Thusfar in this series on interpretation I have talked about and given some very basic principles for exegesis. As we have noted, exegesis is the systematic study of the scriptures in order to find the original meaning of the text. The key question that exegesis answers is, “What did the text mean to the original hearers?”
I now turn attention to hermeneutics. The key question in hermeneutics is “What does the text mean for the here and now?” In other words, by what means do we determine textual meaning for today’s hearer of the scriptures?
In my heritage I was raised to understand the scriptures based on three principles–Command, Example, and Inference. I was taught that all of scripture could be understood by at least one of these three principles.
Later the three words became small phrases. Direct Commands, Approved Examples, and Necessecary Inference. The problems with this kind of system of learning about the scripture are much too numerous to name in this short blog, but I will tell some of the inconsistency that I have experienced.
1) Why do we have to say “approved” examples? I think the main reason for the discriptive word “approved” is that we see many examples that we don’t consider salvation issues, therefore we must find out which ones we will believe. Those are the issues we called “approved.
Fasting nearly always comes to mind when I talk about this. We see many times in scripture “prayer and fasting” side by side in a phrase, yet while no one will deny that prayer is essential, many would question the act of fasting as a salvation issue. It’s usually dismissed as cultural.
2) Why do we have to say an inference is “necessecary?” I believe that it is because some things that are inferred by scripture as something a Christian ought to do or be is way out of our cultural comfort zones.
For example, it is inferred (if not commanded) that Christians ought to greet one another with a holy kiss. Why is that one not a necessary inference, when the inference that Acts 20:7 makes concerning the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week is taken as a command? We’re not even sure if that was the communion and if it was, the Greek says that it was on Saturday night before midnight–another inference about when we ought to take it.
These are only two examples I know, but there is enough here for us to at least question how we view scripture–at least in my opinion.
It is an extrememly slow process for most people to break free from the way in which they have been taught in order to listen to new principles of hermeneutics. In fact I believe that for some, this may be an impossible task.
Fee and Stuart make the point that because of consistency (or the lack thereof) it is very difficult to draw up a blueprint for how to apply an ancient text like the Bible. Therefore, they approach the scripture based on the various genre, exegete the passage, and then apply the general meaning to our time and culture. This does not and will never always avoid questions and scrutiny. I believe that as long as we have people, we will have arguments about the scripture.
The one governing principle that the Bible always has at the top of the list of principles is LOVE. We must love people even when we disagree with their interpretation. I’m sorry, but the message I got growing up was not one of love. It was the idea that if you disagree with us, you must be wrong. Even when we don’t mean to, we come across that way. I pray that more and more we can open our hearts and minds to God’s meaning of His Word. His heart is love His nature is love, therefore, we must use this as our guiding principle.