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Alex Kollar

Dr. Vlachos

September 1, 2015

Report Summary of D.A. Carson s, How to Interpret the Bible

The author, D.A. Carson, first opens his article by quoting a section of 2 Timothy 2:15 in

which Paul tells Timothy to be someone who correctly interprets the word of truth. Carson

then follows up by agreeing with Paul in regards to knowing how to interpret and handle the


In the second paragraph, readers are introduced to the term, hermeneutics. Carson goes

on to explain hermeneutics as the interpretation of texts and that through the years the

technique has changed.

He explains that the term was once understood to be the science and art of biblical

interpretation. Carson describes the process of a single interpreter who would, well, interpret

scripture and then present his/her interpretation to two others. If the two interpreters understood

the interpretation as well, then consciences would be reached.

Carson then goes on to describe another form that hermeneutics has taken on. In time,

hermeneutics was referred to as the deployment of an array of literary-critical tools. Carson

explains that these techniques were designed to dive into the history and culture behind the text

instead of trying to understand the text itself.

The third form that hermeneutics has evolved into is new hermeneutics. This form, as

Carson explains, points out the fact that all humans have personal beliefs and biases when

interpreting anything, thus emphasizing the interpreter over the text. Using this new hermeneutic

would mean that if every interpretation is not right, then they are all wrong and meaningless. As

a compromise, new hermeneutics has ruled that there is no interpretation that is wrong unless it

accuses another of being invalid or claims itself as being the only true and valid belief. With

new hermeneutics there is no one, true interpretation. Everything can be right.

Carson follows his description of the new hermeneutics with his personal views.

Although he admits there are valuable insights, he finds that this new hermeneutic contradicts

itself. He finds the irony of authors who, believe finding a texts meaning has more to do with

ones own interpretation rather than the actual text itself, write texts to persuade readers to believe

their own words as truth. Carson believes that this new hermeneutic is so busy pushing everyone

to have open minds, it has actually produced a population that has completely closed their

minds to Truth, wisdom, and understanding. He goes on to argue that although we as humans

may never be able to acquire all knowledge as God can, there is no reason to think we cannot

gain objective knowledge at all.

As the article continues, Carson acknowledges that every individual does indeed have

personal beliefs and biases based on our culture, history, and situation that may clash with a text

(the Scripture in this case). However, he does not see this baggage as inherently bad or a

reason to disregard the Scripture. He explains that the Scripture is indeed complete truth and

different interpretations can lead to a wider and deeper understanding. He even goes so far as to

say, Christians need each other to understand Gods words. Just because people interpret

something differently, does not mean it is wrong.

The next section of the article introduces a few principles of interpretation the first of

which has to do with language. The bible has been translated into hundreds of differently

languages through out history. Carson explains that translating anything, especially such an

extensive text as the bible, can be difficult. It is not uncommon for the original Greek and

Hebrew words meaning to be lost or misunderstood in different translations. Thats why Carson

emphasizes the importance of referencing different translations and looking up the original

Greek and Hebrew words if possible.

The following paragraphs explain the importance of being a good reader of the

Scripture. It is not enough to just read, you must strive to understand. Carson pulls directly from

the bible: using the beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, and the parable of the soils in Matthew

as examples to show how literary structure is used to communicate ideas. Inclusions, metaphors,

and chiasms are only a few of the literary strategies demonstrated in the bible. Carson also

touches on the importance of understanding of how larger structures work, and especially the

nature of literary genre. Understanding what a parable is will help readers begin to interpret the

meaning and reason behind it. Above all, a good reader, according to Carson, goes with the

flow of the text. Stopping to do research is good, but it is important to read for context before

getting hung up on a single word.

Carson then warns against the analogy of faith. He describes this phenomenon as part

of Protestant theology that argues if a verse or passage of Scripture is confusing or ambiguous,

that it should never be interpreted in such a way as to jeopardize the great givens of

Christianity. At first this rule seems to makes sense, as Carson agrees, however he goes on to

warn about this belief. He explains that it is easy for a reader to succumb to anachronism and

inaccurate conclusions based of flawed theology. He also explains that it is easy for Christians

who have favorite verses to compare every other passage they read to that specific verse, thus

creating a canon within the canon.

Researching the historical and archaeological background information of a passage can

help shed light on a parable or verse. Carson uses Revelation 3:15 as an example. In the verse,

Jesus says to the Laodiceans, I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you

were either one or the other. After some digging into the history a bit, it is revealed that the city

of Laodica had wells filled with lukewarm, chemical-filled water while the other neighboring

cities, Colosse and Hierapolis, took pride in, and cared for, their water. This background makes

the verse much more understandable.

When reading the Scripture it is important to ask questions and gain knowledge along the

way. Carson, however, does advise against asking inappropriate questions, like bringing up gay

marriage in relation to a verse that doesnt touch on the subject. He also mentions the importance

of understanding that the bible, although physically written by different hands, has one Author:

our God.

Carson applauds theological synthesis to further understand but warns about the chance

of collecting false or shoddy theology. He stresses the importance of reading with purpose and

gathering relevant and useful background information to fully understand the text.