Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hermeneutics 101

Here are some basic points (in no particular order) to consider when interpreting Scripture:

1. Perspicuity - The Bible is simple and clear. Literate people can read and understand the Bible - esp. its general concepts and narratives. Obviously, there are some concepts that are above us (like the Trinity) which we can apprehend as comprising part of God's authoritative revelation; and there are some issues which may require research/study to discern (see, for instance, 2 Pet.3:16).

2. Analogy of Faith - Scripture interprets Scripture. Let the more clear passages interpret the less clear (esp. w/secondary doctrines).

3. Context - The word or phrase in its sentence; then in its paragraph or topical passage; then in its book (esp. audience); then in the context of the whole Bible.

4. Genre - Narrative, Poetry, History, Prophecy, Wisdom Literature, etc. Knowing which genre a passage falls into, helps us understand whether to, for instance, be aware of allegory, metaphors, literalness, typology, symbolism, etc.

5. Authorial Intent - A more difficult factor, but discoverable with the help of the other points listed here.

6. Setting - Including time, place, and audience, this consideration concentrates on the immediate intention and application of the Word.

7. Grammar - More technical, esp. for those working with the original languages. However, a simple part of grade school English regarding how sentences work, parts of speech, etc.

8. History - or Background. It helps to know a bit about the historical context of a passage (or Book), and sometimes even geography.

9. Presuppositions - Whether you actively pursue or unknowingly have, presuppositions are a significant consideration. Examine your worldview - the self-made, or learned from school, parents, peers, or catechism lens/filter through which you look at, categorize, judge, and act on the data of the world beyond your self - and you will find it affecting your interpretation of Scripture. If your worldview is deficient, correct it, make it biblical (through good shepherding, catechesis, Bible reading/study, and holy fellowship), and it will help you to understand the Bible better. Simple (basic) presuppositions like: God is the Creator, we are Creation, and all man is fallen and awaiting the wrath of a just God unless he finds a mediator (Christ) to redeem him, and God is true, etc. are fundamental concepts that inform our biblical interpretation; while systematic theology, the Creeds and Confessions form macro presuppositional grids with which we interpret Scripture.

10. Faith - This is a general category founded on the necessity of a person's faith (1 Cor.2:14, etc.). Regeneration is a prerequisite for proper biblical interpretation. The Holy Spirit must be indwelling a redeemed sinner to enable his sanctification and understanding (Eph.1:18, etc.). Then prayer is a means of Grace and a sure help in interpretation. Obedience to God, hiding His Word in our hearts, delighting in it and meditating on it are also beneficial considerations. Finally, Hearing the Word faithfully expounded is also a biblical means of Grace and sure help in interpreting Scripture.

Hope these are helpful, and that I didn't miss anything.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Young on Inspiration

This is part of an ongoing discussion on a Yahoo List

After discussing the foundation for biblical inspiration using just three texts – 2 Tim.3:16; 2 Pet.1:21; and Psalm 82:6 (as from Jesus in John 10:35) – E. J. Young, in his classic defense of inspiration Thy Word is Truth, goes on to discuss the woeful attitude of Christendom to the authority of the Bible (this in 1957).

He decries the Church’s willingness to let “the rationalism of the eighteenth century, the evolutionism and ‘higher’ criticism [the origin of the mythopoetic /allegorical reading hermeneutic, among others]* of the nineteenth century, and the ‘neo-orthodoxy’ and dialectical theology of the early twentieth century” distract us from the Bible’s own testimony to divine inspiration; and, causing us to trust the wisdom of man for interpretation and understanding rather than the revelation of God. To this, we could have added: the psychologizing influence of Freud, the experience-based authority of revivalistic movements, and the post-modern abandonment of truth in the latter half or the twentieth century.

Then Young exposes the fallacy of man’s wisdom determining Scriptural truths:

“And herein lies a disturbing question which must be raised. If we are not to regard the Bible as a trustworthy witness when it tells us what kind of book it is, and if we should listen to modern scholars rather than to the Bible, how do we know that the Bible is a trustworthy witness when it speaks to us about other matters also? Let us state this question as clearly as possible. The Bible, we say, is not to be relied upon when it tells us what kind of book it is [ie: the divinely inspired revelation of God]. But if it is not to be depended upon when it speaks of itself how do we know that it is to be trusted when it speaks about anything else? If it is so unreliable that we cannot accept its witness to itself, might it not be wise to reject all that it has told us about other matters as well?”

This plays out in the allegorical debate as: if we say that parts of the Bible are untrue – merely allegorical – and that they have no bearing on our faith, how do we determine what is and isn’t allegorical?, and what is required for our faith?, never mind what the Bible says about itself (we are basically bypassing the Bible’s knowledge of itself!).

Young continues:

“We listen to the Bible when it told us of the existence of the one living and true God. The Bible, however, we now learn, is not a trustworthy character witness. It has deceived us when it told us about its own inspiration. Possibly, after all, it was also wrong when it spoke about God! Possibly God, if there be a God, is quite different from the God we have learned to know from the pages of what we in our naivet√© thought was a Holy Book.”

Can you see the slippery slope that modernism places us on? This has been the tale of all who turn from Scripture’s own requirements for interpretation.

“Furthermore, what about Jesus Christ and that wondrous work of redemption He wrought for us upon the Cross of Calvary? Is it a reliable account that we have in the Bible? Has the great burden of our guilt really been removed, and are we living in a right relation with the Holy God, or have we been relying upon an account that is not trustworthy? If this Book is not reliable when it tells us what kind of a Book it is, how then can we possibly trust it when it speaks to us of other matters? If the Bible is not a trustworthy witness of its own character, we have no assurance that our Christian faith is founded upon the truth. We are left in the darkness of ignorance and despair.”

Can you see the logic? If the Bible is not a true and faithful witness of its own inspiration and authority, we are crazy to rely upon it for our knowledge of Christ Jesus, Salvation, and Truth… period!

* Someone has registered a dispute with this clause, pointing out that Augustine had used an allegorical method betimes. Here, in part, is my edited response:

True, for the allegorical part, alone, and in and of itself. As I have said elsewhere, Origen, for example (c.185-254 AD),was notorious for his allegorical mis-interpretations.

However, for the various attacks on the Bible from Higher Criticism - mythological reading, the Graf-Welhausen JEDP theory of the authorship of the Pentateuch, the literary dissection of the OT, the submission of the Genesis Creation account to Ancient Near Eastern mythologies, the two Isaiah's theory, etc. - which lead to the phenomena of modernism in American theology and the new bent for allegorical interpretations of much of the "harder to believe" or "harder to reconcile with science" portions of Holy Scripture are relevant to the new hermeneutic of which some appear to take part.
But this is not new. Theologians like Schliermacher and Barth have led Evangelicalism away from the authority and sufficiency of Scripture by their theories (eg: that the Bible contains the Word of God, rather than is the Word of God).