The Grammatico-Historical Method (Re-post)

(In view of the recent book by J. P. Holding and Nick Peters titled Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a DefensibleFaith for a New Generation, I am re-printing the following post.  I believe the article below addresses some of Holding and Peter’s concerns.  My local newspaper originally published the article.)

We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning that the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.
We deny the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.

So begins The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics is the science of understanding what the Bible says, and this statement on Biblical Hermeneutics is the collective wisdom of many evangelical scholars on that subject. 

An international conference produced The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics in 1982.  Leaders from many different branches of the protestant church signed it.  Those who signed the document included Norman L. Geisler, Gleason L. Archer, James M. Boice, D. James Kennedy, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John H. Gerstner, Bill Bright, Paige Patterson, Josh McDowell, Raymond C. Ortlund, Adrian P. Rogers, Bruce Wilkinson, W. A. Criswell, John F. MacArthur, Luis Palau, and John F. Walvoord. 

Article XV, printed above, affirms that the Bible should be taken literally, but please note the care taken to define what “literal” means.  Literal means “normal” or according to the rules of grammar as normally interpreted by the person who wrote the material. It takes into account “figures of speech and literary forms” used by that author.  The “grammatical-historical sense” means, “the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.” Students of the Bible should think carefully about grammar and history.  (Commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics by Norman L. Geisler)

The Grammatico-Historical Method (GHM) is the way we discover the grammatical-historical sense.  The GHM is a Christian method for understanding the Bible.  It “focuses attention not only on literary forms but upon grammatical constructions and historical contexts out of which the Scriptures were written.”  The aim of the GHM is to discover the meaning of the passage as the original author would have intended and as the original hearers would have understood. (Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul)

GMH assumes that the original biblical manuscript languages – ancient Hebrew and Greek, with some Aramaic in the Old Testament – were real languages that people used in a real period of history to communicate real, logical thought. This means that we must learn all we can about those ancient languages to understand how the Bible uses them.  (The amount of knowledge we have about those ancient languages is more than enough to help us understand the Bible.)   

GHM also makes us students of history.  It assumes that the Bible’s authors wrote according to the cultural, political, and religious norms of their historical periods. To know what a Bible passage truly means, we must gather information on the biblical authors’ cultures and the audiences who they addressed in their writings.

When people who want to understand the Bible put grammar and history together, they are likely to have a correct understanding of the Bible’s meaning. The Bible is literally true, and it contains no hidden message behind the words or between the lines.

Since the Bible contains all we need to know about how to get to heaven by grace and how to live life on earth by the law, it is very important to use the GHM to understand it.  Our eternal destinies might be at stake.



“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” - Jesus (John 6:47, NKJV)

Many in the world do not have a firm knowledge that they will go to heaven when they die. Some have a vague trust in their idea of a God who may honor their faith and may not. Some have only the hope that, when God judges the world, He will find that their good works outweigh their bad. Some have not yet reached the point in their thinking that they can acknowledge a God who judges or a heaven that they can go to (Many posts on this blog lay out reasons for believing in both.).

We can know that we are on the way to heaven if we have faith in Jesus. This faith is a confident assurance that what Jesus says about how to live life is true. This assurance brings us to a knowledge that we have not, even for one moment, lived free from sin; that is, we have done things that God tells us not to do or failed to do things that God tells us to do. This knowledge of the right path leads to repentance, turning from our sins to God and His way of living.

This faith is also an assurance that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. Not just for sins in general, but for our sins in particular.

Jesus is God who became a man. He laid aside His rights and abilities and came to earth. He lived a perfect life. This life is an example to us, but it also gives Jesus credit for a life lived in perfect obedience to God’s law. He then died on the cross for us. In some way know only to God, Jesus took the credit for our sins and suffered God’s infinite, terrible wrath for those sins. He became sin for us that we might become righteous. (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 3:21-31)

Faith is the way we take credit for what Jesus did for us. The credit for our sins is taken away from us, and we are given credit for Jesus’s perfect life.  It’s not about what we do; it’s about what is done for us by Jesus. When we have faith, the perfect God loves us perfectly because we are credited with perfection. When God looks at us, we are perfect because of what Jesus did.

But how can we personally tell if we really believe? How can we look at our hearts and lives and tell if our own faith is genuine? The most useful verse to me personally is Galatians 5: 6. It says that what counts is “faith working through love.” I do love Jesus. Not perfectly. Sometimes not even well. But we do love Jesus. R. C. Sproul puts it this way, “I am not asking whether we love this Jesus perfectly; I am asking whether we love this God and this Jesus at all” (Chosen by God, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1986, p. 166).

We sin, sometimes often. We even sin the same sin over and over. This clouds our thinking and convinces us we do not have real faith. But God does not desert us. He always comes to our aid. As one scholar puts it:

…a regenerate soul will certainly persevere through the trials of life and continue to believe and repent. He will slip and fall, develop bad habits, wrestle with doubts, but through it all he will keep on going even as he began … all believers slip and fall into sin. But the truth of the matter is that no believer stays down. Just as God gave him faith and repentance unto initial conversion, so He supplies him with faith and repentance all along the way to heaven. (Dr. Curt Daniel, as quoted in “Safe and Secure” by Curtis C. Thomas, “Tabletalk Magazine,” Ligonier Ministries, Inc. December 2004, p. 8-11)

The God who saves us preserves our faith. He works in us to will and to do His will. He does not leave us alone in life’s battles without a champion. Maybe an old Baptist theologian can help:

The believer in Jesus, who has been regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, will never utterly fall away from Jesus and be lost. He is not free from temptation; he may, through neglect and failure to employ the means of grace, grieve the Holy Spirit and bring reproach on the himself and the people of God. He will, however, turn away from his sins and return to his Jesusian duty; he will not be content in the wayward life. It is the mark of the child of God that he cannot be happy in a life of sin. (E. Y. Mullins, Baptist Beliefs, Chicago: The Judson Press, 1912, p. 53)

I pray you will turn from sin to Jesus in faith today. Know that eternal life, unending life with God in heaven, is yours. Be perfect when God looks at you. Experience the perfect love of a perfect God. I pray you will know that God loves you in your imperfection because of Jesus.


Final Thoughts on “He Has Spoken”

This is part seven of a multi-part series on “He Has Spoken,” a study published by The Colson Center.  This post discusses my final impressions of the lecture and discussion series.

The format of the study makes it a great conversation starter for small groups.  The lecture by John Stonestreet kicks of the discussion and the accompanying discussion between T. M. Moore and Stonestreet makes the lecture more personable.  Small group leaders will find much to discuss.

These are great conversation starters, but not great conversation enders.  Group leaders who use the material will want to be well-versed in the topics and able to answer questions and guide discussion.  (This is true of any study which follows this format.)   The series inspires study beyond a few minutes of lecture and discussion, and group leaders should present recommended resources to encourage that study  (see www.str.org).

There is no more important topic than this one in our society.  We must both understand and defend the purpose, truth, clarity, attitude toward, and sufficiency of the Bible to change our culture for the better.   All of these topics are introduced and discussed as a part of “He Has Spoken.”

Within the limits already stated, I wholeheartedly recommend this study.  I pray that God would us it to lead many into a deeper appreciation for and knowledge of the Bible.


Inerrancy and Scholarship

I am following the recent debate between Norman Geisler and several scholars I respect regarding inerrancy and interpretations of Bible passages.  This debate was sparked in part by a book written by Geisler and Bill Roach titled Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a NewGeneration.  The introduction to that book was written by J. I. Packer.  It was enjoined by a response by J. P. Holding and Nick Peters titled Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a DefensibleFaith for a New Generation. The introduction to that response was written by Craig Blomberg, a scholar whose books have been very valuable to me. 

I could not help but notice that Geisler’s book did not receive the endorsement of one person who was key in the development of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: R. C. Sproul.  The Chicago Statement is at the crux of the debate.  (I also lament the fact that several of the original signatories are dead and unable to provide guidance.)

We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historicaI exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. (Article XVIII )

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, written by many of the same people who wrote the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, reads:

We affirm that awareness of the literary categories, formal and stylistic, of the various parts of Scripture is essential for proper exegesis, and hence we value genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study. (Article XIII)
We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text. (Article XV)
We affirm that legitimate critical techniques should be used in determining the canonical text and its meaning. (Article XVI)

I would also refer people to the careful Exposition of the document by J. I. Packer. 

These statements do not seem to allow the hardline approach Geisler is proposing in certain places, but they  also call into question some of the notable oversimplifications of the “traditionalist” position in Holding and Peters’ book.  (Some of those oversimplifications are evident from the post here.)

We must let scholars work within their areas of expertise to determine the meaning of Bible texts using any and all necessary means.  This includes both internal context and external context; contemporary usage and biblical usage of words; and literary forms contemporary with the Bible books and their authors.  We cannot impose our modern, Western standards of interpretation on the Bible.

Lay-persons like me must be able to defer to experts in science, languages, and history to help determine the meanings of texts.  I see nothing in The Chicago Statements that calls this into question.  It’s a very carefully written document. 

At the same time, experts must be willing to subject their interpretations to both the witness of church history and the comparison of their interpretations with the Bible as a whole.  Church tradition does have a secondary authority which can guide our efforts to understand the Bible, and we should not think that expertise in early languages and literary forms is confined to our present age. 

Systematic theology, the study of what the Bible as a whole says on a given subject, must also be allowed to correct major issues.   There is no substitute for knowledge of the entire Bible for lay-persons like me who place a high value on the teachings of Scripture, and this knowledge makes us able to contribute to the discussions.

I pray that this debate we be profitable for the post-modern Christian church and that we will all develop a greater appreciation for each other in the process of conflict.  Some people, me included, learn a lot from a good, old-fashioned argument.  I hope and pray the arguments in this case do not degenerate into ‘straw-man arguments’ and name calling.

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