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Applying the Text: Being Doers of the Word

Working the Leaven into the Dough:

There is an old adage that says, “orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.” Meaning, right biblical understanding tethered to the biblical text will produce—it should at least—proper practice (for the nature of Scripture, click here). Or, as the biblical text says, “But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (Jas. 1:22-24). In saying that, personal individual ministry along with local church life should not be done at the whim of self-preference nor sheer innovation, i.e., pragmatism. Rather, the quest for faithful application in a covenantally-saturated life should be grounded and rooted within the biblical text. Or as Richard A. Fuhr Jr. and Andreas J. Köstenberger contend, “that which is meaningful for our day must have its foundation in correct interpretation, the meaning of the text in its original context.”[1]


This, then, presupposes that the biblical text will be central in the believers’ life and that the reading of Scripture—observing and interpreting the text—be a foundational, everyday norm (click here and here). The text is not merely a trove of exceptional wisdom coupled amid a smorgasbord of intellectual options. The text, comparatively, is the basis and bedrock to wisdom because the text itself is inspired by God (cf. Prov. 1:7; 9:10; Jn. 14:6; Col. 2:3; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 2:19-21). Or said differently, all truth is God’s truth. That is, true understanding and, thus, true practice will be governed, directed, and driven by biblical wisdom because Christ is the Creator and Designer of all (cf. Col. 1:15-16). The reading and study of Scripture, then, must find its applicational thrust within the drama of everyday life.[2] Therefore, the fullest expression of a biblically saturated believer is their fruits—the outworking of their lives—that correlate with sound Scriptural teaching.


Apply the Leaven Here:


As we examine the idea of application, what are some categories and precepts that will help assure its function, rather than being merely a storage of concepts in the ether of our minds? How do we move from knowledge to right action? How do we discern between information and wisdom? How do we engage is faithful application in the practice of biblical hermeneutics? Two key ideas to consider: (1) relevancy and (2) legitimacy.


This is God’s World. When engaging with relevancy, we must consider the biblical narrative as portraying factually historic events written in a cultural timeframe with the purpose of conveying theological truths about the people of God’s encounter with the covenantal Lord. That is to say, “the Bible is an ancient document rooted in real human history.”[3] Therefore, the principles that undergird the text are not otherworldly per se; that is, they are not mythical nor four-dimensional solutions with no real-life relevance. Rather, they are wisdom from God forged for the purpose of applicational practice within the sphere of creation; meaning, God’s covenantal Word is given to inform God’s covenantal people about covenantal living within His created world.


To this end, the interpreter must understand the cultural appeal of the text and assess its equivalence amid their own modern sensibilities. Or as Fuhr and Köstenberger assert, “whenever possible, you ought to look for application through a cultural equivalent, a tangible practice that translates intended meaning from their culture to our own.”[4] Again, the interpreter can do this because God’s Word is written for this world. Christianity is not solely an ethereal religion pointing beyond the stars. It is a faith that correlates to the creational order. For example, Paul encourages the church to “[greet] one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor. 13:12). Now, applicational questions must be asked: (1) is this a creational mandate? Meaning, is this an act that creatures must do at all times? Or said differently, is this normative in the creational order? (2) Or is this communicating a truth, i.e., a principle, that can be culturally appropriated? In a Hmong context, would a handshake suffice? Or in Thai culture, would a bow be suitable (s̄wạs̄dī ka)?


Another example, the Apostle Paul, in Romans, describes himself as “a servant (Gk. δοῦλος) of Christ Jesus” (Rom. 1:1). The Greek term δοῦλος is better rendered as “slave.”[5] Again, applicational questions must be asked: (1) is this a creational mandate? Meaning, is this concept of slavery (wrestling against and through our American Western sensibilities) how creatures are to function in light of their Creator? (2) How do we culturally appropriate this idea of slavery without losing it altogether? Or should we rid ourselves of it altogether? If not, what parts do we keep? If so, why does Paul use it? We ask these questions because we want to discern what is normative—that is, what is God’s design for creation regardless of time and culture (ex. do not murder)—and what is particular to the situation that Paul is addressing. “Evaluating situational relativity,” writes Fuhr and Köstenberger, “concerns the reader with the movement from situationally particular settings to universally broad relevance.”[6] Or said another way, we must discern between the author's cultural expression of biblical principles and God's mandate within the creational order for all humanity.


Again, biblical truth and its undergirding principles are not captured among the ether unable to descend unto the creaturely sphere. Rather, its outworking in God’s design is to demonstrate God’s power and divine attributes within creation (cf. Ps. 19:1-3; Rom. 1:20). Therefore, readers and interpreters will and must find relevancy through the biblical teachings of Scripture. They can because the Author of Scripture is the same Author of creation itself.


Watchu Talking About Willis? When searching for application, it is important that it is grounded within a faithful interpretation of the biblical text itself; that is, the legitimacy of an application is tied to its biblical foundation. Or as Fuhr and Köstenberger insist, “[any] particular application of the text must be in sync with the interpretation of the text; there must be consistency between interpretation and application.”[7] Five steps, then, are given to help assess legitimacy between interpretation and application.


Step one, the most immediate connection a reader and interpreter must make in the sphere of application is its correspondence to the intended meaning of the text given to its initial audience. Or put in question form, how did the author himself want his audience to respond? “If we’re going to discern legitimate parallels in our context,” writes Fuhr and Köstenberger, “then we must first understand intended application in the original reader’s context.”[8] Step two, we must discern between the author’s intention for his audience to know something in comparison to the author’s desire for his audience to do something. Therefore, we must be sensitive to the language of imperatives; that is, languages of command. For example, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19; italics mine). The main verb in this familiar (Great Commission) verse is “make”; that is, Jesus is calling us to do something—make disciples. Step three is to extract the principle from the text. Or put in question form, what is the undergirding idea behind the teaching? As Fuhr and Köstenberger contend, “Underlying principles provide the link between interpretation and application that keep the two in parallel synchronization.”[9] For example, Paul’s self-identification as a “slave” (Gk. δοῦλος) to Christ, as mentioned above, provides a principled understanding toward Christ’s identity as Lord and our identity as His followers—or slaves (work out that tension). Thus, the principle is for followers of Christ to live in full obedience to the call of a good, gracious, and merciful Master. Step four, identify the necessary boundaries to the principles that derive from the text. Or ask the question, how far can the principle be taken? For example, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12; italics mine; cf. Eph. 6:2). What does it mean to honor one's parents? Am I to do everything my parents say? What if it's contrary to Scripture? What if I am a teenager? What if I am a grown adult? These types of questions may help to discern the extent of the principle behind the text. The last and fifth step, provide potential scenarios where the text and its principle could be applied in an everyday situation. Do the hard work of finding tangible circumstances in which the principle of the text must and can be applied.


By analyzing these five simple steps, it will assist in helping one legitimate the applicational thrust of the Scriptural text. In addition, it is important to remember that our bible studies should not remain within the confines of isolated entries. Meaning, we must not study Scripture on an island. Rather, our study of the text should always bleed into communal engagement; that is, we should share our findings and allow the covenant community to sharpen our interpretive as well as applicational skills. This, in turn, will sharpen the individual as well as the covenant community as a whole.


A Little Leaven Leavens the Whole Lump:


The inscripturated Word grants wisdom to live in God’s created order through covenantal union with the Creator God Himself. To this end, it is imperative that the people of God study the text not merely to conjure intellectual knowledge, but to renew the mind for sacrificial living intentionally given to the glory of God (cf. Rom. 12:1-2). Just as Jesus warned His disciples of the Pharisees’ leaven—that is, their teaching—He also provides a corrective in His own Person and Work (Matt. 16:5-12). Meaning, the Father reveals His true identity to Peter as the disciple proclaims, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). To this end, the aim of the text is to point us to Christ so that we may be conformed into His image and enjoy His presence forever. Additionally, our affection, then, will produce through us a life lived in fruitfulness which is an act of worship. The applicational thrust of our bible studies are not merely cute sentimental activities done at the whim of our enjoyment. Rather, they are an outgrowth of minds and hearts captured by the text; captured by the Lord of the text—Christ Jesus Himself. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] Richard Alan Fuhr Jr. and Andreas J. Köstenberger, Inductive Bible Study: Observation, Interpretation, and Application through the Lenses of History, Literature, and Theology (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016), 291. [2] See Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. See also Vanhoozer Kevin J. Hearers and Doers: A Pastor's Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019.

[3] Fuhr and Köstenberger, Inductive Bible Study, 293. [4] Ibid., 297. [5] See John MacArthur, Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010. [6] Fuhr and Köstenberger, Inductive Bible Study, 298.

[7] Ibid., 311. [8] Ibid., 315. [9] Ibid., 316.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, SBTS; ThM, MBTS) is the husband to Debbie and father to McCayden (14), McCoy (13), McColsen (11), and DeYoung (8). He is a Pastor of Preaching/Teaching at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. Along with his ministerial duties, he is a homeschool dad. In addition, McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.



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