The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology
Part 17: NCT Characteristics (II)
“2. The most important principle of interpretation is “contextual biblical exegesis.” It demands grammatical/historical/theological principles of interpretation.” (Long, New Covenant Theology, NCT Characteristics)
Recall that New Covenant Theology strives to consistently apply the Protestant axiom of sola Scriptura (Latin: “by the Scriptures alone”) – the theological maxim that encapsulates the absolute truth that the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures not only constitute the inspired, infallible and inerrant Word of God but also are the sole authority of faith and practice for the Christian believer. In other words, New Covenant Theology endeavors to intentionally limit its propositions, its teachings, its understanding of Scripture, and its theology to the Word of God. How does New Covenant Theology seek to accomplish this task? In short, through sound hermeneutics where “contextual biblical exegesis” is the principle norm. An accurate analysis of a passage’s context is absolutely vital in order to correctly grasp and understand its meaning. The term context is used here in an all-inclusive fashion to indicate the following: local context (i.e. how a passage should be understood in light of the surrounding verses or chapters), literary context (i.e. both the literary genre of the passage and how it should be understood in light of the whole biblical book in which it is found), canonical context (i.e. how a passage should be understood in light of the entire canon of Scripture), and historical context (i.e. how a passage should be understood in light of its respective historical time period).
Furthermore, New Covenant Theology emphasizes biblical exegesis, that is to say, the ‘drawing out’ the meaning of the text through the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is the antithesis of eisogesis, where preconceived understandings are ‘injected’ into the text in order to conform the text to the theological biases of its interpreter. To say that “contextual biblical exegesis….demands grammatical/historical/theological principles of interpretation” is in essence to summarily delineate the hermeneutical principles which proponents of New Covenant Theology employ to contextually & biblically exegete the Scriptures. First, “contextual biblical exegesis” hinges upon a correct understanding of the gramma (Greek: “letter”) of the text – namely, the meaning of its individual words, phrases, idioms, grammar, and syntax. Second, in order to contextually & biblically exegete any Scriptural passage, one must possess an accurate understanding of said passage’s historical context. Third, one must utilize certain theological principles in order to correct handle the Word of Truth, including (but certainly not limited to) Christotelic (or Christocentric) hermeneutics, the analogy of faith, the now-not-yet principle, and typology.