Course Texts and Reading Tuesday, Jun 3 2008 

 

            Course Texts

 

Showers, Renald. There Really is a Difference. Bellmawr: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 2002. ISBN 0-915540-50-9

 

Couch, Mal. An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-8254-2367-8

 

           

            Reading List

 

Bateman, Herbert W. Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1999.

 

Berkhof, B. D. Principles of Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1952.

 

Bernard, Thomas Dehany. The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, (no date).

 

Blackman, E.C. Biblical Interpretation. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957.

 

Blaising, Craig A., and Darrell L. Bock. Progressive Dispensationalism. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.

           

Dockery, David S. Biblical Interpretation Then and Now. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.

 

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

 

Farrar, Frederic W. History of Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1961.

 

Fee, Gordon D. Listening to the Spirit in the Text. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2000.

 

Hartill, J. Edwin. Biblical Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962.

 

Kaiser, Walter, C., Jr. Toward an Exegetical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996.

 

Larkin, Clarence. Rightly Dividing the Word. Philadelphia: Erwin W. Moyer Co. Printers, 1948.

 

McKim, Donald K. A guide to Contemporary Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986.

 

Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Findlay: Dunham Publishing Co., 1963.

 

Robbins, Vernon K. Exploring the Texture of Texts. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1996.

 

Ryrie, Charles C. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press, 1995.

 

Tan, Paul Lee. The Interpretation of Prophecy. Winona Lake: BMH Books Inc., 1976.

 

Thomas, Robert L. Evangelical Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2002.

 

Walvoord, John F. Inspiration and Interpretation. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957.

 

Willis, Wesley R. and John R. Master. Issues in Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press, 1994.

 

Zuck, Roy B. Basic Bible Interpretation. Wheaton: Victory Books, 1991.

Lesson Six Tuesday, Jun 3 2008 

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.

Lesson Five Tuesday, Jun 3 2008 

LECTURE FIVE – HERMENEUTICS

 

The Extent of a System of Hermeneutics

 

We come now to the most effective illustration of what are basically two opposing systems.  The amount of available material on this topic is so voluminous that we can consider only a few areas of contrast.  Contrary to the protests of our theological peers, the grammatical/contextual/historical/literal system is more dissimilar than similar to the allegorical system, which is nearly identical to the reformed and covenant theological systems.  The old adage says, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”  In other words, the product tells us all we need to know.

 

No single issue in theology better describes this theological Grand Canyon than the subject of Israel and the church.  Inside each of the two hermeneutical systems there are, understandably, some variances.  The number of these differences is much smaller, however, in the literal-based system.  In the allegorical base, the differences, though much greater as to number, are still common in their source.

 

The Literal Approach

 

Within the literal system, the widely held view is that the church is made up of those who are declared righteous, from the time of Pentecost up to the rapture and that the founding, history, and future of the church is distinctly clear and separate from national Israel.  While the church does include Jews and Gentiles saved from Pentecost on, none of these is part of national Israel; they are known as “the bride of Christ” and will have that identification throughout eternity.  It is also widely held by this group that the removal of the church from the earth will precede any portion of the tribulation period.  This view sees God as dealing continually and separately with the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church.

 

The first system mainly views the ministry of the Holy Spirit as a clearly defined relationship with the church, beginning at Pentecost. Certain specific ministries are related to the church and not to Israel. These would include the baptism of the Holy Spirit and His indwelling relationship.  This last item has a close similarity to the doctrine of the indwelling Christ: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  According to Scripture, only those who are in “the body of Christ” are “in Christ.”

 

The literal system has held that God made The New Covenant with Israel, not with the church.  At the same time, the church has received benefit from that covenant, while not being a partner in it.  

 

Among those who hold to a literal system, the subject of the kingdom, like all other matters, has some variance.  In the main, however, there is a clear distinction between the eternal, universal kingdom and the theocratic, millennial, messianic 1,000-year physical reign.  Historically, this system has not viewed the church as a kingdom or Christ as King of the church.  This will be dealt with in detail later.

 

A literal interpretation has no quarter with the old liberal theological view of a general resurrection or general judgment.  The end result of comparing a Biblical and literal interpretation of the text with the allegorical system is a major contrast of eschatological differences.

 

At this point, there is a need for clarification.  There are those who would be legitimately included in the literal system who have some friendly, if not some relationship to several of the subjects just listed.  Allow me to mention several areas of debate.  The first is the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament saints. The second is a relationship of the church to the New Covenant that would go beyond the sharing of some blessings, and the third is an inaugurated kingdom.  This provides a good illustration of our earlier discussions.  These intrusions into the literal community do not actually result from a careful use of the first system.  These are examples of what happens when the allegorical system is integrated into the literal; it means that these are ideas borrowed from the covenant theological field.  That is evident to anyone reading through the arguments of those who champion such hybrids. 

 

It is also important to note that, just as these positions have been borrowed from the allegory-based system, others borrow from the first system. The result, then, is that those from the second system may hold some such distinctive as the any-moment rapture.  There are two explanations for this.  The first one is that, in recent years, many who had previously straddled the fence have begun moving to new theologies that represent the Reformed perspective.  The second is that the allegorical system is so fluid that one could hold any view of the rapture or other event in prophecy.  This may sound impossible, but that is the great negative of the allegorical base.  If one decides on their own what is allegory, or what may be spiritualized in any selected text, they should expect confusion.

 

The Allegorical Approach

 

The second system provides ample evidence of the great divide in theological views between the two.

 

Views that flow from this second system vary widely.  Their view of the church is so broad that it would include even Adam, while others see it as having begun with the Abrahamic covenant.  Some would claim that the church includes the redeemed of the ages.  One of the most popular views is that Israel has become the church, or that the church and Israel will become one in the future.  None of these views rises from the literal Biblical view we have outlined.  All of these views present great contrasts to that which is held by system one.

 

Since the distinctiveness of the church is set aside by the second system, it is no surprise that other views follow.  It matters little to this system if the church is in the tribulation, if there is a millennium, or if you end up with just one people of God.  One or more resurrections or judgments are possible.  This, believe me, is vastly different from the literal system.

 

In contrast to the literal approach, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant, prophetic and other events are up for auction.  I think the reader can understand why there is so much animosity toward such a dependable and clear system as the literal Biblical hermeneutic.

 

Theological Theories

 

To confirm the above, one has only to take a look at the many popular and extreme theories looming on the horizon.  We have already described supersessionism and the replacement theory, where Israel becomes the church in some form at some time, so I repeat this only for purposes of emphasis; it illustrates the great ocean of difference between the two contrasting systems of interpretation.  The products of the two are violently different, and the differences are much greater than are the similarities.

 

The second system is capable of producing such theories as preterism. In this extreme position, one sees all prophecy as having already been fulfilled; there is no future rapture, tribulation, second coming, millennium, etc.  Even more stunning is the list of famous evangelical names that have given credence to such fanciful ideas.  The reader should pay close attention to those names and approach very cautiously anything that these types of theologians may propose.

 

The opposing view to a literal hermeneutic produced yet another idea.  This one is called progressive dispensationalism.  Reportedly, it was meant to provide a bridge between historic dispensationalism and covenant theology.  It could be considered a failed attempt, because all of the above has demonstrated that the divide between these two views is not a mere creek – it is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean.  In the end, a cursory observation shows the movement as progressively edging toward the Reformed model.  The reason for that conclusion is that the views in progressive dispensationalism mirror those that rise from the allegorical base.

 

Finally, there is the matter of the kingdom.  I remember the liberal concept that was taught when I was a young student.  They explained that they were “bringing in the kingdom, building the kingdom, and growing the kingdom.”  Now those same terms are used freely by evangelicals and even by some fundamentalists.

 

The church is not a kingdom, nor is Christ king of the church.  We are not building or growing a kingdom, let alone the kingdom.  God’s plan for this age is the church, and we are not building or growing the church; God is doing that.  In a prophetic statement, Matthew wrote, “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

 

On final reminder is in order.  These discussions are not about people. They are about ideas.  We should, and must, speak firmly about ideas. Doing so will allow each reader to grow as a scholar and as a thinker.

Lesson Four Tuesday, Jun 3 2008 

LECTURE FOUR – HERMENEUTICS

 

Hermeneutical Errors, Conclusions, and Theological Signposts

 

In obeying the rule of simplifying rather than complicating things, we need to consider another example.  From my point of view, there are only two religions on this earth.  The first is Biblical Christianity.  Its authority is divine revelation, the very Word of God, and its God is the sovereign Creator.  The second religion is what I like to call “Humianity” – a play, obviously, on the word “Christianity.”  The authority of this religion is human reason, and its god is man.  At a later point, I will make available to you my article entitled Humianity, the Religion of Man.

 

As in our previous discussions, we recognize that there is no perfect example of Biblical Christianity on this earth.  It is all tainted with human reason, as any member of a local church should be able to see.  The failure of man in his effort to defend subjectivity is no excuse for disobedience.  Though there are no perfect local churches, our goal should still be to obey the Bible to the best of our ability.  Being satisfied with mediocrity is not acceptable to God.  We may not be able to attain pure objectivity, but it remains our goal nonetheless.  Finding excuses to do it our own way does not set well with a holy God. 

Biblical Christianity is dependent upon Biblical truth, which in turn is dependent upon a Biblical hermeneutic.  We must not waste time trying to discover theories to mask our sin.  People often argue that the temptation of Christ was not real, or fair, because He was God and could not have sinned anyway.  That might give you a hint as to where the theory came from that Christ was capable of sinning.  What Christ really demonstrated for us in His temptation is that we, also, can have victory in Him through the power of the Spirit.  The illustration is not meant as an excuse to sin; rather, it is a positive encouragement to resist temptation.

 

The Spirit of Fear

 

If God is at the center of our hermeneutic, and our foremost goal is to show forth His glory, then there is another subject with which we must deal.  Each month, I write an electronically published journal called The Shepherd’s Staff.  The title of the September 2005 issue is “The Silent Pulpits,” and it is subtitled “Silence Is Not Always Golden – Sometimes It Is Yellow.”  The article deals with today’s fearful shepherds who have grown silent about the wickedness and doctrinal error sweeping our land.  In it, I point out the pressure put on them by well-known evangelicals – the ridicule and badgering of anyone who dares to step into the arena of ideas and discuss the possibility of mushrooming liberalism in evangelical, and even fundamental, churches.  Thankfully, there are some brave souls willing to stand in thoughtful and forceful opposition to those who are leading the charge with their “pop theology.”

 

Every interpreter needs to be considerate of others, kind in spirit, and constantly learning.  All study has a purpose.  If we interpret the Bible solely to entertain ourselves and others, we are wasting our time.  If we interpret the text to prop up our own subjective theology, we are disobeying God.  If we rightly divide and study the Word of God to see our lives changed, as well as the lives of those to whom we minister, we do well.  In my book, The Weeping Church, I quote Harry Blamires:

 

“The scholar evades decisiveness; he hesitates to praise or condemn; he balances conclusion against competing conclusion so as to cancel out conclusiveness; he is tentative, skeptical, uncommitted.  The thinker hates indecision and confusion; he firmly distinguishes right from wrong, good for evil; he is at home in a world of clearly demarcated categories and proven conclusion; he is dogmatic and committed; he works toward decisive action.

 

To typify the extremes in this way is useful, but must not be taken too literally.  For the scholar, as thus characterized, is not the only man who studies: and the thinker, as thus characterized, is not the only man who thinks.  Obviously there is no scholar who does not think; and there is no thinker who is quite devoid of scholarship.”[i]

 

This is exactly what we have been describing in the foregoing material. Of all the things a teacher might pray for in a student, the most important would be a proper balance between the scholar and the thinker.  The thinker does not just parrot what others produce; he grinds it to powder to see what it is really made of.  If he finds it flawed, he not only rejects it, but also reports the flaw to all who will listen.  He is factual, but not cowardly.  His search does not end with the discovery of error and the manifesting of it; he puts all his energy into discovering the true meaning to put in the place of error.

 

The thinker must be a scholar, but he cannot be afraid; he must be bold, but not brazen; he must be open, but honest; and he must be ready to endure the onslaught of those who are comfortable with mediocrity.  This kind of interpreter will not be at all welcome in any denomination or institution that is committed to the status quo.  He will be in the minority, for the simple reason that’s the way it has always been.  He is the enemy of error and the foe of all who are comfortable with it.  This person is ready and willing to deal openly with error and its companions.

 

Not Just Difference of Opinion

 

There would be no love or kindness in the decision to let sleeping people perish in their burning home because you hesitated to disturb them.  Similarly, there is no compassion or Christ-likeness in remaining silent when an objective Biblical hermeneutic is being left behind.  There is no faithfulness in silence when a faulty system continues to turn out faulty theological theory that will be devoured by many.  It’s not just a difference of opinion.  Everyone does have a right to his own opinions, but our concern must be with allowing the text to speak for itself.

 

For the better part of eighteen years, I hosted a radio program called “Pastor’s Perspective.”  The program was aired live at noon each Wednesday.  It was a 30-minute question-and-answer format and was always the highlight of my week.  On one particular occasion, the last caller of the day was a woman asking a question about sign gifts.  From my perspective, this was one of those softballs we had already fielded many times.

 

Her response to the Bible references I gave was one of flat-out dismissal.  She said, “I guess we just have two different interpretations.”  “No”, I replied, “we don’t have two different interpretations; we have two different systems of interpretation.”  That was, and still is, the real issue when it comes to hermeneutics, the science and system of interpreting Scripture.


[i] Blamires, Harry. The Christian Mind. Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1963. 51.

Lesson Three Tuesday, Jun 3 2008 

LECTURE THREE – HERMENEUTICS

 

The Challenge to Literal Interpretation

 

The major problem in this discussion is that people, not God, often end up being at the center of the discussion.  Little is to be gained if we focus on man.  It has been said that “small minds talk about people, and great minds talk about ideas.”  One tool of liberalism is to argue that, if you challenge a person’s views, you are degrading that person.  Even when we consider a person, or a group of people, who hold a particular position, we do not, and should not, mean to degrade their character.  If a person’s use of concepts indicates a lack of integrity, then that rises from the discussion of their ideas.  People are not the enemy; error is.  This issue, however, is one of the reasons people are opposed to identifying error.

 

When man is at the center of our thinking, we tend to chastise anyone who dares to be dogmatic about theology.  Some would refer to people as “having another interpretation or point of view.”  We are reminded of our need to respect others’ personal views.  When God is at the center, our concern is with what He has said and what He thinks.   This is exactly why we need a Biblical hermeneutic.

 

Clarification and Consideration

 

Who is right?  Which movement has the valid point of view?  The answer is – none of them.  God alone is perfect, and His truth is everlasting.  That means our goal is to remain as close as we can to God’s truth as revealed in Scripture.

 

The next problem has to do with what people claim.  Many in our theological realm would claim to follow the same rules of interpretation we have outlined; they just retain the right to define them differently. That is the first step away from revelation.

 

It is of little consequence that great, or well known theologians – as well as unknown ones – say they hold to the same system of interpretation.  It is their product that will tell the real story.  If five of these intellectuals go to the Scripture and come away with different interpretations, there is something we can know for sure: all of them may be wrong, but only one can be right.  There is only one right interpretation – the one God has given.  How did the others end up with error?  The answer is simple.  Either they failed to use the rules that rise directly from the Bible, or else they misused them.

 

There is often a great deal of difference between what people say and what they demonstrate.  What we say we believe has to be proven, or demonstrated.  Mere words are extremely hollow.  For someone to claim to hold the same rules of interpretation, then to demonstrate otherwise is suspect.  Take, for example, the atheist.  I have met only a handful of people who actually say, “There is no God”; they are stated atheists.  On the other hand, the majority of people I meet live as if there is no God; they are atheists by demonstration.  We are what we hold in our hearts.  This is exactly what the psalmist meant when he wrote, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God” (Psalm 53:1) So, we see that it is of little consequence for someone to claim to use the rules that rise from the Bible.

 

It should also be observed that most interpreters will use some portion of some of the rules, but that does not necessarily mean they are loyal to the whole set of guidelines.  Our goal is not to see if we can be faithful to God’s hermeneutical instructions part of the time.  If God is the center of our discipline, then it will not matter to us if someone is sincere and thinks he is right, or if he’s just doing the best he can.  The fact that all men are imperfect is a given.  To focus on God is to emphasize His infallibility rather than man’s fallibility.

 

There has to be a reason why men are so intent on protecting themselves.  We do not know all there is to know about the Bible, and we never will, at least not this side of heaven.  There are some things God simply has not meant for us to know.  There are some passages the interpretation of which will never be known, and we have no right to force those passages.  The interpreter should not be insulted that God has not told him everything.

 

A Bad Habit

 

Many Scripture texts are cloudy, but many are exceedingly clear.  The clear ones establish the heart of Christian theology; in those essential areas, the Bible is very clear.  If this were not true, there could be no assurance of the salvation God has provided in Christ.  We rejoice, therefore, in the things we know dogmatically, and we are willing to leave the others to our sovereign God.

 

Many contemporary theological theories take advantage of this point; that is, they practice using cloudy passages to confuse the clear ones. They waste valuable energy in building sandcastles on ifs, ands, and buts of a dislocated passage.  This also happens with those who isolate the grammatical rule and construct theological error built on pronouns.  We expect to use the clear passages to open doors to the cloudy.

 

Another bad habit you will observe in your reading is what appears to be a deliberate attempt to confuse people.  The Reformed system does this by stating a multitude of suppositions and then drawing a conclusion that does not exist in any one of them, or in the totality of them.  My advice to students is to learn to identify the old tool of liberalism quickly – complicating for the purpose of confusing.  In our study of God’s truth, our goal should be to simplify in order to clarify.  In study, and in ministry, this will make the interpreter effective.

 

False Charges

 

The literal system of interpretation revealed in Scripture has often been attacked.  This system gives clear and concise answers from the text.  It guards against theological error.  Not only has literal interpretation been mischaracterized and falsely defined, it has been wrongly identified.

 

The Biblical system of interpretation has been accused of being too rigid, inflexible, and fixed.  David Turner refers to it as “a wooden approach”.[i]  He also states that it “tends to put the question of interpretation too simply.”[ii]  This illustrates exactly the point I just made about the irritation of theologians with simplicity.  Turner goes on to criticize literal interpretation as “hyperliteral.”[iii]  On the other hand, those who have chosen the literal base of interpretation see the allegorical base as plastic, moveable, and pliable.

 

There is further complaint, this time about the approach we use.  If hermeneutics is a science, or an art, then we would expect it to be exact as long as the rules are properly used.  That is disturbing to those who have chosen the allegorical base.  Their argument is that it cannot be that dependable, given the fallibility of man.  The discussion, however, is not about man; it is about God.  The question is, “Are these really God’s rules, and can we know what God’s rules are”?  What is actually happening here is that God – not man – is being challenged.

 

The Biblical hermeneutic is like a mathematical system.  The proper use of numbers results in the same answer over and over again.  If there is an error, it can be blamed on the person using the system. What the allegorical base folks would do is to try to blame the mathematical system.  That, in essence, is the fallacious argument being used by those who desire to weaken a literal approach.  The proper use of God’s rules will repeatedly give us the same answer.  If there is error in the conclusion, we should blame man rather than the hermeneutical system.  Therefore, it is true that, if interpreters obeyed the rules, they would all come to the same theological conclusions.  Our presuppositions and faulty conclusions would all be eliminated by obedience to God’s careful plan for interpretation.

 

Summary

 

The grammatical, contextual, historical, and literal rules of interpretation rise directly from the Scripture.  If they are ignored, disobeyed, or corrupted, the conclusion itself will be erroneous.  The reader will observe how this plays out in the following segments.  The Reformed system rises from forces external to the Scripture, or a mixture of human reason and Bible texts.

 

One more important comparison must be made between literal and non-literal/allegorical methods.  The centerpiece of Biblical interpretation, herein described, is the glory of God.  That places God exactly where He ought to be.  The centerpiece of all other approaches to interpretation is man.  Our peers who hold to Reformed and Covenant positions would disagree.  They seem to argue from the point that they have some part in everything.  They do indeed hold to the importance of the glory of God, so that is not the question.  Is the glory of God, however, really the centerpiece of their theology, writing, and preaching?

 

Their view appears to be that the glory of God comes through the redemptive plan.  That is why one is overcome by the constant references to redemptive theology, redemptive history, and a particular theory of soteriology.  As marvelous and powerful as this area of theology is, it represents only a portion of the reasons why the glory of God should be the centerpiece.  While this may be misunderstood by some, it should be noted that God would still be worthy of glory had there been no plan for redemption.  We would do well to avoid suppositions like this one but such a suggestion has the desired shock value.

 

To illustrate this concept, we need to make it clear that all interpreters use some literal interpretation and some allegory.  The problem has to do with which base the person chooses.  The base of literal interpretation goes to the text expecting it to be literal unless the text tells them that it is allegory; it begins with a literal view.  The contrasting view actually begins with an allegorical perspective, which will be demonstrated repeatedly in this course.


[i] Blaising, Craig A. Darrell L. Bock. Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1992. 276.

[ii] Ibid., p. 276

[iii] Ibid., p. 277

Lesson Two Tuesday, Jun 3 2008 

LECTURE TWO – HERMENEUTICS

 

Methodology, Guidelines and Rules

 

The next step in laying our foundation for this course is to understand the proper use of each of these rules and also the reasons that rise from the text.

 

Grammatical Interpretation

 

The proper use of grammar in interpretation can not be underrated. Without this tool, it will be difficult to be confident in your conclusions.  This is one of the reasons that languages play such an important part in the training of the interpreter.  Having said this, however, let me give you an illustration.  A friend wrote an article, which was published in a national magazine.  He stated that, “Any interpretation that is not based on the grammar cannot be trusted.”  I wrote to him and said, “Your statement is true and false.  It is true as you stated it, but any interpretation based on the language alone cannot be trusted.”

 

This is why I protest the use of “Biblical theology” if it intends to communicate that the use of language alone means it is Biblical.  The grammatical guideline is only one of the legs of the process.  My godly father-in-law was a dairy farmer after the old style.  He was also a diligent Bible student.  Dad explained quite vividly what would happen if you tried to milk a cow while sitting on a stool with one or two legs. The result would be quite messy.  He explained that milking a text of the Bible requires more than one or two legs for the same reason. While the illustration is a simple one, it is also brilliant.

 

A large number, if not a majority, of present day theological theories have risen from such violations of the Bible’s self-revealed rules of interpretation.  This fall from the hermeneutical stool is illustrated in another term typically used by theologians.  They refer to the proper hermeneutic as the “grammatical, historical” system.  The reason this term and the “Biblical theology” term mentioned above are used appears to be simply a game of “Simon says.”  If that is what the leading, or majority of, theologians are saying, then you have to say it the same way.  Students must learn early in their studies to ask questions about such things.  Later on, you will see that you have to ask, “What do you mean by grammatical, and what do you mean by historical, and why have you limited your guidelines to two when the Bible gives another?”  I asked a friend this same question, and he said that when he uses the term “Grammatico-Historical,” he means to include the other things as well.  I asked him, “Why don’t you just say what you mean then, instead of leaving people in doubt?”

 

A description of our system of Biblical interpretation might better be called “Grammatical, Contextual, Historical and Literal.”  I can think of no reason why anyone should reject such an expanded designation.

 

Historical Interpretation

 

This rule, which rises from the Bible, refers to the historical setting at the time of the writing.  It includes not only the author, but the geographical, social, cultural, political, religious, and physical contexts and much more.  It takes some work to dig out that information, but it is available.  While it may be incomplete, it is still better than trying to understand a text without it.

 

Here is another reason we need to ask questions.  The historical setting at the time of writing is not what most people mean when they use the term “historical.”  One person may mean the current culture as reflected upon the past.  Yet another may be referring to the history of theology, or even church history, etc.  While all of these are important, they are not what we mean when, in interpreting a text, we refer to the historical rule that rises from Scripture.  Those other items are important when making application or understanding theological positions, but they are not the rule of historical interpretation.  Even consideration of how a text might have been interpreted by others in the past is not the central area.  Just think of the great number of passages that have been misinterpreted by so many in the past. That does not make their error truth.  Even if error has been held by a majority, and for a significant period of time, it is still error.

 

This violation of historical interpretation is clearly illustrated by the practice of the liberal mind.  I doubt you can find one liberal politician who is not also liberal in religion, because it is their system of thought that brings them to common conclusions.  In our country, Supreme Court judges of a liberal persuasion have done this very thing.  Instead of seeking the historical meaning, and the intent, of the authors of our Constitution, they have used such things as historical precedent, or case law, to rewrite the Constitution.  This same practice is what theologians follow when ignoring the intent of Scripture as to historical interpretation.  It should make us question why a theologian would use such a tool straight from the liberal agenda.

 

Contextual Interpretation

 

One of the reasons why context has been omitted from the definition is that current theologians consider context to be such a wonderful defining factor.  Context will not let one get away with limiting interpretation to grammar or redefining “historical.”  No text was ever intended to be isolated.  A theological conclusion must be candled by every Scriptural statement dealing with that particular theological issue.  Limitations on the meaning of a text are placed there by the Holy Spirit.  Where, when, how, why, and to whom the text was written are all necessary factors in our understanding the intent of the writer.  To exclude or ignore the rule of context removes one more limitation to the reader who has motive. Most theological errors are developed outside the Bible, with a subsequent effort to get the text to agree with them.  That requires removing as many restraints as possible.  It seems to matter very little that it was the Holy Spirit who placed those restraints in the text.

 

The purpose of this course, then, is to learn how to understand the guidelines God has revealed and to hold each other accountable to them.

 

Literal Interpretation

 

The final issue is the matter of literal interpretation.  This subject, more than any other, has been misrepresented, maligned, and redefined.  We cannot say whether this mischaracterization is deliberate, but it certainly has identified the spirit of the view that opposes literal interpretation.  The interesting point here is that, in the overall consideration, we end up with just two basic forms of interpretation.  A literal system is the Biblical system that rises from Scripture, and it produces a true Biblical theology.  The non-literal system, with an allegorical base, is the contrasting view.

 

What, then, does “the rule that rises from the Bible” mean?  It is the view that all texts are meant to be viewed as natural as they are.  Like all literature, what the text says is what it means.  There are indeed times when the text makes it clear that the material being presented is a symbol, type, or allegory, but when the text clearly indicates that the subject is a symbol, then that is the literal interpretation of that text.

 

The idea that literal interpretation means taking every passage as a literal being or situation, when the text and context indicate otherwise, is a false concept.  What the non-literalist is really looking for appears to be a license to determine, outside the Bible rules, what is allegory, and it shows in their theological conclusions.  This will be illustrated as we proceed.

 

Paul Tan has an interesting chapter in his book on this subject, and it is recommended reading.[i]


[i] Tan, Paul Lee. The Interpretation of Prophecy. Winona Lake: BMH Books Inc., 1976.

 

Lesson One Tuesday, Jun 3 2008 

LECTURE ONE – HERMENEUTICS

 

Introduction to Hermeneutics

 

This course is foundational to all the Biblical subjects that you will examine in your degree program.  It precedes all theological courses because correct theology demands a correct hermeneutic, and a Biblical hermeneutic will produce a Biblical theology.  Erroneous theology can be traced to an errant hermeneutic.

 

For some students, this will be a new exercise.  For others, it is an advanced study of undergraduate classes in Biblical interpretation.  In some cases, this experience in the Scriptures will guide you to an element of correction to commonly held misconceptions.

 

During your source reading for this course, you should be aware that there is more error written on this subject than truth.  The goal of the course is to help you understand a Biblical hermeneutic and, as a result, be better able to identify both major and minor aberrations. The course text was deliberately chosen because it illustrates the contrast between use of a text-sourced system and others based on theory and/or philosophy.  At the end of this course, you will be given an opportunity to communicate, from the Scripture, the Biblical system represented in our class text.

 

Explanation

 

The word “Biblical” is easy to use.  Leaders tend to use it to legitimatize all kinds of humorous and seriously flawed theological notions.  When we use the word, we mean “that which rises from the Bible without the infection of human presupposition and intent.”  You need to learn to challenge things that are not logical, even those used by well-known intellectuals.  The fact that a person is intellectual does not mean his conclusions are anywhere near the truth; any course in the history of Christian thought will give ample evidence of that fact.  Well-meaning theologians often refer to Biblical theology as the discipline that is limited to the languages of the Bible.  In listening to their explanations, I personally have concluded that they must view systematic theology, historical theology, and doctrinal theology as “lesser beings.”

 

The thinking person would have to ask, “If the study of Biblical languages is Biblical theology, would not that then make the other courses un-Biblical theology?”  My view is that Biblical theology includes all that God has given in the theology of the Bible, rather than just one part.  Later in this course, we will discuss the reason why any independent rule, such as the use of grammar alone, or as the primary rule can actually be dangerous.

 

We will continually refer to the hermeneutic that rises from the text of Scripture as the “Biblical hermeneutic,” and this course will demonstrate it repeatedly.

 

Definition

 

In a broad sense, “Hermeneutics is a science of interpretation and termination.  The word is derived from the name of the Greek god, Hermes, who was the messenger and herald of the gods and the interpreter of Jupiter.”[i]  Hermeneutics is the art of finding the meaning and intent behind an author’s words.

 

Theology is a science, and it is rightfully called the queen of the sciences.  In relation to the Bible, hermeneutics is the science of interpreting a Biblical text and then expounding the text based upon that interpretation.

 

This process goes far beyond individual words.  Close attention must be paid to grammatical construction and syntax.  We will see that the process is also guided by the micro and macro context, and the historical setting at the time of the writing is very important.

 

The discipline of hermeneutics is far-ranging.  Advanced studies in the subject would include, but not be limited to, the following:

 

        The history of hermeneutics

        Aberrations of hermeneutical forms

        Contemporary hermeneutical systems

        Philosophical concepts as they affect interpretation

        Challenges to the Biblical hermeneutic

        Current issues and Biblical interpretation

        Biblical criticism in contrast to the science of interpretation

        The use of a Biblical hermeneutic and systematic theology

 

It will become clear to the student that there is no research, study, preparation, or presentation where this subject is not an issue, and that any hermeneutic that does not rise from Scripture can produce anything the interpreter wishes to say.  In this course, our focus will be on the basic methodology, guidelines, and rules that rise from the Scripture and will produce an interpretation true to the text.

 

A High View of God and the Bible

 

The interpreter’s approach to the text does depend on one’s presuppositions.  Individual motives may be hidden at the outset of his work, but they will be revealed in the process.  God should be displayed as the center of all the interpreter’s conclusions.  The highest good and motive is to glorify God, which requires a high view of God.  The holiness of God, and His sovereign character in all that He is and does, should be reflected in our considerations.  If, on the other hand, man is constantly placed in the center of our interpretation, direction, and ministry, that indicates a low view of God.  This will be demonstrated as we continue.  Only the Biblical hermeneutic can produce a high view.

 

A high view of the Bible will also be revealed in the student’s process and conclusions.  This book is unquestionably the Word of God.  Any interpretation that adds to, or takes away from, the text is unacceptable.

 

One of the first considerations is the matter of inspiration.  A low view of inspiration will corrupt any possibility of obtaining an accurate result.  From the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, man has been adjusting what God has said.  I refer to this as the “Lucifer Syndrome.” Man has an innate desire to be like God and to know what God knows. Complete theological systems have been built on the effort to know as much about salvation as God knows.  The rejection of Bible authority, sufficiency, and supremacy comes from a low view of the Bible.  It is for this reason that you will study carefully the theological concepts contained in Scripture, such as inspiration, revelation, animation, and inerrancy.  In this study, you will also consider the matter of illumination and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpretation.  For now, a simple reminder of inspiration will be sufficient.

 

How did the truth get in the Bible?  This question is answered clearly in II Timothy 3:16 and II Peter 1:20, 21.  God used inspiration to accomplish this.  Of course he used human writers, but supervised the writing in such a manner that it was “God-breathed.”  The writers were “borne along” in such a way that the material was of no private interpretation.  That is how God’s truth entered the Bible.

 

 

The Bible Is Literature

 

This course is not the same thing as a study of the Bible as literature. That is a matter you will consider in the study of Bibliology.  If the Bible is literature, then we must abide by the rules that are followed in the study of any literature.  To understand the intended meaning of an author of any type of literature, the following are necessary prerequisites:

 

Grammatical Interpretation – All literature must be understood by using the grammar relating to the language in which it was written, so the grammatical rules and language usage of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are required.

 

Contextual Interpretation – All literature is set in a context.  In order for its original meaning to be maintained, it must be understood in its context, both macro and micro.

 

Historical Interpretation – All literature is written in a historical setting.  The Bible can be understood only by accurately reviewing the setting of the text at the time it was written.

 

Literal Interpretation – All literature is expected to be literal, unless the text reveals that it is poetry or fiction.  Though greatly misunderstood by many, the fact is that all Scripture must be viewed as literal, unless the text itself tells us that it is allegorical.

 

It should be obvious that these rules are not man-made, but that they rise naturally from the Scripture text.

 

 

 

 

 


[i] Hartill, J. Edwin. Biblical Hermeneutics, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1062. 7.