Theological Interpretation in Action

Theological Interpretation in Action
Image: Illustration by Amanda Duffy

Consider the well-known story in 1 Samuel 17 in which David faces and defeats Goliath. Let me give two possible approaches to preaching or teaching this text. Neither sees it as simply an account of a border skirmish in ancient history. Both approaches understand the Bible as authoritative.

In the first approach, the character of Goliath becomes a metaphor for the challenges faced in daily life. Hearers are encouraged to identify the "Goliaths" in their own life—low self-esteem, financial challenges, or a family problem. David becomes a model of the underdog who dares to step up to his own inner "giants" and "challenges." The Bible is the answer book, showing us the way to face challenges in our personal life: visualize a positive outcome like David (17:36), act with confidence in the face of a challenge (17:37), and take risks (17:48-9). In this way, the Bible helps us solve our problems. Who is the hero of this rendering of the story? David—more specifically, his courageous human will. David's faith in God may be noted, but it is David's faith that is highlighted. The living God is not a major character in this reading of the text.

In contrast, a theological interpretation of Scripture tries to understand the text as part of a God-centered drama. In this approach, God's saving action is at the center of the narrative. While the mighty Goliath can taunt the people of Israel, David confesses, "The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine" (17:37). Rather than seeing David as the self-actualized hero, the emphasis here is on the saving action of the almighty God, whom David ...

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