Presented to the ISBH Symposium
On “Developing a Dispensational Missiology”
From Paul’s exhortations to Timothy it is evident that the discipler is responsible to understand all that is communicated in the Scriptures, and to pass along that content. Because of the time necessary to teach Biblical content comprehensively, it would seem practically worthwhile to include in that training a methodology for understanding Biblical content so that the Learner can develop an independent learning capability (as the Bereans seemed to demonstrate) so that they can carry on the discipleship process beyond the discipler’s direct guidance. If on the other hand it can be demonstrated that there is an internally derived hermeneutic method, then the discipler’s responsibility to teach a Biblical approach to hermeneutics extends beyond the mere practical advantages to a certain ethical responsibility in presenting Biblical content.
This paper asserts that the Literal Grammatical Historical (LGH) method is the hermeneutic approach consistently modeled in Scripture, and consequently is part of not only the proper method for understanding Scripture, but is itself Biblical content. As such, the LGH is a necessary ingredient of any discipleship approach first for its preeminent status as Biblical content and secondly for its practical advantages. Consequently, the discipler should not present the LGH as a theological construction or an extra-biblical tool, but rather as one of the primary principles of God’s communication with humanity. In short, if the LGH is itself Biblical content, and if it is present in the earliest speech act interactions of God to humanity, then the role of hermeneutics – and LGH specifically – in discipleship is among the most focus worthy of Biblical truths for the discipleship process, or for the kind of learning that transforms.
BY SOME LEADING CONTEMPORARY DISCIPLESHIP METHODS
As of May 18, 2022, Amazon’s Top 10 Best Sellers in Christian Discipleship all contain assertions of the importance of understanding ideas and principles about God, yet most share the common characteristic of neither using the words hermeneutic nor interpret, failing to provide a single explanation of how we come to understand these important ideas and principles of God. We find many prescriptions without explanations.
Dan Kimball’s How to (Not) Read the Bible stands fairly alone on this particular best-seller list in taking the time to address the important matter of interpretation. Kimball says, “I want to show you how to read, interpret, and understand the Bible accurately.” Note that Kimball perceives there is an accurate understanding of Scripture and an inaccurate understanding. Whether or not one agrees with Kimball’s methodology and conclusions, it is refreshing to see an emphasis on interpretive method as central to understanding what God has said, as Kimball emphasizes that, “it is critically important to invest time and effort into understanding how to and how not to properly read and study the Bible. Failure to do so is one of the primary reasons why people critique it and misunderstand what it says. Their interpretations are distortions of the original meaning…”
While Kimball’s (8th ranked at the time of this writing) discipleship text is focused on helping the reader arrive at a correct understanding of the Bible, the other writings on the Top -10 list dismiss or ignore interpretive issues entirely. Gretchen Saffles’s The Well Watered Woman is said to help “women understand their own past, fears, and ungodly desires, and offers them a gospel-centered approach to real Christian growth.” The author encourages women to “receive his [God’s] everything,” – which is certainly an important appeal, and yet there is nothing to guide a woman on how one might actually process what God has communicated for understanding.
Peter Scazzero encouragingly asks the question of how Joseph was able to walk with God, and answers that Joseph “…had a profound sense of the bigness of God…rested in God’s goodness and love…admitted honestly the sadness and losses of his family…rewrote his life script according to Scripture…thought about it…and then opened the door to God’s future by rewriting it with God…” Scazzero points out an important principle that emotional growth is a necessary and integral part of spiritual growth, but doesn’t guide the reader in how to understand what God has said about emotional growth or how to achieve it.
Henry Blackabee provides an important caution, when he notes that “experience can not be our guide. Every event in your life must be understood and interpreted by the Scriptures.” Despite this wise warning, Blackabee contradicts it when asserting that God speaks separately from (though using) the Scriptures. He instructs readers to “ask God to speak to you as you read” various Scriptures. He adds, “when God is about to do something through you, He has to get you from where you are to where He is, so He tells you what He is doing…” But how is a learner to know when God is speaking and providing this needed information Blackabee is promising? Blackabee assures the reader that he will “help you understand how you can clearly know when God is speaking to you.” Here is Blackabee’s method:
As you pray, watch what He is doing around you and in your circumstances. The God who is speaking to you as you pray and the God who is speaking to you in the Scriptures is the God who is also working around you…God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself…
After assuring the reader that he would help them understand how they can clearly know when God is speaking to them, Blackabee finally admits that, “I cannot give you a formula, however, and say this is how you can know for certain that God is speaking to you.” Blackabee can’t provide such a formula (despite his earlier promise to provide certainty) because he has introduced – based on no Scriptural data at all – that God communicates today in ways other than Scripture. Because Blackabee asserts that God’s communication in this age extends beyond the written word, he can offer no evidence for these various forms of communication besides the experiencing of these extra-biblical communications.
Blackabee had earlier asserted that we should interpret our experience through the Scriptures, yet he has built his discipleship model on the assumption that God also uses other methods to reveal Himself, effectively relegating the Scriptures to only one of several standards by which to test experience. Blackabee’s contradictory ideas of God’s revelation eliminate any possibility of asserting accurate or inaccurate interpretation of the Scriptures, and thus minimize the need for interpretive diligence, besides exegeting circumstances and praying correctly. Perhaps Blackabee’s misguided approach is worse than if he had ignored the issue altogether, as some of the bestselling writers in the Christian discipleship category have done. Errant interpretation and dismissiveness of interpretive responsibility are remarkable developments particularly when discussing the importance of and methods for spiritual growth.
John Mark Comer’s dismissiveness of interpretive concepts is likewise problematic, and is fairly representative of the majority of texts (though not all, of course) in this category. Whether by error or omission hermeneutics is treated by Comer as an unnecessary technicality. He notes that,
Maybe you have read the early chapters of Genesis as history, with a literal talking snake and Eve speaking Parseltongue, or maybe you read them as mythology, with the snake as a common ancient image for a spiritual being and Genesis as a subversive counterstory to ancient creation myths like the Enuma Elish. Or maybe something else. But those are questions about genre of literature, not about whether we can trust Genesis as Scripture. Whichever interpretation is right, the garden story is true. For millennia billions of people have found it to be the truest and most insightful treatise of the human condition in the history of the world.”
Remarkably Comer disassociates interpretation from meaning, and meaning from truth. His affirmation that the garden story is true is evidenced solely by the a (non-scientific) assertion that billions of people have perceived it as true. Besides being guilty of the argumentum ad populum fallacy, Comer’s foundational assertion provides readers no way of ensuring they have ascertained what is true, and no way of testing truth for themselves. Consequently, the reader who seeks to learn and grow discovers quickly that they possess no tools with which to pursue growth confidently, and must rather be totally dependent on the spiritual guru who mysteriously seems to possess these tools and to wield them effortlessly – because thousands or even millions of purchasing readers can’t be wrong. They bought the book and perceive it to be true and insightful, so it must be a trustworthy path to growth. Comer’s error at this critical juncture of guiding readers (learners) obfuscates his otherwise valuable assertion that there are three enemies of growth for the believer (the devil, the flesh, and the world), and provides no way for his readers to understand the derivation for his thesis nor how to test the validity of it. Therein lies the problem these typical so-called methods for growth. They are drawn from valuable principles discovered by their authors, but are (typically) not undergirded with transparent methodology of how they were discovered, how they can be tested, and how they can be expanded on. In short: the learner is given little or no methodology other than to simply follow the prescriptions of the guru.
Further, it is ironic that Comer chooses to plant his flag on the Genesis garden account while dismissing its actual meaning. It is in the details of that very narrative that we discover an embedded method for understanding truth, testing it, applying it, and discovering more truth – all that we might continue to grow as we were designed.
LGH AS BIBLICAL, NOT EXTRA-BIBLICAL CONTENT
The Exception That Proves the Rule
This author has elsewhere asserted and defended that the earliest narratives of Scripture demonstrate a precedent of LGH as requisite for understanding communication, and that this hermeneutic is integral to the Biblical record and not merely implied therein. The Biblical hermeneutic is literal in the sense of normative according to the basic principles of written communication, grammatical in the sense that the communication applies the normative grammatical principles of the language employed, and historical in the sense that the speech act occurred in a particular time and context, and should be understood within the framework of that historical moment and context. That argument is summarized as follows:
In examination of the ninety-four passages in Genesis and Job that record Divine speech acts, the evidence is overwhelming…that God intended for His words to be taken at face value, using a plain-sense interpretive approach. The hermeneutic method that reflects this straightforward methodology has become known as the literal grammatical historical hermeneutic. This method recognizes that verbal expression has meaning rooted in and inseparable from the grammatical and historical context of the language used, and that these components require that readers be consistent in applying the interpretive method in their study of the Scriptures. Because of the two-thousand-year precedent evident in Genesis and Job, any departure from the simplicity of this method bears a strong exegetical burden of proof, requiring that there be explicit exegetical support for any change one might perceive as necessary in handling later Scriptures. Absent any such exegetical data, we can conclude that (1) hermeneutic methodology for understanding Scripture is not arbitrary but is instead plainly modeled, and that (2) later Scriptures should be understood in light of the hermeneutic precedent provided by Genesis and Job.
The hermeneutic principles communicated in the Biblical text is profoundly evident in the opening passages of Genesis. In the “garden story” which Comer references, for example, we discover a great deal of emphasis on speech acts, and all of the characters introduced to that point are involved: God, Eve, Adam, and the serpent, who is later identified as Satan. The serpent speaks to the woman (who we will simply refer to, like the text does, as the woman since she has at this point apparently not yet been named Eve), challenging what God had earlier said to Adam. The woman responds to the serpent, then the serpent to the woman. After the man and woman violate God’s prescription, God speaks to Adam, Adam responds to God, God responds to Adam, Adam answers God, God speaks to the woman, the woman responds to God, God addresses the serpent, God addresses the woman, then God addresses Adam, concluding the matter at hand (the judgment resulting from the man’s and the woman’s disobedience). Adding further context to the setting, Adam addresses the woman as Eve, and finally, God converses with Himself.
This brief narrative includes at least fourteen speech acts, and fourteen opportunities for interpretation and misinterpretation. These fourteen speech acts are not insignificant and are not simply matters of “genre of literature.” Instead, they help us understand exactly how we should understand Biblical communication, and God’s communication specifically:
(1) The Serpent Speaks to The Woman
When the serpent speaks to the woman in 3:1, he questions what God had said earlier, challenging the very wording of God’s instruction, betraying either a deliberate misrepresentation or a misunderstanding of what God had said. As this one is called the deceiver and the father of lies, and because he deceived Eve in the garden, it is evident that his questioning of Genesis 2:16-17 was deliberate and with deceitful intent, which becomes apparent as the account unfolds. Prior to this particular speech act Genesis records many speech acts of God (particularly in the creation account). In each instance we discern that the respondent/listener responds in a way that affirms a normative understanding of the speech act according to the commonly understood principles of the language used in that time and instance (or simply put, LGH). In this pivotal first speech act of the garden story, the serpent introduces his departure from the normalized principles of communication evident in the opening two chapters of Genesis. The serpent’s hermeneutic deviation does not introduce a new precedent for proper understanding of communication, but rather introduces a distortion and the first recorded instance of dishonest and errant hermeneutic methodology. The outcome is catastrophic and provides a vital cautionary hermeneutic tale.
(2) The Woman Responds to the Serpent
Curiously, the woman adds the phrase “or touch it” to her recounting of God’s direction in 3:2-3. It is worth noting that she was not yet created when God gave the initial instruction to Adam. Perhaps God expanded on the prohibition, or perhaps Eve was shaken by the serpent’s question. While the reasoning for her added words is not implicit in the text, the process of her deception had begun. Still, she responds normatively to the serpent’s question by providing a response, indicating normative communication was taking place.
(3) The Serpent Responds to the Woman
The serpent’s response to the woman in 3:4-5 was to directly contradict what God had said. The initial questioning had turned to outright denial, with a deceptive rationale – that God knew the truth but was maliciously hiding it from the woman. The serpent responded normatively to the woman’s statement, indicating a clear understanding of what she had said, and he stated patently false information. The woman responded in action rather than speech in 3:6-7, as she was led by experience (she saw) that countered what God had said and was compatible with the lie she had been told by the serpent. By falling for the serpent’s hermeneutic deviation, and dismissing what God had communicated, the woman was deceived, and Adam fell with her – though his fall was not through deception in the same sense as was hers.
(4) God Calls to the Man
In 3:9 God asks the simple question, “Where are you?”
(5) Adam Responds to God
Adam’s response in 3:10 indicates a clear understanding of the question, as Adam answers and explains why he was hiding.
(6) God Questions Adam
In 3:11 God questions Adam further, requiring that Adam expand on the previous answer he gave, and providing Adam an opportunity to take responsibility for his disobedience.
(7) Adam Answers God
Rather than own up to his failure, in 3:12 Adam passed the blame to the woman indirectly and to God directly because God had given the woman to Adam.
(8) God Addresses the Woman
Demonstrating a normative understanding of Adam’s (blameshifting) statement, in 3:13 God questions the woman regarding her action.
(9) The Woman Responds to God
The woman answers God’s question in similar fashion to Adam. In 3:13 she refused to admit her fault and blamed the serpent for his deception.
(10) God Addresses the Serpent
Demonstrating that God understood in a normative sense the accusation the woman had levied against the serpent, He pronounces judgment and a curse on the serpent in 3:14-15, with an odd prediction that the woman’s seed would crush the serpent’s head, and the serpent would crush His heel. While some might dismiss this statement as metaphoric (because women don’t have seed), history shows that this came to pass when the Messiah, born of a virgin crushed Satan and death on the cross. Paul adds a further usage of this idea asserting that God would soon crush Satan under the feet of the Roman believers. Notably Paul adds a significance to the passage, without asserting any change in the meaning of the original passage (perhaps similar to his usage of Sarah and Hagar in his metaphoric contrast of bondage and freedom).
(11) God Addresses the Woman
Again demonstrating His normative understanding of the woman’s response (blameshifting) and of her guilt in violating His instruction (which was also given using normative communication), God pronounces a judgment on the woman in 3:16 which any woman who has ever given birth to a child would understand consistently with LGH.
(12) God Addresses Adam
Finally, God addresses Adam’s guilt, also in recognition of the normative communication He had provided in 2:16-17. Adam had died (his relationship with God being completely broken) just as God had promised in 2:17. In 3:17-19 God added a curse on the earth and pronounced that Adam would physically die in the future, rather than remain alive in the state of separation from God (the primary reason the text gives for God’s banishing Adam and Eve from the garden in 3:23). Whereas God had initially commanded that the man and woman were to rule and subdue His creation, because of their sin the creation would fight back and ultimately rule and subdue the man and woman. This curse and consequence of sin would remain until the woman’s seed (the Messiah) would one day make things new and remove the curse entirely. Each of these elements depend on the normality of communication and understanding, as these occurrences and predictions build on one another. God addresses the sin of the serpent, the woman, and the man all from the framework of His own normative communication in Genesis 1-2. His speech acts in Genesis 3 show with clarity that God meant exactly what He said.
(13) Adam Addresses the Woman as Eve
As the garden episode (the Fall narrative) draws to a conclusion, in 3:20 Adam demonstrates that he understands all that has been said and done in an LGH way, as he refers to his wife as Chevvah, or Eve, which means life, because Adam recognized that she would be the mother of all who would live. Perhaps he understood the prophetic significance of what God had said in 3:15, that Eve would have a seed Who would bring an end to the curse that sin brought.
(14) God Confers With Himself
In another profound evidence of God’s own LGH approach to understanding communication, He speaks with Himself in 3:22 recognizing the undesirable potential of humanity living forever physically in a cursed state. His response to His own communication was to personally send Adam away and drive him from the garden and the tree of life that lived within it.
These fourteen speech acts demonstrate consistent attention to the LGH throughout. Importantly, the hermeneutic deviation recorded in these conversations was contrived by the serpent and Eve fell into his deception. It is notable that the only departure from LGH in all the speech acts of Genesis resulted in the catastrophic fall from innocence of the man and woman and consequently of the entire creation on earth.
While numerous popular advocates of spiritual growth seem to discount hermeneutics and interpretive discipline of the written word, it is most evident that God’s written word profoundly emphasizes attention to normative understanding of communication. The LGH is an inherent necessity throughout the Genesis (and Job) narratives and these books set a precedent that is never overturned and instead is affirmed time and time again. The LGH is Biblical not extra-biblical content, and that truth brings significant implications to anything and everything pertaining to learning, growth, and maturity.
IMPLICATIONS OF LGH AS BIBLICAL NOT EXTRA-BIBLICAL CONTENT
Because of the weight of hermeneutic data within the Biblical text showing that LGH is in fact itself Biblical content, Biblical hermeneutics (and more specifically the LGH) should be thought of not in the sense of the genitive of description (hermeneutics about or for the Bible) as the discipline is often considered to be, but rather as the genitive of possession – the Bible’s hermeneutics. If Biblical hermeneutics is indeed truly Biblical, and if the Biblical hermeneutic is LGH, as has been argued here, and if all Biblical content is necessary for discipleship training, then LGH is not merely methodological preface to set the stage for Biblical study, but is rather part of the prolegomena of Bible study. One cannot encounter the first three chapters of Genesis without being immersed in introductory concepts of communication and necessary components for understanding communication. Further, because communication is important to God, and because He provided it to His creation, we have no warrant to ignore its principles, lest we find ourselves contradicting His communication as Adam and Eve ultimately found themselves doing. What Biblical discipleship program can intelligently ignore the incredible foundational principles of the early Genesis narrative? So many of the great questions of human ontology and phenomena are addressed there, and hermeneutics is an revelation in that context.
Besides the ethical necessity of appropriately dealing with Biblical hermeneutics as an integral component of Bible study, there are also practical advantages for training learners in hermeneutic methodology in discipleship contexts. Understanding hermeneutic concepts and consistently applying LGH allows the learner to learn Scripture and experience growth apart from mastery of any particular theological construct or system. In the covenantalist tradition one needs a systematic theology to understand “the eschatology of Ezekiel or the sacramental language in John 6 or the Psalmists insistence that he is righteous and blameless.” For DeYoung and other Covenantal theologians, it means “starting with Reformed theology and my confessional tradition and sticking with that unless I have really good reason not to.” Without a thorough understanding of systematic theology, one can’t really have certainty that they have interpreted the Scriptures correctly.
One significant flaw in that premise is that in order to understand any one topic of systematic theology, one must understand everything the Scripture has to say on that matter, and then, just to be sure one has understood correctly all of that material, one must also have understanding of every other passage not dealing with that particular topic of systematic theology just to ensure it isn’t addressing that particular topic. This two-way street of hermeneutic circularity effectually means that there can never be any certainty that a learner is exegeting correctly, as they may be coming from the wrong or simply insufficient systematic theological knowledge. In short, the learner can only exegete as far as their current understanding of systematic theology can take them. So then what is the best way to learn systematic theology? “Good systematic theology will be anchored in good exegesis…We all know exegesis should inform systematic theology…” Again, this is an impossible hermeneutic circle, causing any learner who realizes the impossibility of the situation to either give up altogether trying to arrive at certain conclusions through data, facts, and objective truth (as seems to be the case with today’s prominent experientialist discipleship methods), or to recognize the permanence of the learner’s deficiency and simply rely on a spiritual guru who has somehow overcome the impossible circularity and look to that magisterium-enlightened expert for the necessary information pertaining to life and godliness. Either way, this model destroys any hope for self-guided learning.
On the other hand, when we acknowledge that God has revealed Himself in His text in such a way as to be understood, that He has Himself provided humanity with the ability to communicate, understand, and be understood, we can recognize that His communication is sufficient, and that He has provided us what is needed for life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him. And how does Peter suggest we access that true knowledge of Him? How has God provided that to His people?
So we have the more reliable prophetic word, to which you do well to pay attention… above all you know that all written prophesies were not developed of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever produced by a human, but by the Holy Spirit leading men they spoke from God.
The certain (true) knowledge of God is revealed in the word of God – not in our prayers or our circumstances. While God can certainly work through those things – and has in the past spoken in many ways, but in this era He has spoken through His Son, who has affirmed that God has spoken in His written word through His Spirit.
This is why Paul urges believers to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. The word of God transforms. His word is the sine qua non of transformative learning (discipleship). His word is that which is necessary to make us adequate for every good work. Paul further acknowledges that all Scripture is from the mouth of God, and if Genesis is from the mouth of God, then it records God’s communications and understandings accurately – as He would have us understand Him. Therein we discover the necessity to study and show ourselves approved as workers handling His word accurately. Handling the word of God is not optional. It is an integral and necessary component of learning, growth, and maturity; because the method for handling His word accurately is communicated very early in His revealed text, no discipleship process can be effective without an appropriate emphasis on understanding God as He has designed us to understand Him.
 E.g., 2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16-17.
 2 Timothy 2:2.
 Acts 17:11.
 Dan Kimball, How to (Not) Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-women, Anti-science, Pro-violence, Pro-slavery, and Other Crazy-sounding Parts of Scripture (Zondervan, 2020), 24.
 Ibid., 33.
 Gretchen Saffles, The Well Watered Woman (Tyndale Publishers, 2021), endorsement by Dr. Jason Edwin Dees.
 Ibid., dedication page.
 Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Zondervan, 2017), 93-94.
 Henry Blackabee, Experiencing God: Bible Study Book with Video Access (Lifeway, 2022), 14.
 Ibid., 8.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 43.
 John Mark Comer, Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies that Sabotage Your Peace (Waterbrook, 2021), 62.
 Christopher Cone, Priority in Biblical Hermeneutics and Theological Method (Exegetica Publishing, 2018), 35.
 Revelation 20:2.
 Genesis 3:1.
 Ibid., and cf. Genesis 2:16-17.
 Genesis 3:2-3.
 Genesis 3:4-5.
 Genesis 3:9.
 Genesis 3:10.
 Genesis 3:11.
 Genesis 3:12.
 Genesis 3:13.
 Genesis 3:14-15.
 Genesis 3:16.
 Genesis 3:17-19.
 Genesis 3:20.
 Genesis 3:22.
 Revelation 12:9.
 John 8:44.
 Genesis 3:13, 1 Timothy 2:14.
 1 Timothy 2:14.
 Romans 16:20.
 Galatians 4:22-31.
 Genesis 1:28.
 Revelation 22:3.
 Greek compound meaning first word.
 Kevin DeYoung, “Your Theological System Should Tell You How to Exegete” The Gospel Coalition, February 23, 2012, viewed at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/your-theological-system-should-tell-you-how-to-exegete/.
 2 Peter 1:3.
 2 Peter 1:19-21.
 Hebrews 1:1-2.
 E.g., John 16:13-15.
 Romans 12:2.
 2 Timothy 3:17.
 2 Timothy 3:16.
 2 Timothy 2:15.