In dealing with the fact that much of what I present on my blog is systematic theology, someone has complained that I do not do exegesis. If he had read much of my blog, he would have realized I use exegesis to understand individual passages and books of the Bible, but I also systematic theology to make statements about what God teaches in the Bible as a whole. In fact, this person is mistaken about how systematic theology uses exegesis.
Systematic theology examines doctrines using multiple scripture dealing with the same topic. It makes use of exegesis. It s very different than proof texting, which is simply picking verses that agree with you and ignoring verses that disagree with you. Perhaps I’ve incorrectly used some scriptures, but I don’t think I have. If you believe I have, please point it out.
I have taken linear algebra, as well as various science courses. One thing I learned that is that you examine information, make a hypothesis and then investigate said hypothesis with experiments designed to help you ascertain the validity of said hypothesis. This is what systematic theology does: it examines one or more statements in Scripture, makes a hypothesis concerning what is being said, and then investigates the validity of said hypothesis by examining what the rest of Scripture says concerning said hypothesis.
This is what I have done. I have examined scripture, noticed it stated something regarding some principle, made a hypothesis concerning said principle, and then examined other scripture to see if said hypothesis is consistent with the rest of scripture. No, not every scripture containing the words ’save’, ’saved’, ’saving’ deal with salvation. But many of them do. Not only that, but many passages that deal with salvation do not even use those terms. Each must be examined, in context, to ensure you have not ignored a point of Scripture that might negate your hypothesis. You can not ignore the rest of scripture when examining an idea presented by Scripture, or you are in danger of contradicting what God has said.
To which he responded, “This is wrong. The guiding star should not be whether a passage fits with all of the rest of the New Testament. The governing principle for interpreting a passage should be authorial intent. Of course, in order to get all of the passages to harmonize together, you appeal to your system in order to do so. Again, look to the parable of the sower – the plain sense is that the second soil believed and was saved, but you think that conflicts with other passages, so you toss the author’s intended meaning out the window and let the system dictate how you’re going to interpret the passage.”
No, that’s not what systematic theology does. If you find scriptures that contradict your theory, then you must determine a new theory, or at best modify your original hypothesis.
We must examine who, what, when, where, why, and how when examining the text. The ‘who’ would be the audience and the human author. The ‘what’ is the issue being addressed. The ‘when’ and ‘where’ also address the audience and the human author. The ‘how’ would include language and the style of the author.
Yes we must be guided by trying to determine what the human author intended, but you can not forget the divine author. God does not lie, or change, therefore, His message will remain consistent in all books of the BIble, although different audiences and issues are addressed. If you forget the divine author, you miss the consistent message and you run the risk of either making God to be a liar or making a mistake in understanding the message. By ignoring other Scripture, it is easy to make mistakes in understanding what God has said. This is how we get erroneous doctrine.
If one can show where our understanding of one verse is incorrect, then either it does not apply to the topic at hand or the theory is incorrect. I can’t think of another possibility. However, before one can claim a verse does not apply to the topic being discussed, one must show to what topics it DOES apply, to ensure nothing is being missed or ignored or thrown out because it does not fit our theory (which is what true cherry picking of verses is). If a verse actually contradicts the theory, then the theory must be revised or thrown out.
The correct way to discuss a passage is to examine that passage in context, to determine what was said and done and who was involved. However, before anything definitive can be determined doctrinally (on a deeper level than what was simply said or done, to find the principle), one must examine other passages of Scripture to ensure no contradiction occurs between what you think the passage is stating with what God has said elsewhere.
For example, if we take the book of Mark, no mention is made of Mary, mother of Jesus, having been a virgin. To develop a full and accurate doctrine of Jesus as the Son of God, second person of the Trinity, we must look at all passages pertaining to Jesus. Otherwise, we would never realize that Jesus was born of a virgin, which could lead one to believe that He was simply a man even though Mark records demons calling Him the Son of the Most High God.
Not understanding the Jewish tradition of calling to mind a passage of Scripture by mentioning the beginning verses of said passage, would cause one to believe that Jesus was simply bereft when He said “My God why have you forsaken me”, when in fact He was calling to mind Ps 22:1. One misses the fuller meaning of the text without knowing this. One also would never know that Jesus said, “It is finished” (referring to His earthly ministry and the fulfillment of the Law) without looking at Jesus through the book of John. One might also assume Jesus sinned when He was angry at the money changers in the Temple, if one did not examine passages about Jesus in the book of Hebrews.
So, while we can examine a passage of Scripture to see the who, what, when, where, why, and how, we will never get a full and accurate picture of what is being taught without looking at the whole of Scripture. And without looking at the whole of Scripture, we miss the consistent message presented by the divine author, God. Without looking at the whole of Scripture, we can easily make the mistake of presenting a doctrinal position that contradicts what God has written elsewhere, and by doing so, we are either wrong or we make God out to be a liar. Thus, systematic theology presents what God has said about a topic in the Bible. It uses individual verses and passages from multiple books of the Bible, in context, to help see what God has to say about any given subject.