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Rules for Reading Scripture

These are the rules or guidelines I suggest for reading scripture.  For more a detailed explanation click on each.  Shirley Guthrie, Professor Emeritus of Columbia Theological Seminary in the U.S.A., suggests eight rules, which are listed below.

1. The New Testament is the final chapter in the biblical story of God. 

The New Testament is the final chapter in the story of God known to the Hebrews and the Jews through their scriptures. The Christian Bible is an interpretation of the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, and "God in Christ" is a new understanding of the God of the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets.

2. Paul's Letters are the earliest writings of the church in the New Testament.

Paul's letters were written before the New Testament gospels and argue against efforts by the Jerusalem church to require observance of Jewish law in the church. Paul proclaims salvation through faith in Christ crucified, says little about the teaching and ministry of Jesus, and claims authority for his gospel from the risen Lord.

3. The gospel of Mark is the first New Testament gospel.

The gospel attributed to Mark (all the New Testament gospels are anonymous) is the earliest New Testament gospel and supports Paul's view that faith, not Jewish law, is saving. The gospel presents Jesus Christ as the Son of God, tells the story of his itinerant ministry in Galilee, is critical of his disciples, and ends without a resurrection appearance.

4. The gospels of Matthew and Luke are edited versions of the gospel of Mark.

The gospels attributed to Matthew and Luke are edited versions of the gospel of Mark with a "common sayings tradition" and other materials. The gospel of Matthew was written for a mostly Jewish Christian church. The gospel of Luke, and Acts of the Apostles by the same author, were written for a largely Gentile Christian church.

5. The gospel of John is an even freer edition of earlier gospels.

The gospel attributed to John was written for a Jewish Christian church that understood Jesus as the Word of God made flesh, and as the Passover "Lamb of God" sent by the Father but rejected by "the Jews." The author freely revised the gospel narrative in order to defend the worship of his church.

6. The letters of Peter and James reveal their declining authority in the church.

The letters attributed to Peter and to James reveal the declining authority of these two apostles in the church after 70 A.D. All four gospels and Acts of the Apostles verify Peter's leading role in the birth of the church, and Galatians and Acts confirm that James, the brother of Jesus, became the leader of the church in Jerusalem.

7. The letters and Revelation of John warn of false teaching and pagan persecution.

The letters and Revelation attributed to John concern the threats of false teaching in the churches and pagan persecution in the Roman Empire. The letters are anonymous but share in the teaching tradition of the gospel of John. Revelation includes letters warning churches in Asia and an extraordinary vision of Christ's victory over Satan.

8. The Christian Bible is a tapestry of meanings.

The New Testament has more than one meaning.  Its materials have at least three historical and literary threads woven together the understanding of the author(s), earlier Christian interpretations, and church traditions concerning Jesus.

9. The New Testament is an interpretation of the Old Testament.

The authors of the letters and gospels of the New Testament drew on the scriptures of the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible to construct and interpret the story of Jesus and the church's witness to life in the kingdom of God through faith in Christ.

10. The God of the Bible calls us to resist idolatry and oppression.

Our modern assumptions about history and biography make it hard to see that the New Testament restates and renews the Old Testament revelation of God's justice and mercy as a way of resisting imperial idolatry and oppression.


Rules for Biblical Interpretation in the Reformed Tradition

Shirley Guthrie, Professor Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, U.S.A.

1. Scripture is to be interpreted with confidence in and openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

2. The scripture principle: Scripture is to be interpreted in light of scripture, comparing scripture with scripture, with openness to hear the whole Word of God, not just selected parts of it.

3. The Christological principle: Scripture is to be interpreted in light of God's central self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

4. The rule of love: Scripture is to be interpreted in light of the one commandment of God that summarizes all other commandments -- love for God and for all our neighbors.

5. The rule of faith: Scripture is to be interpreted with respect for the church's past and present interpretation of scripture.

6. Scripture is to be interpreted in light of the literary forms and historical context in which it was written.

7. Scripture is to be interpreted seeking the word and work of the living God in our time and place.

8. Scripture is to be interpreted with awareness of our limitations and fallibility and with openness to change our mind and be corrected.  "Reformed" means always being reformed afresh by the Word of God."

These rules for reading scripture are drawn from the following Reformed Confessions:

Scots Confession, Chapters XVIII and XIX

Second Helvetic Confession, Chapters I and II

Westminster Confession, Chapter I

Shorter Catechism, Questions 89 and 90

Declaration of Barmen, 8.10-12

Confession of 1976, 9.27-30

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