“Embrace the Agonizing Struggle of Biblical Interpretation,” Vickers’ Faculty Address Calls for Cross-Centered Hermeneutic

Travis Hearne — February 9, 2024

On February 7, Brian Vickers, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Seminary, delivered the annual faculty address to his colleagues and students in Broadus Chapel. In his presentation, “Captured by the Word: Hermeneutics and the Agonizing Struggle,” Vickers applied Martin Luther’s three rules for theologians to biblical interpretation and stressed the need for believers to approach Scripture as the sanctified and sanctifying Word of God—rather than a mere object for study.

“The Bible is not simply an inspired object of study,” Vickers said. “The Bible exposes the reader. Our hermeneutics must flow from this simple thought that faithful interpretation begins with the capture of the reader by the text.”

Luther’s three rules included prayer, meditation, and agonizing struggle. Vickers argued these principles work in a linear fashion and that the agonizing struggle is most neglected and most needed for Bible readers today.

“The struggle will arise when the reader comes to the text with prayer and meditation,” Vickers said. “It is only through this agonizing struggle that we will be captured by the Word and then subject to the Word, not a user of the Word. I frequently warn my students of coming to the Bible for merely what we want to get out of it or as a means to some other end. When the Scripture is a means to another end, we will treat it as simply raw material to be refined for a greater use. If we approach the Bible for only what we are going to do with it or how we will leverage it for a sermon, a lecture, an article, or a book, we effectively place ourselves over the Scriptures.”

Part of the agonizing struggle of biblical interpretation includes the reader acknowledging that suffering is the path to becoming like Christ. Vickers said the Bible exposes the reader as a sinner justified by Christ alone.

“The very hope we need to persevere comes through suffering,” Vickers said. “Through suffering we are shaped, formed, and learn endurance. Suffering, perseverance, and future hope, based on God’s declaration that we are justified in Christ, are central to the Christian life.  Why would that take place in our daily lives but not in the study of the sanctified and sanctifying word of God?”

As the wider culture becomes more hostile to the truth claims of Scripture, Vickers said the task of interpretation will prove more difficult as readers will be tempted to ask, “Did God really say?” But as the temptation to be a theologian of glory grows, the need to embrace a theology of the cross, especially as interpreters, will remain essential.

“The temptation to step away from the truth of the Scripture will grow,” Vickers said. “But ultimately, in the agonizing struggle, the believing reader is confronted by God and his Word and pointed to the struggle and agony of Christ on the cross. This isn’t about learning to suffer more but learning to take part in the suffering of Christ. Without suffering there can never be an ascent to glory. The interpreter must approach the Word with prayer, meditation, and the agonizing struggle, especially in academic pursuits, only then will we be captured by the Word.”

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