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Common Errors in Bible Interpretation

I came across the following chart on page 136 in the new book A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis by Craig L. Blomberg.  Heeding caution from this chart will ruin many dramatic points in sermons across the country but will end up being more accurate, which will in turn be more honoring to the Lord.

Common Errors in the Word Study Process

Anachronistic Fallacies

  • Granting more interpretive weight to the etymology of a word than is appropriate (etymological or root fallacy)
  • Assuming that a word in the text takes on a meaning that was not yet present in the time of the author.
  • Supplying a word’s meaning with a definition that preceded the author but that had fallen out of popular usage by the time of the author (semantic obsolescence fallacy)

Definitional Fallacies

  • Making an appeal to an unknown or unlikely meaning of a word, due to either the interpreter’s theological presuppositions or reliance on out-of-date or idiosyncratic secondary literature
  • Assuming that a word carries several or all of its possible meaning in each of its appearances when in fact the most probable meaning of any word is that which contributes the least amount of new information to the overall context (illegitimate totality transfer)
  • Assuming that if a word in the New Testament means something in the majority of its appearances, it must also take on that meaning in any context in Scripture where it appears (prescriptive fallacy)

10 Responses to “Common Errors in Bible Interpretation”

  1. Thank you! Now, would somebody please forward this to Rob Bell?

  2. Truth Unites... and Divides 2011-01-27 at 5:41 pm

    Thank you! Now, would somebody please forward this to Egalitarian Sue?

    (Smiles at Complementarian CMP and *runs* for cover!)

    😉

  3. I respect your writing but on some points disagree because they are based on human authors of the Bible. If you can’t trust newly understood meaning of the text, this assumes God never intended us to understand deep secrets he hid in his word.

    Such as; Psalm 117, the middle and only 2 verse Bible chapter – Praise the Lord!; or John 3, the most quoted chapter of the Bible being the 1000th chapter – God’s number of perfection.

    God is revealing more about his DNA-like perfect word every day.

    Thanks for your website!

  4. Thanks for the post. I take it that this book is a definite recommendation from you? And I would love to see in all the “top book” posts that have been going on.. A post on the “top 20 (or whatever number) must have books for the lay person, not including the bible.” If there is an earlier post on this.. Maybe update and repost? I click the amazon link everytime I read one of these posts, but rarely buy (bought Grudems Politics one as a gift, but that is the only one). Would get quite expensive if I bought every one that was linked. Looking for a comprhensive must have list. Do I start with Calvin’s Institutes ($2.99 on kindle app.. Dirt cheap so I assumed it was a must have) or do lay people start with Grudem’s systematic theology (much heftier price tag)? Will stop there, you guys get what I am looking for.

  5. Norm, I think you would do well to read a book like this and perhaps do a quick search on how we got the chapters and verses in the bible.

  6. Skaggers, great recommendation regarding a list of “must have” books. I talked with Michael about it this morning and keep any eye out…hopefully Michael, Sam Storms and myself will each be posting our own “essential” lists. A very subjective thing but nonetheless I agree it would be helpful. Thanks for the suggestion!

    -Tim

  7. Tim, Carson makes the same comments in his much earlier book Exegetical Fallacies. I moderately enjoyed that so perhaps this needs to be added to my wishlist.

    On the illegitimate totality transfer I agree, but I think it more subtle. Frequently people who speak a language carry meanings across when a word has a broad semantic range. Therefore equivocation without realising it is not too uncommon. But such can be used to carry across a broader meaning than the narrow semantic range.

    I mean by this that a single meaning of a word is predominantly meant; but secondary meanings, while not meant in the context, may still be brought to mind by the speaker/writer because the word is actually the same.

  8. Don’t forget to forward it to N.T.Wright!

  9. bethyada- I just want to echo your post. Carson’s book on Exigetical Fallacies is pretty excellent. Many preachers and students would do well to heed his (and Blomberg’s) advice. I believe Douglas Stuart and Gordon Fee also covered this idea in their excellent book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis « Church Leaders Read - 2011-01-28

    […] Tim Kimberley at Parchment and Pen mentions a chart he found in Craig Blomberg’s book, A Handbook of Exegesis in the New Testament.  The chart deals with common errors in Bible interpretation: […]

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