A Grammatical Historical Exercise in Missing the Point

Byron Yawn —  March 14, 2013

This is a guest post by Byron Yawn

I recently encountered a blog post discussing the hazards of a “redemptive historical hermeneutic” (RH). The author, a dispensationalist (and friend of mine), was contrasting RH with that of a grammatical historical method (GHI) of interpretation. The post was dealing with Jesus’ dialogue as he walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)   

This particular passage is somewhat of an exegetical battleground in the discussion regarding the redemptive view of biblical interpretation and biblical theology.

As I am currently preaching through the historic books of the Old Testament, hold to a Christo-centric view of the Bible, practice grammatical historical interpretation, am a committed five point Calvinist and a premillennialist to boot (in the tradition of S. Lewis Johnson), I was intrigued. With the current push away from pietism/fundamentalism and the resurgence of law/gospel distinction underway in the church – the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament is back up as a hot topic.

Needless to say the post was timely and provoked a helpful discussion among my staff. I found many helpful points. In some places the author seemed to be swiping at various stereotypes. Including the one where interpreters find Jesus hidden under every spiritual rock in the Old Testament. This method in no way represents my own.

On the whole there seemed to be no allowance for any “literal” redemptive historic perspective of the Old Testament. One that views the Old Testament books (grammatical) as the actual historic (historical) ever-unfolding event of redemption which eventually put Christ on the planet, on the cross, out of the grave, at the right hand of the Father and into the future. Maybe that’s what Jesus was saying on the Emmaus road? Certainly he meant something like, “If you’ve ever read the Pentateuch you should not be surprised by me. I’m obviously the point.” But, this is a discussion for another day.

My point here in – and what I was thinking as I read the post was this…

It’s not the redemptive historical interpreters (who can find Jesus in the brass rings of the temple curtains) that concerns me, but the “grammatical historical interpreters” (my premillenialist comrades) who can’t seem to find Jesus in the explicitly Christological context of the New Testament.

No one (at least no one who is mentally stable) would argue that the New Testament is not about Jesus. Obviously it is. But, innumerable expositors who argue for literal interpretation seem to miss the actual and greater context of the NT – Jesus and Him Crucified. It seems that if you were going to “find Jesus hiding” anywhere you would find him here – and that constantly.

Yet, what we often end up receiving from those who claim the label of GHI are obscure exegetical details (or principles for life) with hardly a backwards glance at the overall message and greater context of the NT. Many (certainly not all) who defend the authority of the Bible are often guilty of missing its specific point? Preaching about the Bible is not the same as expositing the Bible. Ah.. the irony.

I’ve ranted about all this before in a book on preaching I wrote some time ago. More recently I addressed this rather painful oversight in my newest book Suburbianity. Here’s an excerpt from a chapter entitled “A Sidebar for My Exegetical Brethren.”

But we who respect the Bible the most are the ones I’m most concerned about. Why? Not because we deny the truth, but because a hundred years after battling for it we too are taking it for granted… Fact is, you can listen to very biblical sermons and never catch a glimpse of Christ and Him crucified…

It is possible to love, study, teach, preach, and read the Bible and completely miss its point—Christ. We’ve got the facts of the Bible nailed while ignoring the truth behind the nails driven into His hands and feet. It’s as if we have an incredible jewel—the person and work of Jesus Christ—but rather than drawing attention to its beauty, we fastidiously obsess over the details of the setting and clasps beneath it. Those details are essential. I thrive on those details. But those details are there because they hold up a much greater truth—the gospel. We seem never to look up and be awestruck at the unmatched glory of the person and work of Christ.

Preaching is nothing more and nothing less than the systematic disclosure of the profound mysteries and details of the gospel revealed in the Bible. Paul described himself as a steward of one message.

“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).”

The Bible as a unit is about the gospel, so preaching from the Bible must center on this main theme. After all, Jesus declared that the Bible was about Him.

“If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me” (John 5:46).

Byron Yawn

Posts Twitter

Byron is the senior pastor of Community Bible Church in Nashville. He is the author Well Driven Nails, which examines the preaching ministry of John MacArthur, RC Sproul, and John Piper.

7 responses to A Grammatical Historical Exercise in Missing the Point

  1. Jason Chamberlain March 14, 2013 at 9:45 am

    I think that the disconnect happens when one sees Israel as the center of the Bible instead of Jesus. I can’t speak for all Dispensationalists, but I have known a few who read their Bibles that way.

    • I was just talking with someone last night about that same thing. Much of the debate comes down to Israel vs Christ. It is very interesting where this leads you in preaching.

    • I like that, Jason!

      You go from trying to show Israel as the central person(s) of God’s promises (or Adam, or David) and you see Christ fulfilling Adam, Noah, Abraham’s offspring-Israel, and David’s son. It changes what route you look for when connecting the Biblical dots.

      Jesus, the true vine, the offspring of Abraham, the true and better Israel of God- to whom we partake in by grace through faith in Him! Amen!

  2. Excellent article!

    Even as it pertains to the OT texts, Peter says

    Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories- 1 Peter 1:10-11

    We have greater light than they. So if we were to bind ourselves to the degree of light that the prophets of old (original authors) themselves had, we would betray the fact that we have greater light in the revelation of Jesus Christ. What that does for us is not diminish the careful use of gramatical-historic data in our exegesis, but rather properly assign GH exegesis as the servant to the heralding of Christ.

  3. Jason Chamberlain March 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Amen to you Tony! I attended a Dispensationalist seminary and I really tried to give their hermeneutic a fair try. But I find that it just fails the tests of Scripture and reason. I did a thesis on the relationship between Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15 (“…out of Egypt I have called my Son.”). If you go with the strict GH hermeneutic then the meaning of Hosea is never modified by Matthew. That to me seems like keeping the OT unnecessarily. Instead, if we let Matthew help us understand Hosea we see that Jesus came to be the true Israel.

    A third way is that Hosea actually understood what he wrote to be pointing to the Messiah, but I can’t buy that argument for a variety of reasons. The point is that the most reasonable conclusion is that Matthew helps us understand Hosea. But a Classical (or Revised) Dispensationalist has a hard time with that because that smacks too much of sensus plenior and therefore that cannot be true.

    Have you guys read Kingdom Through Covenant? I found that it lays out a great middle way for Calvinistic Baptists to walk.

    • Great thoughts brother. The Hosea Matthew connection is a clear example of where strict GH fails.

      Kingdom Through Covenant is great, I’ve been working through that lately myself. Apparently they are putting out a laymen’s version of this to make it more accessible to everyone, so that will be good to share with members and friends who may not normally dive into a 700 page book.

      I will be checking out more of your articles, thanks for this very useful one.

      • Jason Chamberlain March 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm

        I’ve been telling people to read Parts 1 and 3. Part 2 is pretty dense and it will not do much for anyone who has not had a fair amount of Biblical Hebrew.

        I think that book is part of a leading edge of change. I love the White Horse Inn, but I am too much of a believer in regenerate church membership and credobaptism. There are a lot of folks like that and I think that Kingdom Through Covenant gives us a place where we can hang out hats. Not that we absolutely need to be put in a box, but it is nice to show that there is a legitimate seat at the table for Calvinistic Baptists.