W. Gary Crampton, in his book, By Scripture Alone: The Sufficiency of Scripture, does not fail to mention the importance of paying attention to historical theology. This is in opposition to the “biblicist” approach discussed by James Renihan here. Crampton writes,
A creed or confession is a summary and orderly statement about what the church believes concerning Christian doctrine. As standards subordinate to the Word of God, creeds serve as distillations of the teaching of Scripture, and are useful in Christian education. Too, they serve as guards against heresy. In [Presbyterian -PMcW] Reformed churches, the Westminster Confession of Faith functions as a paradigm that provides boundaries, acting as a filter to screen theological teachings. All teaching is run through the “grid” or the paradigm of the Confession.
In these ways creeds and confessions are very useful. This is the sense in which Augustine once wrote: “The sentiments of the bishops who have gone before us, men who treated these divine words [of Scripture] faithfully and memorably…what they found in the church, they held; what they had learned, they taught; what they had received from the fathers, this they delivered to the children.”* But never are creeds and confessions to be considered on a par with Scripture. Rather, they, like the decisions of synods and councils, says the Confession (31:4), may and do err: “therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice; but to be use as a help in both.” The Bible and the Bible alone is the Word of God, the only infallible, inerrant standard by which all is to be judged.
*Augustine, Against Julian, 2, 19:34; as cited by Joseph Gallegos in Not By Scripture Alone, 390.
Crampton also comments on the necessary tools and approach for proper exegesis of Scripture:
In contrast to Roman Catholicism, which teaches that only the Roman Church-State can properly interpret the Bible for its children, Christian theology teaches that all believers are to be adults in understanding, not children; they are to be involved in Bible study; and they are able to interpret Scripture correctly (Psalm 1:2-3; Joshua 1:8; 1 Corinthians 14:20). As stated by Charles Hodge: “The Bible is a plain book. It is intelligible by the people. And they have the right, and are bound to read and interpret it for themselves; so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures, and not on that of the church.”**
When Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, it was the whole body of believers that he commanded to “test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The Apostle John told his readers that they were to “test the spirits” in order that they would be able to discern “the spirit of truth” from “the spirit of error” (1 John 4:1, 6). Understanding this, the Reformers spoke of the importance of the individual’s right and duty to study privately and to interpret the Scriptures. Christians have both the right and the responsibility to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. By this they would be able to “test” all teachings, and be able to discern “the spirit of truth” from the “spirit of error.” As we have just studied, it is due to the fact that “all of the people of God…have [a] right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them,” that we are to have accurate translations in “the vulgar language of every nation.”
This does not mean that every believer has the right to interpret Scripture as he pleases (2 Peter 1:20-21). Rather, Scripture is to be interpreted according to the meaning given to it by Christ, through His Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16). This is why the discipline of Biblical hermeneutics is of vital importance. Biblical, or sacred, hermeneutics is the science of or the theory of the interpretation of the Bible. The root of the word “hermeneutics” is found in Mark 5:41 (methermeneuo, “to translate”) and 1 Corinthians 12:10 (hermeneia, “translate” or “interpret”). Biblical hermeneutics, as a discipline, is inseparably related to exegesis. The word “exegesis” (exegeomai; John 1:18) means “to lead out.” Proper Biblical exegesis is the “leading out” or “explaining” of Scripture the true meaning of the text, which as the Confession says, “is not manifold, but one.”
The high view of Scripture propounded by the Westminster Assembly has several implications for a proper Biblical hermeneutic. First, as Article XVIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy claims, it binds us to the grammatical-historical method of interpretation: “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices.” This methodology focuses on the grammatical structure of the passages of Scripture, as they were originally written, and the historical context of the writing. According to Reymond, what this means is that the exegete “must seek to put himself in the writer’s linguistic, cultural, historical, and religious shoes to discover the writer’s intended meaning.”*** This being so, the Biblical exegete must understand something of the structure of the original languages, bringing to bear on the text the meaning of the words and the syntactical structure of the passage. He must also understand the historical context in which the book under study was written. Questions of authorship, date, and destination of the various books are relevant in a study of Scripture. Commentaries, lexicons, and concordances are available and very helpful to students at all levels of exegetical skills.
**Hodge, Systematic Theology, I:183.
***Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 49.
Emphasis in bold is mine.