Point-to-Point Application: Extrapolation

Stepping stones

We’ve been exploring how to navigate in the “gap” between what the biblical text meant “then” and how it applies “now.” Ramesh Richard’s contribution, which he calls, “extrapolation,” actually implies there are two “gaps.” It might be helpful to name them the “A” gap (the space between the verbal meaning and the “timeless principle”) and the “B” gap (the space between the “timeless principle” and the proper application). Those are my designations, not Richard’s, but they are true to his process. Let’s explore his work. 

First, Extrapolate the Verbal Meaning

Richard holds that extrapolation is a “constituent” of meaning.1Richard, “Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance:  Part 2: Levels of Biblical Meaning,” 126, declares, “[T]here is a field of meaning around each statement. This field of … Continue reading He explains, “Extrapolation unpacks linguistic phenomena but also brings biblical meaning to the point where application can be made and significance drawn. However, extrapolation is not application.”2Ibid., 128-29 We prefer to keep extrapolation separate from meaning because the process of extrapolation begins once the meaning already has been determined. Blending the two creates unnecessary confusion, causing more problems than it solves. Nevertheless, Richard’s excellent work has much to offer to the discussion on proper application. 

Richard arrives at what we call “the timeless principle” through a sequence of events. First, he deciphers the verbal meaning. Second, he bridges the “A” gap by extrapolating the meaning. This leads him to the “the timeless principle.”3Richard distinguishes between the “application” and “significance.” The “application process” is what happens in the “A” gap, and seems to include extrapolation; the … Continue reading Finally, he steps into the “B” gap to bridge the “timeless principle” to some aspect of life (we call this “application”).4See Richard, “Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 2: Levels of Biblical Meaning,” 126-31 and idem, “Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 3: Application … Continue reading   

Then, Follow The Stepping-Stones

Once the author’s intent has been ascertained, Richard points us to some stepping-stones (my term, not his) that emerge to help us bridge the gap. Most of his work concentrates on the “A” gap. 

“Extrapolation” takes us into the “A” gap between the ancient text and the timeless principle.

Old Testament Stepping-stones. Regarding Old Testament passages, Richard offers a three-pronged checklist: (1) analyze the theological analogy; (2) consider the theocratic factor; and, (3) understand the trans-temporal constants.5For some examples, see Richard, “Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 4: Application Theory in Relation to the Old Testament,” 304-10. The first addresses the differences in the old dispensation and the new dispensation.6Richard writes from an admittedly dispensational perspective. The second speaks both to the discontinuity between “then” and “now” (because of God’s governance of the church-state nation, Israel) and to the continuity (because of God’s governance of the church in redemptive history). He suggests both the continuity and the discontinuity should be highlighted during the applicatory process. Of course, this may vary slightly, depending on your systematic framework of theology (covenantal, dispensational, or somewhere in-between). The third has to do with those constants shared by both the people of Israel and the present-day church such as the nature of God, the nature of man, and the nature of salvation. 

New Testament Stepping-stones. Regarding New Testament passages, Richard offers two New Testament criteria as determinants for proper application: (1) audience-referent and (2) audience-trait. The former echoes Jay Adams’s emphasis on the telos of the passage and need not be rehashed (see our previous article). The latter refers to any “commonality” the original audience shares with the contemporary, which include the following three considerations.7Richard, Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 3: Application Theory in Relation to the New Testament,” 208-15. Richard offers five correspondences between the two … Continue reading

First, he distinguishes between “submissional” application (the original audience’s mandate to submit to a command) versus “relationship-to-life” application (where the church must apply the principle of the specific command). For example, consider Paul’s discussion of women praying with their heads covered (1 Cor. 11). “Submissional” application would refer to Paul’s original audience submitting to his command. Relationship-to-life application would refer to how the church must apply that command in the contemporary context (see my previous article on the subject). 

Second, he suggests that, for every passage, there are two foci to the applicational bridge: (1) interpretation of meaning for application and (2) interpretation of application for significance. The former refers to the process of extrapolating the meaning in order to determine the significance (i.e. the “A” gap); the latter refers to the process of applying the significance to a particular situation (i.e., the “B” gap).

Lastly, he advocates generalizing time-specific commands.8Richard, Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 3: Application Theory in Relation to the New Testament,” 212-14. He provides eight guidelines: (1) determine the level of … Continue reading Richard’s technical, yet important, work helps us shoot a straighter line between correct verbal meaning and proper application.       

Richard’s technical, yet important, work helps us shoot a straighter line between correct verbal meaning and proper application.   

Concluding Analysis

A lot happens in the “A” gap. The value of Richard’s contribution is he offers specific criteria, almost a checklist, we can use as stepping-stones between the verbal meaning and the end-user application. Few attempt this. We all would do well to follow these stepping-stones before we settle on a specific application. 

We appreciate Richard for alerting us to the myriad of issues to consider. However, it seems complex. We are still left wondering how to implement a simple, common-sense approach which ferrets out genuine relationships, correspondences, or common elements between the “then” and “now.” Kaiser is one of the few who makes a concerted effort to do so. To him, we shall turn next. 

References

References
1 Richard, “Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance:  Part 2: Levels of Biblical Meaning,” 126, declares, “[T]here is a field of meaning around each statement. This field of meaning is on three levels: statement, implication, and extrapolation.” For Richard, “extrapolation” brings the exegete to the point where the applicatory process can begin and is primarily concerned with this question: What would the author have meant if he wrote this text today? Application, on the other hand, is “the bridge between meaning and the present”(129).
2 Ibid., 128-29
3 Richard distinguishes between the “application” and “significance.” The “application process” is what happens in the “A” gap, and seems to include extrapolation; the “significance” is what happens in the “B” gap; namely, how the application relates to the contemporary situation. Kaiser uses these terms in the exact opposite way. For Kaiser, “significance” corresponds to what we call the “timeless principle;” and “application” corresponds to what most people think as specific present-day “uses.” The confusion of terms/semantic is why we opted for the much simpler: verbal meaning – timeless principle – present-day application. Richard’s definitions are similar to those of Robert H. Stein, “An Author-Oriented Approach to Hermeneutics,” JETS 44 (2001): 461. Stein includes application as a part of meaning, but keeps significance distinct.
4 See Richard, “Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 2: Levels of Biblical Meaning,” 126-31 and idem, “Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 3: Application Theory in Relation to the New Testament,” 206-15. Richard’s terminology is slightly different, which can be confusing, but the concepts are the same.
5 For some examples, see Richard, “Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 4: Application Theory in Relation to the Old Testament,” 304-10.
6 Richard writes from an admittedly dispensational perspective.
7 Richard, Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 3: Application Theory in Relation to the New Testament,” 208-15. Richard offers five correspondences between the two audiences: (1) both belong to the universal church; (2) both share trans-temporal constants, such as the nature and attributes of God, the eternal law of God, etc.; (3) both share application-expectation of the biblical writings; (4) both depend upon apostolic authority for guidance; and, (5) both depend on the Old Testament to provide cultural, historical, and theological background for central events and concepts of the New Testament (208-09).
8 Richard, Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 3: Application Theory in Relation to the New Testament,” 212-14. He provides eight guidelines: (1) determine the level of abstraction of any moral form in Scripture; (2) be sensitive to historically and culturally unique situations; (3) discern which moral discursive forms speak to ethical action and attitudes; (4) ask, “Are there principles stated explicitly elsewhere in Scripture that are here applied specifically?;” (5) seek for God’s purposes and eternal will in Scripture; (6) determine the relationship between the ethical command and the problem that gave rise to it; (7) look for linguistic indicators that define the issue; and, (8) be willing to change one’s circumstances in obedience to the normative teaching of Scripture.
Author Stepping stones

Chip Thornton

Pastor of FBC Springville, Alabama. Chip is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his Ph.D. in expository preaching. He enjoys spending time with his family, has a passion for discipleship, and is committed to biblical exposition.