Our approach to preunderstanding, however, does not suggest that we read and interpret the Bible in a completely neutral manner, apart from any foundational beliefs, such as faith. Total objectivity is impossible for any reader of any text. Neither is it our goal. Striving for objectivity in biblical interpretation does not mean abandoning faith or trying to adopt the methods of unbelievers. Trying to read the Bible apart from faith does not produce objectivity.
We define preunderstanding and foundational beliefs as two distinct entities that we deal with in two quite different ways. We must let our preunderstanding change each time we study a passage. We submit it to the text and then interact with it, evaluate it in light of our study, and, one would hope, improve it each time. Foundational beliefs, by contrast, do not change with each reading. They are not related to particular passages but to our overall view of the Bible.
As Christians we serve the living Lord and have the Holy Spirit living within us. The relationship we have with God is a critical aspect of the communication that we have with him through reading his Word. This relationship impacts us greatly as we interpret, and it is not something we want to renegotiate as we read each text, such as we do with preunderstanding aspects. Rather, it is something we want to use. We will explore the interaction between the Holy Spirit and our understanding in more detail in unit 8, “Role of the Holy Spirit and Application.” But for now it is important to note that we as Christians have several foundational beliefs about the Bible itself that develop out of our relationship with Christ and that we will not want to set aside each time we tackle a passage, as we do with our preunderstanding.
Several foundational beliefs about the Scriptures that evangelical Christians generally hold are as follows:
- The Bible is the Word of God. Although God worked through people to produce it, it is nonetheless inspired by the Holy Spirit and is God’s Word to us.
- The Bible is trustworthy and true.
- God has entered into human history; thus the supernatural (miracles, etc.) does occur.
- The Bible is not contradictory; it is unified, yet diverse. Nevertheless, God is bigger than we are, and he is not always easy to comprehend. Thus the Bible also has tension and mystery to it.
There are other foundational beliefs that could perhaps be added, but these are the central ones that must be mentioned here. These foundational beliefs have to do with how we view the entire Bible and serve as a starting point on which to build our method of study.