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  • Writer's pictureMcYoung Y. Yang

Observing the Text: Did You See That?

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

Questions Upon Questions:

It is important to note at the onset of this blog—let alone in the juncture of life itself—that the presence of questions should not and must not be associated with a lack of intuition nor discernment. Quite the contrary, questions are the gateway and, in turn, a sturdy medium in harboring the value and worth of wisdom herself (cf. Pro. 8:1-36). As Proverbs 15:33 (italics mine) states, “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.” Meaning, a posture in receptivity and its willingness; that is, its humility, to learn is built upon questions for the sake of perceptivity. Or said differently, questions—by their nature coupled with the right intention—are built upon curiosity which gives birth to understanding.


To this end, questions are at the foundation of structuring necessary theological categories with the aim of propelling image bearers toward right living to the glory of God (cf. Matt. 11:19). Questions, again, become seeds by which understanding bloom and blossom into wisdom. Questions can exemplify attentiveness and an eagerness to learn. If this is true, how do we utilize it for the glory of God?


Well, Look At That!


Observation is a ginormous first step! It plays a key role in the art and science of hermeneutics.[1] Hermeneutics, according to Anthony C. Thiselton, “explores how we read, understand, and handle texts, especially those written in another time or in a context of life different from our own. Biblical hermeneutics investigates more specifically how we read, understand, apply, and respond to biblical texts.”[2] Thus, to engage in sound, biblical hermeneutics one must train their mind (and eye) to be intentional in their observation of the text; they must be active readers. That is, they must not merely gloss over words and syntax, i.e., passively read. But the disciple of Christ must attentively read with purpose and an aim for sharpness. However, one might ask: how does one observe with the intent to read with purpose and/or aim? As you may have guest, asking the right questions can serve to tether the reader toward the text and the argumentation of the author (human and divine).


Now, to temper our emphasis, it must be said that not all questions are made equal. According to Richard A. Fuhr Jr. and Andreas J. Köstenberger, whose textbook Inductive Bible Study is driving this blog series, “[quality] interpretative questions must first and foremost stem from the text itself. . . [Interpretative] questions are naturally drawn from the text rather than applied to the text.”[3] Therefore, as readers, we must be tethered to the text in order to observe and extract what is necessary from the Scriptures. Remember, the text is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative because it derives primarily from God Himself (click here). This means, then, that we must keep our eyes focused upon what the text is saying rather than what we want the text to say. It is God’s thoughts that we are after, not our own. Meaning, there are certain questions which must take precedence prior to engulfing ourselves into the idiosyncratic questions of our modern-day milieu. Or said differently, what types of questions will help to tether us to the text? Four questions (in principle form) that will keep our nose in the bible: (1) question of content, (2) question of relationship, (3) question of intention, and (4) question of implication. We will take these one at a time.


Question of Content. First, a question of content, write Fuhr and Köstenberger, is “[any] question that explores the interpretation of (or definition) of terms, seeks to understand a theological concept of motif in a passage, or derives the reader toward a better understanding of the historical past.”[4] Or simply put, question of content seeks to ask the most basic, fundamental question: what is that? What does that word mean? Why does that word come up time and time again? What is the historical context behind these words? Some of the most important questions of content will center around words that we assume we already know. Therefore, we must train our minds to ask—what we would assume to be—the most basic questions: What is meant by Christ? What is an apostle? Why is Jesus called a lamb? Question of content strives to define the basic words found within a sentence or passage.


This, then, causes the reader to mine the author’s thoughts and, in addition, understand the cultural context by which those terms are being used; that is, the 21st Century reader must not infuse their own definition into biblical terms or ideas. Quite the contrary, the reader must understand the terms and themes on the basis of the Scriptures’ usages of them. Therefore, question of content forces the reader to stay tethered to the text rather than impart foreign ideas into each respective passage.


Questions of Relationship. Second, questions of relationship “involves thinking outside the perimeters of a specific unit and concern the relationship of words, phrases, and concepts to that which precedes and follows.”[5] Meaning, questions of relationship look at how words relate to one another in order to bring forth greater meaning and/or definition. For example, the word “ball” by itself conjures multiple images ranging from ball-is-life to July 4th tournament (Hmong context). However, additional words like “She went to the ball” shifts the meaning of the word “ball” and, thus, morphs the image that is triggered amid the reader’s imagination. The grammatical relationship of “ball” in conjunction with the surrounding words give rise and shape to how it is being used and the definition that is appropriated to that respective word. Questions of relationship, then, center upon how words, sentences, and paragraphs relate one to another and, thus, strive to convey an idea, concept, or picture to the mind of the reader/hearer.


Additionally, a question of relationship helps to piece together—especially with didactic forms of literature—arguments, thoughts, and reasoning. Questions of relationship help the reader trace and keep the argumentative flow of the author. For example (using a narrative genre) in one of the most terrifying passages, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21; italics mine). The initial question is: what is the will of the Father? The following verse eliminates any notion of ministerial activity as the primary agent when Jesus says, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” (Matt. 7:22b). Thus, the question remains: what is the will of the Father? Previous arguments and themes within the Gospel According to Matthew—namely, the Sermon on the Mount—will help to shape the reader’s understanding of the will of the Father; that is, the will of the Father is an internal transformation of the heart through abiding in His law fulfill through Christ (cf. 5:8, 17-48; 6:1). By asking questions of relationship, the reader is better situated to tackle potential “problem” passages and become an effective reader of Scripture.


Questions of Intention. Third, questions of intention, assert Fuhr and Köstenberger, “assume that there is a logical and purposeful intention by the author to communicate meaning through what he says, what he does not say, and how he says it.”[6] Fundamentally, a question of intention is asking why. Why did Paul write to the church of Ephesus? Why did Jesus feed the five thousand? Why is Paul’s tone extremely harsh against the churches of Galatia? These why questions help fill in the gaps and provide context for the words that are being used to convey a particular point. They shape the pathos, or passion, of the text and do not leave the sentence to mere cognitive information.


For example, by understanding the cultural and historical context of Ephesus, the reader can be better equipped to comprehend the aim and intention of Paul’s letter. With Ephesus housing one of the Seven Wonders of the World—the Temple of Artemis (cf. Acts 19)—Paul’s cosmic vision of the transcendent God strives to combat against the demonic and supernatural entities that plague the Ephesian worldview of the believers. Paul is calling the saints to see the grandeur of God in light of their fear in the demonic cultic practices of their dark context. With this in mind, it gives the reader clearer insight into the intentions of Paul. Listen to Paul with this backdrop in mind when he writes in Ephesians 1:20-23:

20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Regardless, observation of the text must take precedence and spearhead the journey in knowing God and loving Him forever. As Andrew D. Naselli rightfully expresses,

I can’t overstate how important this is. You can discover so much about the historical-cultural context by simply reading the text carefully. Never lose your anchor to this one text: the Bible. Everything else is supplementary. So in your zeal to understand the historical-cultural context, don’t neglect the one text that matters most. Give it preeminence. Read the text more often than you ready any other. Let this text be supreme over all others.[7]

Questions of Implication. Lastly, questions of implication “probe beyond content meaning, moving beyond relational and intentional meaning into the arena of implication.”[8] That is, it probes how the initial passage relates to the broader and greater teaching of the entire bible.[9] How does temple sacrifice play into redemption now that Christ has died and is risen? Is there a need for a priest now that Christ has returned to the right hand of the Father? Questions of implication is highly aware of the theology of the bible and seeks to apply it to one’s particular reading.


For example, allusions and echoes within the Gospel narrative have the potential of serving the author’s intention to connect biblical themes and ideas with other new epochal events.[10] Herod’s murderous deeds are indicative of Pharoah’s dealings with the Hebrew children; that is, Herod—in the eyes of Matthew—functions as a new Pharaoh as Jesus portrays a new Moses (cf. Matt. 2:16-18). In addition, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is a recapitulation, or re-narration, of Moses coming down from the mountain side with the law on tablets (Matt. 5-7, cf. Ex. 19-20).[11] Questions of implication, then, can assist in making biblical theological connection and, thus, providing clarifying points of argumentation.


The Wise Questioner:


As has been the argument thus far in this blog, questions are not in themselves a depiction of ignorance nor foolishness. Rather, questions serve as the platform by which intellect is accrued and wisdom is conjured. It is these principles which must accompany intentional readers in their journey and endeavor to feast upon the Word of God. It is the fundamental ruse in questions which help tether the reader to the text and limit their wandering into arbitrary nuances void of the authors’ intention—divine and human.


To this end, amid the basic scheme of biblical hermeneutics, the reader must learn to be an active observer whose engagement within the text produces questions which tether her to the Scriptures and allows for the Word to speak life into her heart and mind. We must not be persuaded, the Word of God is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). To this end, the first step in feasting upon the Word is to be longsuffering in our observation of the text and to be steadfast in mining the truths of the Scripture for the joy of our hearts. These wrestlings, in turn, will not be in vain, but rather will be used as kindling to fuel the flame of conformity into the image of Christ (cf. Rom. 8:29; Col. 3:10). Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] See 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), 20. Fuhr and Köstenberger provide a basic definition of hermeneutics. Though it is a concise one, I thought it better to tease out its implications for the reader. [2] Anthony C. Thiselton, Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 1. Italics mine [3] Fuhr and Köstenberger, Inductive Bible Study, 76. [4] Ibid., 78. [5] Ibid., 79. [6] Ibid., 80. [7] Andrew David Naselli, How to Understand and Apply the New Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017), 174. [8] Fuhr and Köstenberger, Inductive Bible Study, 81. [9] See Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 290-311. Lints goes on to say, “Canonical analysis seeks to bring to light this sort of historical matrix that holds biblical history together and provides the conceptual framework through which all of history is to be understood. The Old Testament believers hoped not only that God would continue to act as he had in the past but that he would do so on an unprecedented scale. The faith of Israel was forward-looking—specially, look forward to the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and the promises made to David. People look forward to something more than a mere repetition of God’s acts in history, for this would have brought only joy mixed with suffering. They awaited the ‘day of the Lord’ when Israel would be exalted more gloriously than ever before and the other nations would be judged.” [10] See Richard B. Hays. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016. [11] See Patrick Schreiner, Matthew, Disciple and Scribe: The First Gospel and Its Portrait of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, SBTS; ThM, MBTS) is the husband to Debbie and father to McCayden (14), McCoy (13), McColsen (11), and DeYoung (7). 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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