Interpretation: Right Reception – an Excerpt from Christian Dogmatics

The following is an excerpt from Kevin Vanhoozer’s chapter “Holy Scripture” in Christian Dogmatics, edited by Michael Allen and Scott Swain.

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The interpretation of the Bible—the way readers receive and act in response to it—is also part of the domain of God’s Word. To be sure, it is possible to read the Bible “like any other book,” yet Scripture, unlike every other book, is a set-apart (i.e., holy) vehicle of triune discourse and therefore requires special treatment: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

Cover ArtWe cannot describe what it is to read Scripture rightly as if human agents were able to understand triune discourse simply through the employment of their natural abilities. Readers are sinners who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18).

Readers too are, therefore, part of the economy of triune discourse (what God says to someone). The Creator of heaven and earth does not speak futilely into the air but effectively into human hearts and minds. The reader’s role in the economy is not to author Scripture or to confer authority on it but rather to receive and revere it as the Word of Christ, giving thanks for it with others in the church and letting it dwell in the core of their being in order gradually to conform them to Christ, its subject matter.

The goal of interpretation is to create right-minded and right-hearted readers who will rejoice in the truth, not least by willingly participating in it. The reader’s place in the economy of communication is to perform or live out the reality held out by the biblical text: fellowship with God or, in a word, communion.

©2016 by Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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