Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Introduction

June 7, 2011 — 6 Comments

It is only in the past 12 months that I have been introduced to the movement called Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS). While in Mexico, I read Daniel Treier’s Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture. This is the start to a series I will do on TIS.

In this post I will give definitions of TIS, a little historical bit for more help, and then briefly summarize Treier’s book. In the following posts I will give my first impressions of the movement. This will include what I think are the weak hands and the strong suits of the movement.

This is my way of “thinking” through this movement out-loud. So if I need correction, please don’t hesitate to help me understand where I have slipped into the water of simplifications or mistaken thinking.


To begin a definition is in order. The problem is that there is difficulty and disagreement in defining exactly what it is. Here are some samples:

  • TIS can be defined as “those readings of biblical texts that consciously seek to do justice to the perceived theological nature of the texts and embrace the influence of theology (corporate and personal; past and present) upon the interpreter’s enquiry, context, and method.” (Theopedia/based off Treier)
  • TIS is a multifaceted practice of a community of faith in reading the Bible as God’s instrument of self-revelation and saving fellowship” (J.T. Billings | The Word of God for the People of God, xii).
  • TIS is to read individual passages in the Bible through the lens of one’s orthodox, community-shaped, and confessional theology. This approach is a desired approach. It’s the ancient approach. (Scot McKnight)
  • TIS is an interpretation informed by a theological description of the nature of the biblical writings and their reception, setting them in the scope and the progress of the saving divine Word through time (John Webster | Editorial IJST 116)
  • TIS is a mode of reading whose aim is knowledge of God which uses theological categories to depict the text, the situation of its readers and the practice of reading (Darren Sarisky | What is Theological Interpretation IJST 202)
  • Vanhoozer defines it as what it is not: 1) It is not an imposition of a theological system or confessional grid on to the biblical text. 2) It is not an imposition of a general hermeneutic or theory of interpretation on the biblical text. 3) It is not a form of merely historical, literary, or sociological criticism preoccupied with the world ‘behind,’ ‘of,’ or ‘in front of’ the biblical text. (Vanhoozer | DTIB)

Still Foggy? Some Help

Although the fog may have somewhat lifted, I still think for those being introduced to the subject the shore is still not visible. I have found the most helpful way to understand what TIS interpreters are doing is to see why it has arisen, and how it is different from the grammatico-historical interpretative school (the one I was trained on).

First, as Wellum notes (see SBJT Summer 2010) TIS has arisen in response to the modern assumptions associated with the historical-critical method. TIS wants to put the authority of the Bible back in the hands of the church rather than historical critical scholarship. Many say Karl Barth is the founder.

Second, but related, it differs (or maybe pushes) against the grammatico-historical method by being in favor of more postmodern rather than modern methods. Interpretation is not a “science,” or a formula you can plug in and find the one true meaning as you find diamond on the ground. Rather TIS interpreters are more open to various meanings.

Summary of Treier’s Book

Treier divides his book into two sections. The first part involved a focus on what is held in common with TIS interpreters. The first is imitating the strengths of pre-critical interpreters. In other words, following the patristics in their interpretative methods more than is done now. Second, interacting with Christian doctrine while interpreting, having the Rule of Faith as the boundary marker. Third, listening to others in the church community, or not reading the Bible in isolation.

In the second section Treier turns to where there is disagreement among TIS interpreters. The first is what role “biblical theology” has for TIS interpreters, or if it is valid at all. Second, the nature of engagement with general hermeneutics. And third, interaction and engagement with interpreters from various social locations.


The waters may still seem muddy, but I think that is partially the point for the TIS movement. There is no formula, there is no one size fits all. Reading Scripture is not a science (although they do not deny the benefits of grammatical-historical helps). Scripture is meant to be read for transformation, not information.

The question is…are they on the right track? To this we will turn later.