Lecture Six – Hermeneutics


Hermeneutical Aberrations


There is nothing wrong with forcing people to think by expanding their vocabulary, nor is there anything wrong with inventing terms that serve to clarify.  I do think, though, that there is something wrong with inventing or using terms that will cause confusion in the reader’s mind.  Our task, therefore, is to make sure to define our own terms in a way that will make them very clear to others.  It is equally important that we challenge and clarify the new or unusual terms that others are using.  Some of them may contribute to our growth, but others are used for the specific purpose of misleading people.  In the past, that practice has been termed “turnspeak.”  Commonly used words are actually given new definitions and motives are later revealed.


This illustration will help you understand why the interpreter must continually be asking questions.  When I was in seminary, a favorite professor frequently stated that “all truth is God’s truth.”  He would then proceed to integrate some philosophical point into the Bible text.  He was very skillful at this practice, but after a while, it became quite clear that his truth was changing the actual meaning of the Bible text.  It is still true that “all truth is God’s truth.”  It is also true that what men often call truth is really thinly veiled heresy.  Facts, philosophies, propositions, and concepts may well be intellectual information, but that does not make them truth.


Word games are good for us.  It is wise, however, to see how quickly you can simplify something that has been deliberately complicated. The same is true with things that are similar, because we have learned that similarities are not equals.  Using confusing similarities, for example, is one of the methods that atheistic evolution has employed to blind its captives.


Good and Bad Hermeneutical Tools


In the bibliography of your syllabus, several books have been listed for your consideration.  Remember, I have already warned you that your source reading will contain a number of suspect concepts.  At this point, I want you to begin to work through these problems using the things you have learned about the Biblical system of interpretation.


The interpreter needs to investigate several hermeneutical issues, using the tools that rise from Scripture.  The first issue is the relationship of Old Testament and New Testament literature.  You will want to use great care in reading through the material that comes from those who support the second system of interpretation.  The fact is that tools have been developed to support aberrant theological positions, and those theories should be your first clue.


The Church


Looking at the very sequence of the Bible text, it should be clear that the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament.  One should be careful not to force meaning on the text, even in interpreting New Testament texts that explain the Old.  For instance, the church was a mystery.  It is first mentioned prophetically in the gospels.  That means it did not exist before then, and the text tells us it did not exist before Pentecost.  It is not until the epistles that we have any substantial information about the church.  The book of Acts is like a primer creating a list of questions on this subject.  There is no church polity in the gospels and, even though some would choose to disagree, the gospels are really Old Testament literature.


The Old Testament declares pointedly that there would be salvation for the gentiles.  The prophets connect the gentiles with Christ in several ways.  As the light, He brings salvation to the gentiles.  (Isaiah 42, 49) As the Root of Jesse, He is to reign over the gentiles in His Messianic millennial kingdom.  This does not mean, however, that the church was revealed or prophesied in the Old Testament.


To understand these challenges, you will want to read carefully about “continuity and discontinuity.”  Your research will take you to the “complementary hermeneutic,” and you will also want to read about the “evangelical hermeneutic.”  Be sure to review these carefully.


The Holy Spirit and Illumination


The apostle Paul encourages us with information about the Holy Spirit’s ministry in guiding us to an understanding of revelation from God.  (I Corinthians 2:10-14)  The Spirit plays a major role in leading us into a faithful interpretation of the Bible text and protecting us from personal or private interpretation.  Christ promised us that the Holy Spirit would be our guide and teacher, that He would be our comforter, and that He would be with us and in us.  (John 14)  This helps to give us confidence about arriving at a correct interpretation of Scripture.


There is one disturbing concept that corrupts this marvelous teaching – the idea that the Spirit gives us new meaning that adds to the Bible, or information in contrast to the Bible.  That is outside the realm of orthodoxy.  The Holy Spirit does lead us into truth, but nothing He teaches us will ever conflict with the trusted Bible text.


In his book on evangelical interpretation, Millard J. Erickson quotes Daniel Fuller:


“More recently, a radically different view of the role of the Holy Spirit has arisen.  According to this view the Holy Spirit’s real role is not giving cognition, or knowledge of the meaning of the Scripture, but making possible the reception of that truth. Perhaps the clearest and most definite statement of this position has been given by Daniel P. Fuller.


Fuller begins by noting that some in the history of the church have relied on the Holy Spirit in contrast to the methods of determining the verbal meaning of the text.  Origen, for example, insisted that since the writers of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit to give them the content of the Scripture that they wrote, the interpreter must also be taught by the Holy Spirit.  This will enable the interpreter to go beyond the historical grammatical data or literal meaning of the Bible to its spiritual meaning.  Fuller observes that “The problem with this understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in Biblical interpretation is that the words of the text can play no essential role in conveying its intended meaning, even though it is these very words which the writers were inspired to use in transmitting God’s message to men.”[i]


The reader may be puzzled or shocked at such self-assumed license, but there is nothing new about this view.  Such radical ideas are nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to rewrite the divine revelation settled in the Bible.  At one point in the second century, Clement of Alexandria and Origen used this and other errant hermeneutical ideas to replace the existing hermeneutic.  Up to that time, literal interpretation had been the dominant factor.  Since the time of this intellectual revolution, all of Christianity has suffered, to some degree, from the influence of an allegorical interpretation.


As part of our graduate program, I teach near Alexandria, Egypt, every Fall and Spring.  To this very day, the theology of the Middle East is an allegorical disaster.  What we have been able to do is to bring back to Alexandria the very thing it lost back in the second century.  That concept is the very heart of this course.


Our course text will give you some background on the issue of literal interpretation in the first century.  What you will learn is that doctrines such as the millennium and the imminent return of Christ were taught in the first century because they rose from the literal text.  You should consider getting a copy of the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, complied by Grenz, Guretzki and Nordling.  To search such historical gems will launch your mind in the right direction.  This book records the following:


“Alexandrian school. So called because of its origin in the city of Alexandria (Egypt), this Christian center of scholarship was led first by Clement of Alexandria in A.D. 190 and then by Origen in A.D. 202.  The Alexandrian school was influenced by the philosophy of Plato and understood the task of Biblical interpretation as seeking out its literal, moral and allegorical senses.  In other words, the Alexandrian theologians taught that although the Bible was literally true, its correct interpretation lay in the moral or allegorical senses more than in the literal sense.”[ii]


You will have to follow this trail in your study of the history of hermeneutics.  For now, I want you to note that what we have been proposing in detail throughout this class is exactly what is going on in the world today.  The very same concepts, with their aberrations, are what we are trying to describe.  There are two basic concepts of interpretation – one with a literal base, and a second with an allegorical base. 

[i] Erickson, Millard J. Evangelical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993.


2. Grenz, Stanley J., David Guretzki , and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999.