So Nimm Denn Meine Hande...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Foundation of the Answer to the Question of Cessationism: Part 7 - Hermeneutics

Okay. We're now in the 7th lap of what appears to be becoming the Theology 500. Well, let's shift into 7th gear and put the pedal to the metal. I've spent 4 posts hammering home the sufficiency and authority of scripture; it's all you need to know about everything you need to know, do and be, and you sit under the word, not over it. Feel free to disagree on these two points and whatnot, but I'm going to keep on truckin for my 6 (possibly 7) readers who want to GET ON WITH IT.

Now, as I promised in my outline, I'm going to try to slam through my theoretical and practical takes on hermeneutics. Here comes the tsunami! Everyone get their water wings on?

My Philosophical Declaration on Hermeneutics

In dealing with the scriptures I, like all other students of the Bible, bring my own presuppositions along and read them into the scripture. As clearly as I understand my own presuppositions (which can be difficult), I still operate with some conscious presuppositions in mind when reading the Scripture.

First of all, I hold consciously and strongly to a presupposition that “God exists and has revealed himself in the Bible.” I hold God as being the founder, creator and sustainer of reality, simply because his word tells me that he made the universe (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-3, Heb 1:1-3). I am certain that I exist not because my senses tell me that I exist, but because God tells me that he created me. I might get accused of using circular logic. One might suggest that my senses, with which read the scriptures, tell me that God created me and therefore my senses must be my true ultimate authority. I would respond by saying that I, like every other human being, approach the world from a certain foundational “sense-perception naiveté” regarding the world, but I am not certain of anything that my senses tell me. This leads to my second presupposition.

Secondly, I presuppose the general truthfulness of perception via my senses, but not their ultimate reliability (aka. Infallibility). I am certain of my existence because my senses, which are unreliable but not deceptive, are used by God to communicate his self-declared reliable self-revelation to me; the Scripture. Based on God’s propositional declaration of his creation, sustenance of and desires for the universe, along with his propositional declaration of the certainty of his self-revelation, I find two warring declarations. My unreliable senses declare many things about myself, life, creation and existence where God’s reliable word declares many things which oppose my senses (the pleasure of sin, who I am in relation to the cosmos, the nature of life, etc.). God's word is truth and I submit to it. God’s revelation also deals with and propositionally overcomes my own rational defenses of that which I assume to be true (God’s word is more rationally consistent and comprehensively explanatory than my own guesses at how things are). I then, in faith, am moved to believe God’s propositional declarations about metaphysical reality and epistemological access to it. This is my philosophically sophisticated way of saying “God said it, I believe it”. In other words, God’s word is completely, infallibly, authoritatively, comprehensively and absolutely objectively true, and my own guesses at what’s going on in this world are inferior to it in every one of those categories.

My General Declaration on Hermeneutics

I hold to the historical‑grammatical interpretational approach of the scriptures. This incorporates usages of historical context (as well as textual, book, covenantal and biblical contexts) and original languages to establish the specific linguistic construction and context of culture within which the Scripture was written, but I categorically reject much of source, form, redaction, reader response, feminist or narrative criticism on the basis of the naturalistic frameworks within which much higher critical work is done. I foundationally approach the scriptures as inerrant and authoritative, seeking to bring the wisdom of God out from the scriptures (exegete) and not deposit my own wisdom into the scriptures (eisegete). This practically means that all conundrums and puzzles of scripture are only due to my lack of understanding, lack of an exhaustive exegetical process, disregard for the exterior testimony of the Holy Spirit or disregard for the interior self-testimony of the scriptures. I also approach the scriptures with the foundational presupposition of the author's having a single intended meaning of their writings, which is truth. I do not hold the truth as relative, nor are the scriptures relative in their truth. Scripture does not change, nor do the meanings of the individual texts. The Holy Spirit illuminates scripture and reveals the truth therein, not in the sense of mysteriously bringing new and conflicting understandings from scripture, but instead allowing the reader to make sense of the contained text, fully understand the depth of the content, apply it to one's own context and redirect one's life to increasing obedience. Persons with extensive grammatical and linguistic tools are incompetent and wholly insufficient in themselves to understand the meaning of the scripture, though they most certainly will have greater clarification with respect to questions regarding ambiguities of language and grammar. The meaning of the scripture is the scripture and the meaning of the scripture (the application to the heart and the truthfulness of the claims made, not the construction) is spiritually discerned. This is not an exegetical trump card but is instead the standard for proper exegesis as established by the scriptures themselves. God wrote the scripture, God alone fully understands the scripture and only God can comprehensively and coherently explain the scripture.

Categorical Affirmations and Denials

- I categorically deny the understanding that states that the message from God in the text is the “spiritual meaning”, separated from the obvious meanings of the language and grammatical construction, or the historical and textual setting of the text.

- I categorically affirm that the meaning of the biblical text is directly related to and cannot be separated from the actual words of scripture, when properly understood in their historic, textual and grammatical setting.

- I categorically deny that a text can have multiple meanings.

- I categorically affirm a single intended meaning of scripture.

- I categorically deny that scripture has any allegory in it. God chose language to reveal propositional statements of truth to humanity, and language can carry immense depth of meaning, but language is not inherently cryptic.

- I categorically affirm the perspicuity of scripture. Scripture is straightforward in meaning, though not simple to understand.

- I categorically deny that scripture, like all other ancient near eastern literature, can be properly understood by the application of linguistic and critical tools within a framework of naturalist presuppositions.

- I categorically affirm that the Bible, its authorship, its transmission, its preservation and its interpretation are exclusively supernatural events with no historic precedent or parallel. The Bible was not written in the same manner as other ancient near eastern literature, it has not survived intact until this day like other ancient near eastern literature and it is not understood in the same way as other ancient near eastern literature. The application of linguistic and critical tools, when used in a framework of naturalist presuppositions, to understand the Bible as if it were another piece of ancient near eastern literature, are fruitless to produce knowledge or understanding of it’s ultimate truth or beauty.

- I categorically affirm that scripture contains objective truth that stands firm regardless of any or all mankind’s rejection and suppression of it.

- I categorically deny the modern concept of the relativity of truth.

- I categorically deny the possibility of having Cartesian certainty with regard to the interpretation of and understanding of a biblical text. You can never be 100% certain of a text’s meaning unless scripture explicitly interprets itself. Philosophically speaking, only God can be 100% sure of anything, and I’m not God.

- I categorically affirm the possibility of having relative certainty with regard to the interpretation of and understanding of a biblical text. Even though I’m not God, I can know, with relative certainty, what he says to me to the point of having that truth bind the conscience and have the denial of or disobedience to that truth be rightly labeled ‘sin’

- I categorically deny the possibility of certainty on the things that the Scripture is not explicitly clear on. (like traducianism)

- I categorically affirm the possibility of certainty on the things which the Scripture is explicitly clear on. (like the virgin birth)

The 4-H’s of Hermeneutics

Biblical Hermeneutics are only properly done when they have the following 4 components:

  1. Humility (The humble man will admit when he’s wrong and allow himself to be corrected when he errs.)
  2. Honesty (The honest man will allow the text to say what it says and will not attempt to force a foreign meaning onto a text)
  3. Holy Sprit (Any attempt to understand scripture without regeneration, the illuminating work of the Spirit and prayer is useless)
  4. Hard Work (The process of exegesis involves the usage of original languages, plus historical and grammatical tools. The Bible is an amazingly complex book that myriads upon myriads of people throughout the ages have twisted and misunderstood due to simple exegetical incompetence.)

3 Other Important Rules of Hermeneutics

1. Literal and literalistic are not the same thing. A literal reading of scripture understands the existence of figures of speech, symbolism, parallelism and other components of language. A literalistic reading of scripture does not; literalistic readings of scripture approach the scripture like a 3 year old child, with no understanding of nor concern for structure, symbolism, figures of speech or other components of language. When people often criticize literal interpretations, they are quite often mistakenly and actually criticizing literalistic interpretations of scripture.

2. A text without a context is a proof-text. Blind throwing of verses often doesn’t go along with accurate application of scripture. Just because the verse has the word ‘prayer’ in it doesn’t mean it’s actually talking about prayer.

3. The clear text always sheds light on the unclear text. This rule is my own slight re-wording of the 3rd rule of Hillel, an ancient Jewish teacher. It’s very simple. The stuff that’s clear is used to help understand the stuff that’s not clear…and it seems that one of the ‘bread and butter’ tricks of heretics is to flagrantly violate this rule. If you think you can understand a difficult passage without any other verses to give you an interpretive framework, you’re in serious danger of swan diving into the wading pool of heresy…and we all know what happens when a person swan dives into a wading pool…

Okay. Now that THAT is done, we can almost start hitting some texts! Hooray! Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian


Blogger Markio said...

I'm curious to see where you go because I find that the clear texts would support the continuation of the charasmatic gifts while the texts and the silence that is said to contract the continuation of the charasmatic gifts are fuzzy at best.

I look forward to the continuation. So far I am in general agreement with everything. I want to see the fork in the road.

10:09 AM

Blogger Andrew L said...

Just a question about your categorical denial that a text can have several meanings: Isn't it possible for a text to be meaningful on several different levels? For instance, I had understood that the Song of Solomon could be read either as a literal love poem between a man and wife and taken as an example of how husbands and wives are to love each other, or as a poem that symbolizes the love that Christ has for the church. It would thus seem to have more than one meaning, but since the meanings do not conflict I see no problem. In fact, it could almost be thought of as more efficient this way: two meanings for the price of one!

I can understand why you would deny that a text can have two or more mutually exclusive meanings, but I see no reason why a text cannot be read in multiple, complimentary ways.

4:25 PM

Blogger The Armchair Theologian said...

yes Andrew, I hear you. I encounter he whole "multiple readings" idea all the time too, and Song of Solomon is the most common example given. Let me say this:

A Text has ONE meaning but MANY applications and MANY application "angles".

Now, I still stick with the single intended meaning of scripture. When each author wrote each passage of biblical text, each author was actually writing REAL content addressing a REAl problem or historical issue or whatever. Therefore, whatever he wrote has real, objective content and meaning.

Song of Songs was either written by a lover for his love (kinda an ancient near eastern pop song), OR it was written as an analogy of the love of Christ for his Church. Solomon could not have INTENDED both. Language doesn't work that way for people. I mean, you don't post a comment on this blog and think that there's a chance that I may completely misunderstand you and read your comments as a clever allegorical attack on the Canadian Liberal Party....correct?

I would suggest that people ONLY approach language THAT way when they read the bible. It's a 3,000+ year old tactic to use the "spiritual meaning" trump card. If there can be multiple meanings, there can then be INFINITE meanings.

But, there are multiple applications. I cannot say "Song of Solomon is actually an allegory of Christ's love for the Church". I CAN say "If Song of Solomon examplifies a biblical loving relationship, how does that suggest how Christ, who loves perfectly, would love the church?".

Any passage contains a truth, and that truth can be applied to many, many different situations/problems/whatever.

And the whole "meaning on different levels" idea? I understand those "different levels" to usually be "literal" and "allegorical" (or spiritual). But once again, my two fold response is:

1. That betrays the common perspicuity of language.

2. There is never any solid guiding rule for determining what is allegory and what is not.

I'm also in good company, historically, in holding to a single intended meaning of scripture.

8:45 AM

Blogger Andrew L said...

Everything I write is a clever allagorical attack on the Canadian Liberal Party, except for when I'm writing on my own blog, in which case I usually dispense with the allagory and go for a head on, blatant attack on the Liberals.

But I see your point: the Bible has one meaning but multiple applications. I guess when I wrote my post I hadn't considered that if a person was willing to accept multiple meanings in a passage there would be no end to possible meanings. It's all fine and well to look for multiple or alternate meanings when reading fiction, but when reading the inspired Word of God it is necessary to understand it as specific, clear instruction from on high, and not as a whopping big ancient poem that can be interpreted at whim.

9:39 PM

Blogger Rob LeBlanc said...

Hi Armchair Theologian,
I'm seemingly just popping up all over your blog! Reading a few back editions of your blog, I thought I'd wade into this discussion briefly.
I suppose I should begin by stating that I do disagree with your assessment that a text has only one meaning. This is the fundamental purpose of allegory/metaphor in the larger narrative framework, not only in the Bible, but also in literature as a whole. We have multiple layers of meaning to each text. I am not talking here about a Freudian, post-composition exegisis, where the reader goes back and tries to tap the subconcious of the writer (see me here subtly attack the Conservative Presidency of Canada), but instead am refering to a writer's intention. Writers not only can do this, they do write text like this all the time. Again, I should clarify. You seem to have mixed up interpretation and meaning. I can mean one thing and indeed there may be infinite interpretations of that text (each subjective individual will read the text as a seperate or unique document). But meaning and interpretation are different. If I craft a story about the love for my wife, then I may indeed mean it to function as well as an allegory for God's love for me. Is this wrong? Of course not. Is it possible? Of course it is. Perhaps I simply fail to see why Scripture is precluded from this approach.
As for the Song of Solomon, I think we may regard the first of your propositions regarding its meaning as correct. Does it not seem strange that a man would write an allegory about an individual he had never met who wouldnt appear until several hundred years later? The most simple answer is usually the correct one...
Perhaps our problem follows from our unwillingness to embrace two meanings simultaneously; we regard them as necessarily contradictory. Rather, I think we can view both as equally valid and equally meaningful. I can love my wife and talk about God in the same poem, without making specific allusions to either.
Finally, the beauty of rhetorical or form criticism is that it demands we search out moments where the Bible is allegorical and where it is literal. I would like to contend that regardless of which one we discover the text to be, it really doesnt matter. Literal or not, the Word behind the words remains the same.
Food for thought. Thanks again for the chance to chat.

3:09 PM


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