Doing Exegesis as the Apostles Did (3 of 7)

Was the Apostle’s Hermeneutic Normative?

Some who admit that a christocentric hermeneutic is undeniably represented by Scripture remain steadfastly opposed to our reproduction of that hermeneutic today. The question is whether the exegetical methods of Christ, the apostles, and gospel writers are normative for us today. Longnecker answers in the negative, that the apostolic hermeneutic was descriptive, not normative.[1] However, Beale asserts that, even though we cannot “reproduce the inspired certainty of our typological interpretations as either the OT or NT writers could,” still, “typological interpretation is normative and… we may seek for more OT types than the NT actually states for us.”[2]

Some frame the debate in terms of humility: that we, as uninspired disciples, must meekly refrain from reproducing the hermeneutic of the inspired apostles. But another argument of humility could be that, since we are not inspired interpreters, we should adopt the hermeneutic of the inspired writers, rather than another seemingly useful, but “ultimately subjective, methodology.”[3]

Not only does humility demand that we reproduce apostolic exegesis, but also the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. If reformed doctrine holds that the “Infallible rule for interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself… [and that] Holy Scripture is the sufficient, certain, infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience,”[4] then why should the Bible not also be sufficient for teaching us methods of interpreting Scripture? Therefore, “a positive answer can and must be given to the question, ‘Can we reproduce the exegesis of the NT?’”[5]

Beyond the issue of humility and the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, when discussing whether we can reproduce apostolic hermeneutics, we should be concerned about our unity with the historic church and the intellectual stability of our faith. As Beale argues,

 If the contemporary church cannot interpret and do theology as the apostles did, how can it feel corporately at one with them in the theological enterprise? […] Furthermore, if Jesus and the apostles were impoverished in their exegetical and theological method, and if only divine inspiration salvaged their conclusions, then the intellectual and apologetic foundation of our faith is seriously eroded. What kind of intellectual or apologetic foundation for our faith is this?[6]

Johnson asks, What if “the representative samples of apostolic hermeneutics recorded for us in the NT are intended not only to teach us doctrine” and the interpretation of the OT, but also “to acclimate out minds to a way of viewing all of God’s dealings with humanity?”[7] For instance, when Luke 23:49 recounts the time during Jesus’ suffering when “all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things,” what is to stop the contemporary preacher to make a link to Psalm 88:8, “You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them”? Psalm 22, a lamentation Psalm, like Psalm 88, is quoted by NT authors as pointing to Christ’s suffering, but Psalm 88 is never quoted in such a way in the NT. Would it be a violation of good hermeneutics to use Psalm 88 in regard to Christ, as the apostles use Psalm 22? As Johnson concludes, Psalm 22 teaches us to read—and preach—the entire lamentation Psalm genre christocentrically.


[1] Richard N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 196.

[2] Beale, Handbook, 25. “In support, we observe that this method is not unique to the NT writers but pervades the OT [and so] the consistent use of such a method by biblical authors throughout hundreds of years of sacred history suggests that it is a viable method for all saints to employ today” (Beale, 25).

[3] Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 140.

[4] London Baptist Confession, Section 1, Para. 1, 9.

[5] Beale, Handbook , 26.

[6] Beale, Handbook, 26.

[7] Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 215-16.