The Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS) has become a topic of discussion among academic authors like, Francis Watson, Daniel Treier, Kevin Van Hoozer, and Stephen Fowl. Right from the beginning the name itself sounds like something we shouldn’t be doing. It is as if we are allowing our beliefs to determine what scripture says. While that does happen in many quarters, it’s not the case with TIS. Actually those who are involved in TIS see it more as a recovery of premodern hermeneutics (Bible interpretation). The argument is that modernist hermeneutics, like the Grammatical Historical (GH) method, have not lived up to their promise in providing a method of a truly unified reading of scripture. Some have suggested that the GH method leaves us with interpretive pluralities where each interpreter has the final say on what Scripture says.
So as you can probably imagine this would create a few challenges. If Scripture is the means by which God speaks then It ought to be read as a whole. This first came to my mind many years ago when I suggested that what we were looking for in our interpretation of Scripture was author intentionality in the text. That is to say we wanted to know what the human authors were trying to say. I can remember the conversation because a friend of mine returned and asked if I saw any ambiguity in this. That was when I started to look at other sources like John Calvin. At that point in my life I had only become familiar with Calvin through the Institutes of the Christian Religion which was helpful. However, reading through his commentaries I realized how different his hermeneutic and the hermeneutic of the Patristic homilies were compared to what I had seen in contemporary authors.
So just a recap on what has just been said. TIS places emphasis on the claim that God is the author of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) and therefore should be understood in light of the whole. Obviously there is much to say on this and I will have to discuss this in more detail as I work through it myself. But because the subject matter of the Old and New Testament is the Messiah or Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27, John 5:39) we have an essential unity that plays a big role in our exegesis (or what we come away with from the text). This is not to say that GH should be eradicated from our exegetical practice. But TIS does bring unity to the particulars left behind by GH.
What of the human authors of Scripture? I knew you were going to ask that. As I stated above on the ambiguity of author intentionality, the challenge is our inability to definitively map out what the writers intention actually is. TIS seeks to clarify that the author’s intention is what is found in the text. It is God who is the author of Scripture who can make His intention known through the centuries to His people. This last move makes the church the primary context of Biblical interpretation.
I know this was brief but I hope it has prompted you to ask questions about your own method of interpretation. Maybe you can share with me some of your conclusions as I don’t have too many of my own yet. If you are interested I have listed some literature that has contributed to the discussion of TIS below.
Treir, Daniel J. Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.