|photo credit: Daniel Y. Go via photopin cc|
One of the most valuable arts I learned at Southern Adventist University is exegesis. Exegesis is the process of interpreting a biblical text by looking at its literary and historical context. The goal is to discover what the text meant to the original author and reader. Once you discover what the text originally meant to the original audience you are then safe to extrapolate lessons from it that you can apply to life today. This art is indispensable because it keeps us from falling into the fallacies of proof-texting (quoting a verse in defense of something the verse is not even talking about), allegorizing (interpreting texts as purely or mainly allegorical), spiritualizing (interpreting texts intended to be literal as spiritual), and literalizing (interpreting texts intended to be spiritual or metaphorical as literal). It reveals the cultural and sociological situations that were taking place when a certain letter or story which also aids in a proper interpretation and ultimately, it provides us with a relatively objective way of interpreting the Bible instead of a fully subjective one.
But one thing that can be lost in the midst of all of this is, what I believe to be, the most valuable key to interpreting the Bible. This key is the gospel. The good news of the cross of Christ is the heart-beat of scripture. It is its central theme. Much of the Old Testament points forward to the cross, and much of the New Testament points back towards it. It is, as David Asscherick once said, "the fulcrum of the ages." Even those things which were not intended to be mere shadows of the cross (such as the theology of marriage, worship, and health or apocalyptic visions, the 10 commandments, ministry etc.) are understood fully only in light of the cross. Thus, the only way to properly interpret scripture is to consider its literal, grammatical, and cultural context as well as, what I refer to as, its cosmic context (the big picture) which is the cross of Christ. Church historian Justo L. Gonzalez expressed it well when, speaking of Martin Luther's theology, he said,
When Luther says the Bible must be its own interpreter, he does not simply mean that the exegete is to compare texts. He means also that the central message of the Bible, the gospel, is the only key to biblical interpretation. - A History of Christian Thought, Vol. III, p 50.And Ellen White also recognized this critical principle of interpretation when she wrote,
The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. - Gospel Workers, 315 (1915), emphasis mine.The gospel is the heart beat of truth and it is through it that we come to a full understanding of the Bible. Apart from the Gospel the Bible is just an interesting piece of Jewish literature. As George Knight once said, "I would like to suggest that the only thing Christianity has going for it is the Lamb of God who was slain and whose blood paves the way for salvation through a method other than human effort. Take away the Lamb who died on our behalf, and all you have is ethics."