If you’ve been in any of my classes, right in the beginning I’ll give what I call a “big hermeneutics lecture” just to get you on board where I am. And then one of my little speeches, as I call it, is I say, “Meaning is a circle,” and I’ll draw a big circle on the board. What do I mean by that? Well, as opposed to meaning as a dot. And I’m trying to make the point that meaning is more than just one little thing. You have a paragraph, it means a lot of things, so think of the circle: there’s things to the center of the meaning, but then there’s things more peripheral in the circle. Book of Romans: original meaning to the people it’s written, but it also includes meaning to today, and so there’s the center of the circle or more important aspects of meaning and then middle level and all the way to the periphery of the circle.
Now why do I think that way? Well, it happens to match the Westminster Standards, and here I’m going to read from 1.6: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly stated in Scripture [meaning the surface level of the Scripture] or [and here’s the wording] by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” So the meaning of Scripture is both the surface level of the words of Scripture, but it’s also all the proper or good and necessary consequences or implications of Scripture. So the meaning of Scripture is both the surface level of the words of Scripture, but it’s also all the proper or good and necessary consequences or implications of Scripture.
Now why do we think it’s biblical: just because it’s in the Westminster Confession of Faith? Ultimately no, it’s because that matches the Bible. Look at where the Bible will interpret itself. So we’re in the New Testament; it’ll quote an old Testament passage. Sometimes it just quotes the center of the circle, and it uses the center of the circle. But other times it will use “by implication” or the “good and necessary consequences.”
For instance, in the Old Testament and some of the sacrifices, a lamb is used. Well, in the New Testament we’re told that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Now if we had the dot theory, and we’re in the Old Testament, a lamb is a lamb, can’t be more than a lamb, it’s a physical lamb, it’s used in a sacrifice. But once you have the idea of meaning as a circle, you can say that ultimately the center of the circle was about Christ. Now secondarily that passage was about a physical lamb to be sacrificed, but there were starting to get the idea of we don’t have to just have a dot of meaning, the Bible has a broader, or you might use my term, a broader circle of meaning.
So the Bible’s own method to interpret itself is “surface facts” plus “good and necessary consequences.” Or to say it in my way: a circle. It’s a very good conceptual idea as you read a paragraph: What’s the center of the paragraph? What are peripheral points of the paragraph? Meaning is a circle.