“The study of texts is always undertaken within some larger framework, whether this is recognized or not. The larger framework, constituted by interpreter’s interests, determines what questions are considered important, what methods are found appropriate, and what explanations are deemed satisfying.”
Theological Interpretation represents such a framework. The aim of Theological Interpretation is to read the Bible as Scripture, that is, as somehow God’s transformative address to the Church here in the present. We may contrast this with the past two centuries of biblical scholarship whose interests have been primarily historical: that is, they were aimed at reconstructing the life, religion, and history of ancient Israel and early Christianity. Here the Biblical writings are treated as ancient artefacts which provide windows into the past where they are firmly located, the differences between the ancient world and the contemporary world being stressed. The model interpreter is the detached and objective historian, uninfluenced by theological interests or doctrinal traditions that may distort or bias interpretation.
In contrast, while recognizing the ‘historical’ character of the Bible, Theological Interpretation will not relegate it to the past, nor will it separate theology from interpretation. Grounded in the theological continuity between God’s people in all ages, the Bible is read as the ‘word of God’ to us. Stephen Wright communicates this concern well:
“At stake is much more than the question of whether we can understand an ancient text – that is, the question whether by imagination, sympathy and an intellectual grasp of our own context and the biblical one a ‘meeting of minds’ can take place. It is the question of whether, when we have understood, we can discern the ways in which that understanding could and should make a difference to the way we view the world and conduct ourselves within it today.”
When read as a whole, Scripture it allows us not only to see the past, but gives us the lenses through which to understand the present and the future within the purposes of God. Its concerns are thus primarily theological, we read in order to understand God, and ourselves and the world in relation to God.
Furthermore, Theological Interpretation prioritises formation, its ultimate goal is for the church as a reading community to be formed by God as a people who worship God alone, fellowship together in love, and participate in God’s mission to the World. The priority given to formation means that reading the Bible as Scripture can never be simply an intellectual exercise but is irreducibly spiritual and involved, and requires of the interpreter particular dispositions, virtues, and practices. Furthermore, our engagement with the Bible as Scripture requires an ecclesial context which exhibits a particular ‘life together’ if formation is to be fostered.
How then do we read the Scriptures in order to be formed in this way? There is no consensus on this issue and Theological Interpretation should not be straightforwardly associated with any particular approach. As Vanhoozer notes in the introduction to the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, “The theological interpretation of the Bible names a broad ecclesial concern that embraces a number of academic approaches. At present, no one model of theological interpretation of the Bible holds sway in the church.” He identifies “three distinct emphases” within the literature on theological interpretation: a focus on the relation between human and divine authorship; a focus on the literary or canonical shape of the text as providing a symbolic world to inhabit; a focus on the aims of the reading community and the reception of the text in the life of the church. All three of these areas needs to be addressed if we are to form a coherent framework for engaging the Scriptures theologically, and it is according to the categories of author/text/reader to which these roughly correspond, that the present discussion is arranged.
Author – Human Discourse and Divine Address
“At the core of theological interpretation of Scripture is the conviction that the Bible—the words of human authors—is somehow also the word of God.”
The conviction that the Bible is the medium of divine revelation is the driving force behind theological interpretation. The relationship between God and Scripture is a crucial issue for Theological Interpretation because it has a direct bearing on how one engages the text and what one expects to receive from such an engagement.
What does it mean to call the Scriptures ‘the word of God’? It is common to compare Christ’s incarnation with the Bible; it is both divine and human. But what are the implications of this statement? What does it mean to read the Scriptures as human writings? What does it mean to read the Scriptures as God’s word?
The Bible is clearly a collection of writings authored by particular people, this fact is inescapable. Because of this they possess the characteristics of normal written communication within which intention and context are crucial. The meaning of words, sentences, and larger units of discourse is determined by what the author intends to communicate by them. In order for them to be understood they must be placed within the ‘world’ of their origin, represented by such aspects of their context as language, culture, society, and history. An understanding of every area of life from the family to the economy has the potential to shed light upon the text. As written acts we must also pay close attention to their literary features. We need to be attentive to genre and forms of language such as metaphor, which indicate among other things what kind of ‘truth’ we should be looking for and what sort of response is sought.
In what sense are the Scriptures divine in origin? Were the individual writings in some sense ‘commissioned’ or ‘inspired’ by God? Or were they simply adopted as suitable for his purposes?
While we cannot get precise about the mechanisms or relationship between the hearts and minds of the human authors and the influences of God during their writing, the fact is that these particular writings have been given a privileged place within God’s purposes as a primary means of shaping God’s people as a worshiping, loving, and missional community. The biblical writings are not only human acts of communication but together constitute a divine resource for shaping Gods people. The human discourse is taken up in the divine purposes.
In what way does God appropriate the human discourse of Scripture? With what shall we associate God’s communicative intent? Should we associate God’s voice with the author’s communicative intention in each instance (sentence, paragraph, text) or some other “meaning”? Can we distinguish between a human meaning and a divine meaning? This question is important for it shapes what interpretive methods one will employ as appropriate for hearing God’s voice through/in the text. If God speaks through Scripture in other ways than through the human authors communicative intent then we need to develop methods suitable for hearing these other “meanings”, and we also need to determine whether we can rank such meanings with some being more fundamental than others.
I would contend that God’s address to us in the Scriptures must be anchored in the communicative intent of the individual authors. The ‘human’ nature of the Biblical writings invites us to interpret them as we naturally would other human writings, to understand what the authors intended to communicate. The choice to take up this form of address suggests that it is through this medium that God chooses to communicate and therefore it is according to the nature of such communication that we must seek to ‘hear’ God’s voice in Scripture. ‘The fundamental principle in reading Scripture to hear the word of God is to assume that the human discourse is the divinely authorized and appropriated discourse unless there is good reason to do otherwise.’
This does not mean, however, that every text must be received as a divine mandate for us in the present. For example, in Genesis 17.9-14 the ritual of circumcision is instituted as a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendents. It was thus to be an important aspect of the life of God’s people. However, in Galatians it is stated that if anyone receives circumcision they will be “severed from Christ” and would have “fallen from grace” (Gal 5.2-4). In both passages what is said is of vital importance for what it means to be faithful to God, but we cannot put them both into practice. The various conflicting imperatives within the Bible require us to employ a theological hermeneutic that shapes our appropriation of Scripture. God’s address to us comes in the context of the canon of Scripture, and it is the narrative shape of Scripture which provides the context within which we may appropriate its various parts (see below).
Text – The Canonical Narrative
Unity, Canon, and Narrative
Within the literature on Theological Interpretation the concept of ‘canon’ is being explored for its potential to inform our engagement with Scripture. How does the canonical context (the collection of writings within which a given text is located) impact or shape our interpretation and appropriation of particular texts?
Fundamental to Theological Interpretation is the assumption that the Bible is not a disparate collection of texts but a unified one. But what sort of unity does the Bible possess? It does not possess a straightforward literary unity, for it consists of many otherwise separate writings that consist of a multiplicity of different genres. Nor do they possess a strictly historical unity, for their origins stretch across centuries and are the work of multiple authors. The unity of Scripture is primarily theological, but nevertheless rooted in both the literary and the historical.
It is the literary nature of the majority of the writings that provides the key. At the centre of the Bible is a set of narratives that together tell a single coherent story.
“The particular narratives related in the biblical books, together with the non-narrative portions of Scripture, participate in a more extensive, overarching narrative (or metanarrative). This is the story of God’s purpose coming to fruition in the whole of God’s history with us, from the creation of the world and humanity’s falling away from God, through God’s repeated attempts to restore his people culminating in the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, and reaching its full crescendo in the final revelation of Christ and the new creation. In an important sense, the Bible is nothing less than the record of the actualization (and ongoing promise) of this purpose of God in the history of the cosmos.”
The theological unity of the Bible lies in its narration of God’s redemptive mission to the world. It is the Biblical story that provides the context within which the genres and writings find their proper context, and therefore every text needs to be read in relation to it and as a part of it. The significance of the ‘canon’ in Theological Interpretation, then, is to properly locate the individual writings and passages within the narrative theological context of the story of the mission of God. This ‘canonical context’ is vital for the appropriation of the Scriptures in the life of the Church.
Indwelling the Biblical Story
Following the author’s (historical) and the canonical (narrative) context of Scripture, it is natural to think that the final context within which to read the Scriptures is the reader’s context. But this is not so. Even though it is inescapable and necessary that we read from within our contexts, reading the Bible as Scripture will require that we place ourselves within the Biblical Story, so that seeing the world through the vision of Scripture it may come to shape how we understand our context. 
“The biblical story exists independently of our stories, pulls us away from our subjectivity, and makes a claim of its own on our present existence. It has authority. We do not read our stories into scripture, but make the scriptural story our story and tell our stories in the light of scripture. We do not translate scripture into our categories but redescribe our experience in its categories.”
If Scripture is going to take the central place in our lives, then it must transform us at the level of worldview. It must provide the interpretive framework through which we view the world and the blueprint for how we should live in it. To do so it must retain its narrative unity and its story must become our ‘controlling story’, subverting the stories that have shaped out lives. Consciously placing ourselves within the Biblical story not only provides the grand-narrative by which we are to shape our fundamental assumptions, but it tells us where the story has got to so far and what God requires of us in the present. It is then both vital for our understanding and appropriation of the Scriptures that we can locate the writings and also ourselves at the appropriate place in the Biblical Story.
Tom Wright suggests that we see the Biblical story in terms of a five-act play: 1-Creation; 2-Fall; 3-Israel; 4-Jesus; the writing of the New Testament forms the beginning of the fifth scene of which we are a part, and points towards how the play is supposed to end. As ‘actors’ within this story, we are to ‘enter into the story’ in order to understand it, and then to improvise our act of the play with the appropriate elements of continuity and discontinuity. We need to ask ourselves ‘what time is it?’, to discern how the story has progressed and were it is heading in order to serve God faithfully in the present.
Reader – Community and Character
‘Advocates of theological exegesis agree that the formation of Christian virtue is a crucial aspect of interpretative practice, perhaps even the most appropriate way of stating it’s central aim.’
The exegesis and appropriation of the Bible as Scripture require of us a particular set of virtues and a particular stance towards the text.
The need for interpretive virtues arises for two reasons. The first is the fact that human communication has the capacity to fail, we can and do misunderstand. This is the result of the inherently contextual nature of communication. In Biblical interpretation we are dealing with texts written in foreign languages originating in ‘worlds’ vastly different from our own. Furthermore we do not come to the task with a ‘clean slate’, rather we come with our pre-understandings shaped by our theological traditions, ecclesial practices, personal histories, social location, gender, etc. These aspects of ourselves often incline us to interpret texts in particular ways. The second reason is our inclination towards self-justification and self-direction, sin. We can also be inclined towards interpretations that ‘suite us’ or that offer no challenge to our present lives.
Because of these we need to cultivate interpretive virtues such as honesty, openness, attention, and obedience. We need to be honest about our presuppositions and interests. We need to be open to inquiry subverting previously held interpretations. We need to be responsible in applying the degree of attention that the text requires to be understood. And finally we need to follow the direction of the text by not imposing categories, purposes, or ‘meanings’ upon it.
Yet more fundamental than these postures is the stance one takes towards the Bible as a whole. Because of the Scriptures privileged role in the mission of God and their goal of the shaping of God’s people,
‘more necessary than familiarity with Ancient peoples and their cultures, more basic than learning biblical languages, and more essential than good technique in interpretation are such dispositions and postures and gestures as acceptance, devotion, attention, and trust.’
As God’s address to his people it requires our fullest attention, trust, and embrace. In accordance with the purpose of Scripture the ultimate goal of Theological Interpretation is the formation of character which leads to a life of worship, fellowship, and mission.
The interpretive virtues and the appropriate stance of commitment and trust are both a condition of and a result of the work of the Spirit as we interpret the Scriptures. Biblical interpretation should always be framed by prayer, for it is God who brings about transformation and who enlightens our hearts and not simply our minds, to the reality of God.
‘For those genuinely interested in the Bible as Scripture, the single most important practice to cultivate is involvement in interpreting Scripture with others who share this posture of ‘standing under,’ who meet regularly to discern its meaning for faith and life and put its message into practice.’
‘Communities’ of faith, hope, and love are the goal, the assumption, and the origin of the Scriptures. Formed within communities of faith and obedience, the majority of the Biblical writings are addressed to communities rather than isolated individuals. It is within and to such contexts that they speak most clearly. Community is the goal of Scripture because it is God’s mission to form a new humanity renewed in his image, a people for his own name.
Interpreting Scripture within the believing community is interpretively beneficial. Reading with the church (locally and globally) allows us to hear different aspects of Scripture we would otherwise marginalize, and see interpretive possibilities that do not occur to ourselves. Such dialogue will also help to guard us from not seeing past the teaching of our pastor, a prominent author, or a denomination, scholar, or even our own ideas.
It is among others practicing reading the Bible as Scripture that the appropriate dispositions and virtues needed to do so will be formed. To honesty, openness, attention, and obedience we may add humility. This is a virtue which is necessary within the context of dialogue and debate where the overturning of previously held convictions can be an embarrassing event. This is especially needed where our reading of scripture together shows up an area in someone’s life to which the text becomes a call to repent. Stephen Fowl writes, ‘if a theological reading of Scripture ultimately aims to bring our faith, life, and worship into conformity with Scripture, then it will be essential both that we be able to recognize when these elements of our lives do not conform to the voice of Scripture and that we change ourselves accordingly.’ Because this recognition more often comes through people rather than one’s private reading of the text, ‘the challenge facing Christians as they seek to read Scripture theologically is to work to establish communal contexts in which Christians can humbly correct and be corrected by one another.’ The practices of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation are therefore vital for the formation of God’s people through the reading of Scripture.
Theological Interpretation is concerned with reading the Bible as Scripture, as God’s transformative address to the Church throughout the ages and in the present. Its ultimate goal is to be formed by God as a people who worship God alone, fellowship together in love, and participate in God’s mission to the World. This is the call of Scripture and this is the call of God. Let us then engage in the task with God in prayer and let us do so together. It is only fitting that we end with the address of Scripture itself:
‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ 
 Robert Morgan with John Barton, Biblical Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University, 1988), 22, quoted in Green, ‘The Practice of Reading the New Testament’, 411-12
 Theological study of the Scripture should “operate on the basis of the theological claim of one people of God, one church, and thus with the hermeneutical motto that the community within which the biblical texts were generated, the community who came to regard these books as canonical, and the community now faced with the need to interpret these texts as Scripture are the same community.” (J.B. Green, ‘Practicing the Gospel in a Post-Critical World’, 395)
 Wright, ‘Inhabiting the Story: The Use of the Bible in the Interpretation of History’, 294
 Green, Seized By Truth, 18-22
 This is of course one way among many of summarising what ‘salvation’ entails for the present in the NT.
 Vanhoozer, ‘Introduction: What is Theological Interpretation of the Bible?’ 22. First sentence italicized in original
 Vanhoozer, ‘Introduction’, 23
 These emphases loosely correspond to the metaphor of ‘behind’/ ‘in’/ ‘in front of’ the text that has been used to characterize recent phases in the history of biblical interpretation which have successively focused upon authors, texts, and readers as crucial for the task of interpretation.
 Vanhoozer, ‘Word of God’, 850
 Discussions surrounding the relationship between God and the Scriptures have traditionally come under the heading of “inspiration”.
 This is the first of Gorman’s ‘Eight Principles for the Theological Interpretation of Scripture’. See Elements of Biblical Exegesis, 149-50
 Authors can of course fail to communicate as they intend, but the principle of authorial communicative intention nevertheless stands as the only means by which we can ‘test’ interpretations for their accuracy. All human activity is intentional, and it remains the authority of the author to claim what was intended by an act whether it is communicative in nature or not. On the issue of ‘meaning’ in texts, see Vanhoozer, Is There A Meaning In This Text?
 For a fuller discussion of divine appropriation of human discourse, see Wolterstorff, ‘Authorial Discourse Interpretation’
 Stephen Fowl has put forward the case that we should not associate a texts ‘meaning’ with the authors communicative intention, because in doing so we privilege this and de-value or even delegitimize other methods of interpreting the Scriptures, methods which might otherwise prove fruitful in forming God’s people (see for example, ‘The Role of Authorial Intention in the Theological Interpretation of Scripture’). The theoretical problems with this are numerous, but the pragmatic problem is simple: without a ‘meaning’ which stands above all interpretations and to which all must aim, we have no way of knowing whether or not we are hearing God speak through the text or merely an echo of our own voices.
 Vanhoozer, ‘Word of God’, 853
 While not being the continuous work of a single author, “the biblical texts themselves recognize and assert, in a necessarily cumulative manner, the unity of the story they tell.” (Bauckham, ‘Reading Scripture as a Coherent Story’, 40)
 Green, ‘Practicing the Gospel in a Post-Critical World’, 392-3
 Bauckham, ‘Scripture and Authority’, 7: “The category of story includes not only biblical narratives… but also prophecy and apostolic teaching insofar as these illuminate the meaning of the story and point its direction towards its still future completion. This total biblical story is also the context within which other biblical genres – law, wisdom, psalms, ethical instruction, parables, and so on – are canonically placed. Story is the overarching category in which others are contextualized.”
 This is not something to seek to escape from or ignore but is an area were self-awareness is vital. See below
 Approaching the task from this perspective breaks down the ‘problem of relevance’ that ensues were ‘a text’ does not appear to speak to an aspect of “my” life. Rather than providing us with ready applications, as a canon Scripture primarily functions to shape the way in which we understand life as a whole, forming in us a “scriptural imagination” so that we may improvise faithfulness under the guidance of the Spirit within our particular circumstances. ‘The language of “applying” the text to a situation is too weak an expression to render what needs to happen. More than a rational exegetical decision, God must be allowed to challenge our very being and impact our world through the text, if we have ears to hear.’ (Pinnock, “Biblical Texts—Past and Present Meanings”, 72)
 Goldingay, Models for Scripture, 109
 In discussing how an understanding of the Christian faith that places the narrative of God’s mission at the centre of ones worldview, subverting some of the ways we commonly think about the Christian life and the questions that are typically asked, Christopher Wright asks: ‘We talk about the problems of “applying the Bible to our lives,” which often means modifying the bible somewhat adjectively to fit into the assumed “reality” of the life we line “in the real world.” What would it mean to apply our lives to the Bible instead, assuming the Bible to be the reality—the real story—to which we are called to conform ourselves?’ (The Mission of God, 534)
 Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture, 92
 See Vanhoozer, Is There A Meaning In This Text?, 377
 Green, Seized By Truth, 11-12
 Green, Seized By Truth, 66
 Green, Seized By Truth, 66. See Goldingay, Models For Scripture, 233-4
 Grenz, ‘Community, Interpretative’, 129
 Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture, 77-79: ‘Locating our reading of Scripture within the ecclesial community immediately reconfigures the ranges of voices we allow to shape us.’ (77) In regards to the Spirit’s voice in interpretation Stanley Grenz offers sage advice: ‘What is to prohibit the individual interpreter from reading into the biblical text one’s own preferences, thereby confusing the voice of the Spirit with the special pleading of the readers own psyche? This concern suggests one understanding of the primacy of the interpretative community. It provides the basis for placing all private ‘hearings’ of the Spirit within the wider hearing community, including the conclusions regarding the content of the Spirit’s speaking that have characterized the faith community throughout its history.’ (‘Community, Interpretative’, 128)
 Goldingay, Models For Scripture, 233-4
 Humility is also needed in view of the partialness of all our knowledge. Intellectual elitism does not foster the character of Christ among us but instead breeds pride and resentment.
 Fowl, ‘The New Testament, Theology, and Ethics’, 407
 Ibid., 408
 On these points See ibid., 403-9
 Romans 12.1-2 (nrsv)
Richard Bauckham, ‘Reading Scripture as a Coherent Story’ in ‘Reading Scripture as a Coherent Story’ in Davies and Hays (eds.), The Art of Reading Scripture. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003, 38-53
— ‘Scripture and Authority,’ Accessed on the 01.06.2005 from: http//:www.seadinternational.com/scripture_and_authority
Stephen E. Fowl, ‘The Role of Authorial Intention in the Theological Interpretation of Scripture’ in Joel B. Green and Max Turner (eds.). Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies & Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2000, 71-87
— ‘The New Testament, Theology, and Ethics’ in Green (ed.) Hearing The New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation. Eerdmans & Paternoster, 1995, 394-410.
Goldingay, J., Models for Scripture. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.
Michael J. Gorman, Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers, Revised and Expanded Edition. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2009.
Joel B. Green, ‘Practicing The Gospel in a Post-Critical World: The Promise of Theological Exegesis,’ JETS 47/3 (September 2004), 387–397.
— Seized By Truth: Reading the Bible As Scripture. Nashville: Abingdon, 2007.
— ‘The Practice of Reading the New Testament’ in Green (ed.). Hearing The New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation. Eerdmans & Paternoster, 1995, 411-427.
Stanley J. Grenz, ‘Community, Interpretative,’ in DTIB, 128-129.
Brian D. Ingraffa & Todd E. Pickett, ‘Reviving the Power of Biblical Language: The Bible, Literature and Literary Language’ in Bartholomew, Goheen & Möller (eds.) After Pentecost: Language and Biblical Interpretation, Scripture and Hermeneutics Series Vol. 2. Paternoster & Zondervan, 2001, 241-262.
Clark Pinnock, “Biblical Texts—Past and Present Meanings,” JETS 43/1 (MARCH 2000).
Stephen Wright, ‘Inhabiting the Story: The Use of the Bible in the Interpretation of History’, in Bartholomew et al (eds.), ‘Behind’ the Text’: History and Biblical Interpretation, Scripture and Hermeneutics Series Vol. 4. Paternoster & Zondervan, 2001, 492-519.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, gen ed.; Craig G. Bartholomew, Daniel J. Treier, and N. T. Wright, assoc. eds., Dictionary For Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Introduction: What is Theological Interpretation of the Bible?,’ in DTIB, 19-25.
— Is There A Meaning In This Text?. Leicester, England: Apollos, 1998.
— ‘Word of God’ in DTIB, 850-854.
Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘Authorial Discourse Interpretation’ in DTIB, 78-80.
Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008.
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2006.