What is Theological Interpretation of Scripture?

March 14, 2012 — Leave a comment

This question has been drawing my attention, even before it was featured here in the blogging world by the Gospel Coalition. In that post, Andy Naselli highlights D. A. Carson’s assessment of the movement. As Carson understands it, the theological interpretation of Scripture (TIS) is:

  • partly disparate movement,
  • partly a call to reformation in biblical interpretation,
  • partly a disorganized array of methodological commitments in hermeneutics,
  • partly a serious enterprise and
  • partly (I suspect) a fad. (formatted from p. 187 of this essay)

As you can gather, he isn’t very enthusiastic about it. He does however frame his essay (part of the larger collection Theological Commentary) with some affirmations (Yes!) that are counterbalanced by denials (But…):

  1. TIS is an attempt to transcend the barren exegeses generated by historical-critical methods, and especially those readings of Scripture that are “historical” in the sense that they are frankly anti-supernatural interpretations determined by post-Enlightenment assumptions about the nature of history (188)
  2. More broadly, TIS aims to bring biblical studies and theology closer together (192)
  3. TIS accords greater credibility to pre-critical exegesis—patristic, medieval, reformational—than to contemporary exegesis, and especially to patristic readings (196)
  4. TIS aims to be God-centered as opposed to human-centered (including human-hermeneutical-rules-centered, 202)
  5. TIS commonly insists we ought to read Scripture through Trinitarian lenses (204)
  6. TIS tends to see Scripture less as a set of propositions disclosing God than as the story of God and his saving plan of redemption (205)

He concludes his essay by saying:

I am inclined to think that what is most valuable in TIS (and much is), is not new; what is new in TIS varies from ambiguous to mistaken, depending in part on the theological location of the interpreter (207).

Justin Taylor noted most of this here, and then also added insight from Rob Plummer’s helpful essay in 40 Question on Interpreting the Bible. Though Carson is helpful, I think I am going to use Plummer’s essay to frame this series on the blog as well as explorations that stem from my reviews. Here is Plummer’s single sentence definition:

TIS is an academic movement that seeks to return reflection on the biblical text to the purview of the confessing Christian church (313, 40 Questions).

Using this definition, this series will try to explore the movement further. Different than other series, this one will feature both reviews and essays.

Book Reviews


  • Disillusionment with Historical Criticism
  • Theology as Exegetical Guide
  • Respecting the Narrative of Scripture
  • The Stream of Traditional Interpretation
  • The Effective History of Scripture
  • Engaging in Transformative Reading
  • ????

All in all, I hope I can take you along an informative journey that will increase both of our abilities to understand Scripture better. Theological interpretation may not be the way to go, but I’m sure there is much we can learn and if nothing else, we can try to verify Carson’s claim.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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