This is also known as hermeneutica Sacra – sacred hermeneutics. Since the Bible is not like any other book, it must be treated for what it is – a divinely inspired book with various human authors under the superintendence of one divine author with one ultimate purpose. Berkhof says, “Hermeneutica Sacra has a very special character, because it deals with the Bible as the inspired Word of God. It is only when we recognize the principle of the divine inspiration of the Bible that we can maintain the theological character of Hermeneutica Sacra.” Because the Bible is not like any other book – it is inspired by God – we must allow the Bible due place to instruct us in the method of its interpretation.
Sacred hermeneutics are theological in the sense that they are divinely revealed methods of interpretation found in the Bible and put there as Special Revelation from God. Sacred hermeneutics, therefore, carry along with them all the divine authority that the rest of the Bible carries with it. If the entire Bible carries with it divine authority, then all its parts do as well, including the parts that interpret other parts.
Here are some principles which must guide us when thinking about the issue of hermeneutica Sacra:
1. The Bible is inspired by God and has one ultimate author; it is, therefore, unlike any other book and must not be treated as such. This does not ignore the fact that the Bible was written by human authors, nor the fact that some interpretive methods utilized in Bible interpretation correspond on one level with principles utilized to interpret our daily newspapers, for instance. However, acknowledging inspiration respects the fact that the Bible is ultimately God’s book. He is its author and he has interpretive priority over man. Since the Bible is not one brief statement concerning what God has done or said in one particular event and since God takes it upon himself to comment upon what he has said or done (for instance, the New Testament is God’s commentary on what he did in Christ as that relates to the Old Testament and the Church) and since all Scripture is God-breathed, what God says about his acts in his word becomes a divine, inspired commentary with imbedded sacred hermeneutical principles/methods.
2. Since the Bible is ultimately God’s book, it must be interpreted in light of what God does (i.e., act/deed revelation; objective-redemptive acts) and what God says about what he has done (i.e., word revelation). As Vos says, “Revelation is the interpretation of redemption.” In other words, God himself explains the meaning of his historical-revelational-redemptive acts in subsequent Scripture. Word revelation follows and explains deed revelation. God reveals himself in acts and deeds and in subsequent, infallible words, which give the divine explanation of antecedent act or deed revelation. Though God’s acts are intrinsically meaningful, only God can interpret the meaning of his acts infallibly, thus the need for God’s redemptive acts to be interpreted by him and inscripturated for us.
3. Scripture is a divine commentary on previous redemptive revelation wrought in history though not fully explained by/in that history. This understanding of the relationship between history and Scripture is one of the issues which separate us from liberals. Also, it acknowledges two types of special revelation (as noted above) – deed- or act-revelation (God’s acts in history) and word-revelation (Scripture). God acts, then God gives his word to infallibly interpret his acts. And when God’s redemptive acts are complete (i.e., Christ), God’s subsequent word interpreting his final redemptive acts is his final interpretive word. Thus, the New Testament closes the canon of Special Revelation.
Take the New Testament, for instance. The Gospels narrate (and explain) divine deed/act-revelation in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection/ascension of Christ, his sufferings and glory. The book of Acts narrates (and explains) for us what Christ did through the Apostles as a result of entering into his glory and in application of the Great Commission. The Epistles draw out theological and practical implications from God’s deed/act-revelation in his Son for the Church. God’s act in history in his Son is the temporal-historical basis upon which the New Testament exists. The New Testament is a divine commentary on sacred, historical, redemptive acts and contains sacred, written-revelational/redemptive history itself (i.e., Gospels and Acts). The New Testament is God’s complete and final word on his unfolding plan of redemption which reached its terminus in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection/glorification of Christ. It must be interpreted as such.
The Old Testament is similar, though incomplete. God’s acts of creation, announcing the promise of the skull-crushing seed of the woman, revelation connected to Noah, Abraham, the Exodus, the Mosaic covenant – all occurred prior to the presence of the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch (the five-scrolled book of Moses) is a divine commentary on God’s redemptive/revelational acts in history. And just as the Gospels (and the Old Testament) are the foundation upon which the rest of the New Testament is based, so it goes with the Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament. The Pentateuch is divine commentary on God’s redemptive/revelational acts in history and the foundation upon which the rest of the Old Testament is based. Therefore, we must view the Old Testament prophets, for instance, as God’s prosecuting attorneys, assuming the Pentateuch as their theological foundation. The Old Testament prophets scold the Old Covenant people based on the data of the Pentateuch and promise deliverance based on Messianic promises in the Pentateuch and further developments of those promises given to them. Thus, the prophets both look back to the Pentateuch and forward to a day of Messianic fulfillment.
The Old Testament is not an end itself; it is heading somewhere and demands answers to various issues left unfulfilled. It cannot stand on its own. It sets the stage for God’s future acts of redemption and assumes that God will follow his redemptive acts with corresponding redemptive/revelational words. The Old Testament cannot stand on its own; it is an open-ended book and must be interpreted as such. The New Testament provides the rest of the story.
4. Special Revelation exists because of God’s ultimate purpose of cosmic redemption. Biblical revelation is redemptive revelation. Due to the fall into sin, the goal of creation could not be attained. The entirety of the Bible, therefore, is in pursuit of the redemption of the cosmos for the glory of God through the Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ (Gen. 3:15; Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; Rom. 11:36; Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:8-10; Heb. 1:1ff.; 1 Pet. 1:10-12).
5. The Bible, therefore, must be interpreted in light of the Bible (i.e., the Divine hermeneutical spiral). The Bible’s interpretation of the Bible must be the pattern from which we establish sacred hermeneutical principles with which it is to be interpreted. Any other method ends up smuggling in principles from without which, at some point, trump God’s own interpretation of what he has said, done, is doing, and will do. This is especially true when we do not allow the interpretive methods of Jesus and the Apostles to function as infallible, authoritative, interpretive paradigms for all subsequent interpreters.
6. Since the Bible is about how God is fetching glory for himself via redemption through his Son, all interpretations of the Bible must reflect its redemptive scope, target, or goal. In other words, we should never preach a sermon that a Jewish Rabbi could preach. We should never preach a sermon that a Mormon could preach. We should never preach a sermon that a moralistic liberal could preach. We should never preach the Bible as if it were a collection of random insights for living.
7. Since the redemptive scope, target, or goal of Scripture is attained by what the Mediator does, then all biblical interpretations and proclamations must be sensitive to and reflective of this scope, target, or goal – i.e., the glory of God through the Mediator, Redeemer, and Reconciler of all things. Though this is not always easy, it is always essential, assuming we want to be distinctly Christian in our interpretations and proclamations.
8. Once we commit ourselves to Sola Scriptura, one of the necessary inferences following from this commitment is that, if the Bible reveals to us how it is to be interpreted, then we are bound to apply the hermeneutic of the Bible to the Bible itself. The Bible reveals to us how it is to be interpreted. Therefore, we are bound to apply the hermeneutic of the Bible to the Bible itself. It is our only source of infallible hermeneutical principles..Richard Barcellos Grace Reformed Baptist Fellowship Palmdale, CA