Step 3: Crossing the Principlizing Bridge
Question: What is the theological principle in this text?
This is perhaps the most challenging step. In it you are looking for the theological principle or principles that are reflected in the meaning of the text you identified in Step 1. Remember that this theological principle is part of the meaning. Your task is not to create the meaning but to discover the meaning intended by the author. As God gives specific expressions to specific biblical audiences, he is also giving universal theological teachings for all of his people through these same texts.
To determine the theological principle, first recall the differences you identified in Step 2. Next, try to identify any similarities between the situation of the biblical audience and our situation. For example, consider Joshua 1:1–9 again. Recall, of course, the differences that we identified in Step 2. But then note the similarities between the biblical situation and our own. We are also the people of God, in covenant relationship (new covenant); while we are not the leaders of Israel, nonetheless many of us are in leadership positions in the church; we are not invading the Promised Land, but we are seeking to obey the will of God and to accomplish what he has commanded us to do.
After reviewing the differences and identifying the similarities, return to the meaning for the biblical audience that you described in Step 1 and try to identify a broader theological principle reflected in the text, but also one that relates to the similarities between us and the biblical audience. In essence, the theological principle is the same as the “theological message” or the “main theological point” of the passage. (We will discuss in more detail how to develop theological principles in chapter 10.) We will use this theological principle as the principlizing bridge by which we can cross over the river of differences.
We can summarize the criteria for formulating the theological principle with the following:
- The principle should be reflected in the text.
- The principle should be timeless and not tied to a specific situation.
- The principle should not be culturally bound.
- The principle should correspond to the teaching of the rest of Scripture.
- The principle should be relevant to both the biblical and the contemporary audience.
Write out the theological principle (or principles) in one or two sentences. Use present-tense verbs.