The first chapter, McQuilken begins by identifying the authority of the Scriptures, and introduces the approaches to applying and understanding the Scriptures. The second chapter discusses the super naturalistic approach of pre-moderns. A quote from this chapter, McQuilkin writes, “The Holy Spirit will never say something through the biblical writer, then contradict or change it for the reader. In other words, God will never enlighten the Christian through some understanding or application of scripture that would in any way depart from what is written. If He did this, there would be no way to know if our interpretation was from the Spirit, from our sinful inclinations, from Satan, or from psychological or physical stimuli.” (P.37) I appreciate this quote because what he says solidifies the truth of one meaning. If the text is open to our own interpretation rather than on the original intent, there would be no authoritative standard for the original intent of Scripture.
Chapter three discusses the naturalistic approach. This approach is based upon the rationality of the interpreter rather than on the authority of the Scriptures. McQuilken writes, “The whole design of the Bible is to challenge suppositions not to be controlled by them.” (P.50) If an interpreter enters the reading of the text with presuppositions it can easily become a personal private interpretation. It is possible to want something to be true so badly that a reader can twist the Scripture to say anything.
Chapter four discusses the history of postmodernism, the core beliefs, and the influence that postmodernism has on evangelicalism. Chapter five covers the dogmatic approach. A noted quote, “not only is the systematic study of Scripture valid, it is necessary.” (P.67) I can see the danger of the dogmatic approach, interpretation based upon what another person says. In fact, I believe our churches are full of people who hold to a dogmatic approach for no other reason than that they have been told to believe so.
Chapter six propels the reader into an introduction of the basic hermeneutical principles. With the conclusion of hermeneutical history, it appears that the meat of the book begins with chapter six. Notable quote, “to understand the authors meaning, the reader must understand the context from which the author writes. Only that way can the effect of the differences between author and recipient be overcome and true understanding become possible.” (P.78)
In chapter seven McQuilken discusses the importance of communication. He writes, “A relationship of love gives the ultimate significance in human life, and such a relationship depends on understanding what the other person is thinking. That is what communication is all about: enabling the other person to understand what one is thinking.” (P.96) He recognizes the fact that “if the Bible is to be authoritative it must be understandable.” (P.99) And, he reiterates the fact that the author had one meaning. Yet the author often uses metaphorical and figurative language.
In chapter eight McQuilken discusses the importance of interpreting the Scriptures based upon the historical, physical, and cultural setting. He writes, “the interpreter needs first to discover all he can concerning the author: who he was, where and when he wrote, and under what circumstances he wrote.” (P.110) I can appreciate the importance of this concept after reading about the prison epistles and thinking about the joy in Paul’s heart despite his suffering and imprisonment. This truth really puts the book of Philippians into perspective.
In chapter nine McQuilken discusses the importance of word study. He writes, “Words are the basic building blocks for understanding the meaning of any passage.” While I have not forgotten, I have neglected to think about the reality that God’s Word is, at its base, communication. A communication that has been written specifically to a certain person or group, but lasts forever. It is to be understood by all interpreters in the same way as it was originally intended. I think that sometimes we think that we are clever as we look for something fascinating in order to impress ourselves or others. Since there is one meaning, he writes, “If God the Holy Spirit took the care to inspire the very words, we must be careful to search out the intent of the author in his choice of words.” In this chapter McQuilken gives examples of how to do word studies. After reading this chapter the importance of word study is clear, since there are variations of Greek and English words.
In chapter ten McQuilken discusses the analysis of thought structure and sentence. He writes, “Individual words are not suspended in isolation, but linked together… the initial goal of Bible study is to determine the single meaning intended by the author.” The specifics and sentence structure is put into perspective. The Bible is coherent; therefore, it must be interpreted in a coherent manner, word by word, sentence by sentence… in context. (P.155)
In chapter eleven McQuilken continues to build upon the interpretation of words, sentence, and context. He writes, “The primary source for understanding the setting of a passage is its context. The most important element in a word study is the word’s use in a particular context.” (P.175) He continues, “The purpose an author had in mind when writing a book influences every passage in the book.” It was interesting to receive a warning regarding the chapter and verse divisions. I have not really given that much thought. I suppose that I assumed the presence of division was proper and made for easier reading and understanding. It was also convicting to read that he considers approaching the context carelessly as shameful and sinful. I love the repetitive demands to read in context searching for the intent of the original author.
In chapter twelve McQuilken discusses the importance of understanding the difference of interpreting figurative and literal language and understanding. He writes, “Since the Bible was written by human beings, it must be treated as any other human communication in determining the meaning intended by the author.” (P.190) He defines the different forms or figures of speech and leads the reader to think more carefully about such things, using guidelines.
Chapter fifteen discusses the unity of Scripture and the importance of using the whole Bible to exposit itself, comparing Scripture with Scripture. McQuilken writes, “ the student must seek the unity of that passage with all other Bible teachings relating to it. It will not do to determine the meaning of a passage independent of the rest of the Scripture.” (P.236) McQuilken explains the difference between parallel passages, similar ideas, and contrasting ideas.
Chapter sixteen discusses the coherency of Scripture. McQuilken writes, “God is not nearly so Interested in what I know as He is in what I am and how I behave.” It is important to study the Bible as a whole rather than taking bits and pieces to fulfill our presuppositions. As we develop theology we can only do so when reading the Scripture as a whole and for the right purpose.
Chapter seventeen discusses alleged contradictions. We hold to the truth that the Scriptures are inspired by God. This presupposition leads us to believe that the Scriptures are ignorant and that what seems to be a contradiction can be explained by a deeper study of God’s Word. McQuilken writes, “we approach the problems of Scripture in the confidence that there is some solution and refuse to interpret any passage as if it were in error.” (P.278)
Chapter eighteen discusses the proper way to interpret prophetic passages. McQuilken writes, “the first guideline for understanding predictive prophecy in Scripture is a principle that guides in the interpretation of all Scripture: take the passage in its most simple, direct, and ordinary meaning unless there are compelling reasons to do otherwise.” P. 283 Types are different than parallel passages, and the difference is that types are identified in the Scriptures (elsewhere, by another writer).
The concluding chapters of the book cover the most important aspect of hermeneutics. The application of what has been taught by God’s Word. It should be apparent that the purpose for rightly interpreting Scripture is obedience and application to what has been learned. McQuilken writes, “The goal of all Bible study is to apply the truth of Scripture to life. If that application is not made, all the put into making sure of the authors intended meaning will have gone for naught. In fact, to know and not do doubles the offense of disobedience.” (P.327)
I appreciate what McQuilken writes on page 329 concerning relationships. He writes, “the leader of the church who does not search out all biblical teaching on relationships among believers and does not seek ways to correct wrong or inadequate relationships has stopped short of the final and indispensable step in Bible study-application.” McQuilken has some great examples of application that are often overlooked.
McQuilken discusses principles of Scripture and identifies how to apply them in spite of cultural gaps. The charts provided are great resources to help identify the method for application. In the conclusion McQuilken helps readers to think about the danger of abusing God’s Word. And reminds readers that there is always something to gain even if the Word is mishandled.
McQuilken wrote an excellent book on hermeneutics. One of the most helpful tips was the continual reminder (nearly every chapter) about the reality that Scripture has only one meaning. There is an original author, with original intent, and original readers. Although, I have often heard similar things, I don’t believe I have ever read a book where the last reality has been stressed to such a degree. I appreciated the lists of tips and advice, the charts, and the bibliography. The dictionary and book recommendations were also helpful. I walk away from this book fearful about the possibility of mishandling God’s Word. It is easy to become relaxed in preparation, in reality preparation is hard work.
All quotes taken from:
McQuilken, Robertson. Understanding and Applying the Bible. Moody Publishers: Chicago, 2009. Print