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The Importance of Biblical Exegesis in Counseling

Diligent Bible study is essential to the practice of biblical counseling. This statement should not be novel or all that enlightening for biblical counselors. We love the Bible and we believe it is necessary for the task of soul care, but we often approach the Bible as if it is simply a manual of remedies. Do not hear me wrong, Scripture is full of remedies for our fallen state, most importantly our ultimate remedy in Jesus Christ who is our full redemption. The Bible, however, is not meant to be used as an online search engine like Google.

When we encounter a problem in the counseling room our tendency is to act as Job’s counselors and seek to remedy the problem with haste. Searching for a remedy is not always a bad approach, since counseling is intended to help individuals overcome their problems, right? However, there is a danger in our exegesis of Scripture if we begin with our gathered data simply looking for a remedy.  

Our predetermined view of the counselee’s problems can skew our biblical interpretation. Instead of allowing the Spirit to minister through the Word of God, our exegesis becomes driven by our interpretation of the problem. We want to understand the counselee’s problems through the lens of Scripture rather than interpret the biblical text through the problems of the counselee.

For example, Job’s counselors attempted to provide a remedy for his predicament without knowing the cause of his sufferings. Eliphaz questioned Job’s innocence saying that he did not fear the Lord. Bildad questioned Job’s repentance and reminded him that God punishes the wicked. Zophar also reiterated the suffering of the wicked. Job became discouraged and questioned the nearness of God. It is not that Job’s counselors said things that were not typically true, the problem is that they sought remedy before understanding the cause (Job 4-25). Job was left without comfort from his counselors and still searching for God in his situation.

 

The Bible Gives Context to Man’s Brokenness

Not only should we study Scripture for remedies but we also need to understand the context in which remedies are given. In order to understand the brokenness of man we must study Scripture.

We are often confused about how to categorize man’s problems. Culturally, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is a tool used by psychologists to categorize human problems. In our context, it is common to view any hint of depression or despair as an inconvenience. We think this way, in part, because we have a skewed view of happiness as a right of man or a necessity for “mental health.” So when we encounter the symptoms of depression, we come to the Scripture looking for remedy. Praise the Lord, there is plenty of remedy for a downcast soul. However, we must be careful that the search for remedy in Scripture is consistent with the cause, or else we will misuse Scripture like the counselors of Job.

The careful study of Scripture must also be the foundation upon which we hear and interpret the symptoms of the counselee so that we look for appropriate remedies. We must mine Scripture to understand the causes of human problems as God reveals them.

The Bible presents a metanarrative that provides a context for all of man’s brokenness. There are consistent patterns of brokenness throughout the Scripture that provide explanations for disordered lives (Jas 1:8). Disorder is caused by both sin and suffering due to the curse. Our exegesis of Scripture must consider God’s explanation of the causes of brokenness in order to be sure of our conclusions of biblical remedies. We must be cautioned at this point to know that the context of human brokenness is incomplete if we do not understand what ought to be a normal pattern of human functioning. Worldly systems of counseling struggle to define normal, but, as Christians, we have a standard of normal upon which we can anchor to give proper context for our brokenness and pursuit of restoration.

 

Christ is our Normal

What makes Jesus normal? Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). He reflects the glory of the Father. The normal function of created humanity is to reflect the glory of God. We are image-bearers, and to live a normal life, being created in the image of God, is to reflect the character and nature of God. The aim of progressive sanctification is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29 and Col 1:28). Progressive sanctification begins with Christ, the living Word, as the means by which we measure our brokenness.

Second, we study Scripture, the written Word, to understand the character of God. This is why all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ. Man only sees himself in a broken mirror when measuring his brokenness by the world’s context. Raising the character of God, as a mirror, unveils the hearts of men in the proper context. This provides meaning for the brokenness and adequate remedy in human deficiencies. Human deficiencies are not outward but inward brokenness that hinders the expression of God’s character to the world

As Job demonstrated, the character of God is not always displayed in happy times or by happy circumstances. The character of God can be displayed despite circumstances, according to Jesus. He said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

This is why our counseling must begin and end with our Lord. Our exegesis of Scripture must begin by understanding the character of God because the created design of humanity demands that we reflect the image of God. Any breakdown of that reflection indicates that there is disorder in our inner man. The disorder is most often sin but can also be an inaccurate view of our suffering. This creates a seedbed for sin and hinders proper reflection of God’s character.

At least one mistake of Job’s counselors was to start with the context of human brokenness to search for remedy. Rather, they should begin with the character of God to give context and meaning to the suffering servant in order to provide sufficient remedy for his problems. We see most accurately the character of God displayed in Christ Jesus (Heb 1:1-5) and his Word (Ex 20:3-21).

As counselors we must be diligent in our study of Scripture, not only for remedies and causes, but for the character of God. This is why we strive to make others complete in Christ, because reflecting God’s glory is living according to our Creator’s design.


Dr. Dale Johnson is Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling and Chair of the Biblical Counseling Division at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


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