true prophecy has its origin in the words and acts of Jesus’. Forgive the reference to the Greek but in essence what he is saying is that if one takes the Greek words used in this sense then they can be legitimately translated to mean that Jesus is source, and therefore the interpretive key, of prophecy.

Another ‘target’ is John 14:25-27 where Jesus says, “All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you”. Further on in chapter 16 verses 12 to 15 John records Jesus’ words; “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”. The authoritative D.A.Carson notes in his commentary on John’s Gospel that the teachings the Holy Spirit brings are ‘nothing more than the filling out of the revelation nodally present in Jesus himself’.

All of this seems to me to point strongly to Jesus being the interpretive key to scripture. What do you think?

Other posts in this series: 
The Key Revealed 
Seeking the Key
Jesus the Interpreter of Scripture

The Key further revealed Read More »

The Key revealed

Series = Jesus, the interpreter of scripture
If you haven’t yet read my previous post ‘Seeking the Key’ then please do so now so that you can get the full benefit of what I write in this post.
I have a dear friend who is super-sensitive to man-made traditions and religious schemes. If he senses that someone is trying to slip one of these past him he will immediately say, “So where do you see that in the Bible?” For example, someone in our church suggested that we set up a prayer chain. As soon as he heard this his religious antenna twitched and he exclaimed, “So where do you see that in the Bible?!” So let me use his question to evaluate some common attempts at defining a key to interpreting the scriptures.
‘Scripture interprets scripture’ is a much used dictum. This usually means that we should interpret any text with reference to other texts, and that an ambiguous text should be interpreted with reference to a clear text. So, where do we see that in the Bible? It seems a reasonable contention but I don’t know of any biblical teaching that sets this out as an interpretive key.
Another dictum is that we should allow the authors original meaning to supply our interpretation of any text. Sure, we need to do this as part of our search for understanding. I have a slight variation on this and prefer to ask ‘what did the original readings/hearers understand by this?’ Either way, the idea is part of what is commonly referred to as the Gramatical-Historical key to interpretation. In other words, we need to consider the context, the actual words used, and so on, in order to determine meaning. This is a sensible approach and certainly helps us to determine the superficial meaning of any given text. However, it does not always help us determine what is being taught or implied in the text. And, once again, to quote my friend, “Where do we find this interpretive key in the Bible?”
Let me tell you what I do find in the Bible concerning how it should be interpreted. I am going to give just one example here and then continue with this theme in my next few posts.
Matthew 5:21-22 records Jesus as saying, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment”. A few verses on it has; “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Verses 27-29). Then in verses 33-34 it has; “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all”.
These statements point us clearly to the interpretive key to scripture – Jesus himself
The Lord is referring to two of the Ten Commandments and to the instructions Moses gave as recorded in Numbers 30:1-2. These commandments were given to Moses by God. In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus was not contradicting the scriptures of His day for He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matthew 5:17). 
What He was actually doing was interpreting the scriptures. Jesus rejected the traditional rabbinical understandings and then gave His authoritative interpretation. 
In doing this He presented His understanding as the key to interpreting the scriptures. This I do see in the Bible!
There is more to come – watch this space. In the meantime I would love to interact with you if you post a comment on this Blog.

The Key revealed Read More »

Seeking the key

Series = Jesus, the interpreter of scripture
I have often had discussions with agnostics that go something like this: “So tell me then, how come you Christians have so many different interpretations of the Bible? You claim that the Bible is inspired and therefore authoritative yet every different church group has its own way of understanding what it means.” This is of course true. Traditional Calvinists have their own logical scheme which they use to interpret the Bible (TULIP). Wesleyan groups take an opposing view. Dispensationalists interpret the Bible through the grid of historical periods of biblical history, and so on…
At a more focused level, Baptists find biblical support for the congregational form of church government, Presbyterians believe that government by teams of Elders/presbyters is more biblical, and Anglicans hold that hierarchical government with an Archbishop at the head is the truest biblical model.
Then there are the issues of baptism, talking in tongues, end time scenarios and many other hotly debated interpretations of scripture.

Perhaps this is as it should be. Perhaps the Lord Jesus, the head of the whole church and every church in particular, wants us to experience a range of key beliefs and practices. I don’t think this can be so because it sure makes it hard to find unity and it certainly confuses most of us. So if the problem does not lie with the Lord, or with the Bible itself, then it must lie with the way we interpret the scriptures.

I know it wouldn’t completely solve the problem, but it would really help if we could all agree on an interpretive key that would unlock the essential meaning of the scriptures. But what would constitute such a key?
Perhaps a place to start is to acknowledge that any such key would need to be revealed and not devised. The Bible is a divine/human collaboration yet its truth content is revelatory. By this I mean that God has chosen to reveal truth to us in and through the scriptures and our task is simply to comprehend this truth. Jesus conveyed this concept to us when He said that only one who comes from heaven can convey heavens truth (John 6). So any key to understanding the Bible must be revealed rather than logically constructed. To meet this criterion any interpretive key needs to be stated, explicitly or implicitly in scripture.
The TULIP of Calvinism does not, to my thinking at least, meet this criterion. Some might argue that Romans 8:30 sets out the general TULIP idea but it doesn’t really, particular within the context of what Paul is teaching in that section of Romans. The so called dispensations also have no reasonable biblical origin. Both TULIP and the dispensationalist framework are contrived systems of interpretation.
So what interpretive key does indeed satisfy the requirement of being divinely revealed in scripture itself? To borrow an expression from a popular television series, “you will find out after the break”. Until my next posting then, please would you give some thought to this question. My previous postings and the title of this post makes it obvious where I am going with this but it would be great if you could think about it and then interact with me as I develop the concept further in future posts.
To help a little with this process I have included a poll – please would you select the one option that comes closest to your idea of an interpretive key to understanding the Bible and comment with your answer, and why if you would like to explain your choice.
What is the key to understanding the Bible?
1. Scripture interprets scripture.
2. Spiritual illumination.
3. Literal plain sense of the text.
4. Context.
5. Jesus’ nature as revealed by His words and deeds.
6. The church’s rulings.

Seeking the key Read More »

Jesus, the interpreter of scripture

Series: Who is this Jesus?
‘You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life’. John 5:39-40
I once asked a biblical scholar what he was looking forward to most in heaven. He replied, “I can’t wait to read the scriptures with full understanding.” Seems like a noble desire yet it appears to me to be a very strange ambition. In heaven we will have full access to the Lord Jesus Christ, the author of scripture, so why would we read an ethereal version of the Bible when we can talk to its author?
I believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible, yet I understand that it is for our temporal benefit; in other words, it is for here and now. It is by Jesus and about Jesus and its purpose is to enable us to come to know Jesus. John wrote; ‘Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ John 20:30-31
You might have paused in your reading when you came to my statement that Jesus is the author of scripture. Sure, the Bible was produced by men, but these men were inspired to write by the Holy Spirit. As evangelical Christians, we believe in the Holy Trinity, three personages yet one God, so if God inspired the scriptures then this means that Jesus is the author – see what I mean?
But without sounding like a telly ad presenter’s, “Wait, there is more!” there is more; Jesus is not only the author but also the interpreter of the Bible. An illustration will help explain what I mean by this. Say my friend David wrote a book about himself, and then died, I would have to determine what he meant in the various chapters by using both literary tools and my own logic. I could discuss the meaning with others who knew him and our combined appreciation of his character and values would help us interpret his writing. The problem would be even greater if David were a historic character that no one alive had personally known. Most Christians treat the Bible in this way, as though its author were no longer accessible.
Now let’s assume that David is very much alive and I could phone him from time to time. I would still read his book, but if I got stuck in parts, or felt I was missing an important shade of meaning, I would simply phone him and ask him what he meant. He would serve as both author and interpreter. How strange it would be if I, and my scholarly friends, arrived at our own interpretations without checking with him.
Jesus is not dead, He is alive, and He is accessible to us in two important ways.
Firstly, He is accessible through prayer and meditation. John recorded Jesus’ words in chapter 16 verses 12-15 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
The other way that the author is accessible to us is also through the agency of the scriptures. The Bible reveals all we need to know of the words and works of Jesus Christ. His teachings and His actions reveal His nature, character, and values. By reading the Bible, under the illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit, we can gain understanding of how Jesus understood the teachings and narratives of the biblical record. In some places it is obvious and at other times it is subtle, yet we are at all times able to understand scripture through the ‘Jesus’ interpretive lens.
“Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.” John Lennon
In my next series of postings I will develop this concept further – I call it the Christocentric Principle.

Jesus, the interpreter of scripture Read More »

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.