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Danny W.

Davis
BIBL6540: Philosophical Thoughts about Understanding the Bible.
6 February 2011
My undergraduate training was in Biblical studies. I have electronic files filled with

documents outlining and surveying and detailing a large portion of the Bible. “Word studies”

are part and parcel of these files and terms like “lexical/syntactical analysis,” “exegesis,” and

“eisegesis” are prevalent. Still I come back daily to the Scriptures and, without fail, find once

again God speaking personally and with freshness. Though this encourages me individually I

still feel called and responsible to actively engage the Bible through a particular method.

Though this method is designed to minimize subjectivity, I am cognizant that my

presuppositions are still present (Westpahl 2009, 35). As John Webster suggests, I try to keep

three things in the forefront as I approach the Bible: God, the text and the reader (as cited in

Parnell, 2011).

In approaching the Bible I to acknowledge that God is ever-present in its pages.

Though human authors penned the words, recognition must be given to God’s voice behind

those authors. Westpahl (2009) suggest we do not read a text to discover facts about its

human author (p. 31). I would agree. On the other hand, as we move toward the Bible we

must also recognize a duality of authorship. God moved prophetically on human beings and

inspired them to speak to a particular circumstance or situation in a given historical context

(cf. 2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16). This divine “speech act” (Westpahl 2008, 36-43) passed

through human lips; some of that human “speech act” was transcribed and eventually

canonized. I may not obtain copious amounts of insight from the canon into Peter’s

personality; but I can learn how God worked in and through him to bring about divine

purpose. Therefore, as I read the scriptures I observe how God spoke to human authors and

fully expect the Almighty will authoritatively speak to me by means of that previous

conversation. I also expect God to speak through other means of deputized speech, that is, by

other texts or speech concerning the Bible and its message (Westpahl 2009, 39). Primarily, I

am seeking to hear the authoritative voice and typically it comes in the form of the biblical

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Danny W. Davis
BIBL6540: Philosophical Thoughts about Understanding the Bible.
6 February 2011
text.

The Bible, at a pedestrian level, is just paper and ink formed into a convenient

package. However, because God is present within its pages through His relationship with the

authors it rises from the ordinary to another level (not divine but certainly not pedestrian).

This level of authority demands careful examination and interpretation. We are charged to

properly, and within the limits of orthodoxy; attribute to God those characteristics consistent

with His “speech acts.” And because the text represents the story of God spanning several

centuries and encompassing a host of cultures part we examine the text from multiple levels.

Westpahl (2009), calling upon Schleiermacher, suggest two levels: grammatical-linguistic

and psychological (p. 28).

These levels ask the reader to view and question the text in its immediate setting

(within the paragraph or sentence). He or she then moves out to larger sections while also

expanding his or her questioning of the text (e.g. chapters, books, genre). Finally, the

interpreter tries to discern the texts place within the meta-narrative, answer the questions (as

far as possible) and offer an interpretation. Psychologically the interpreter calls upon biblical

and scholarly sources attempting to grasp what can be known about the historical/cultural

influences on the author and how these might affect the contemporary interpretation.

Humanly speaking, the process described above is dependant upon the reader.

In my experience, most engagement with the scriptures requires work. We are rarely

afforded a “moment of immediacy” where we “just see” the meaning of a particular text

(contra Westpahl 2009, 33). The reader’s effort to handle the word of God with honesty

requires genuine labor and a prayerful attitude. Some texts require more work than others, but

all texts require the reader to be empowered by the Spirit. If God is speaking through the text,

it is through the Spirit that the reader will receive the words in his or her enlivened heart.

Therefore, the attitude of the reader helps or hinders the ability to receive the grace coming

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Danny W. Davis
BIBL6540: Philosophical Thoughts about Understanding the Bible.
6 February 2011
through the Bible and obey the commands of God.

God speaks! How? Through the text received from those authorized to speak on His

behalf (we can discuss the idea of God’s audible voice another day). But to whom do these

texts speak? They speak to the reader (or the hearer). But how do they speak to the reader?

God and the text speak to the reader as he or she approaches both with meekness.

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Danny W. Davis
BIBL6540: Philosophical Thoughts about Understanding the Bible.
6 February 2011
References

Parnell, J. (2011, January 27). Reading the bible is an episode in salvation history [Web log

message]. Retrieved from http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/reading-the-bible-is-

an-episode-in-salvation-history

Westpahl, M. (2009). Whose community? Which interpretation.. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker

Academic.