Interpretation 5: Hermeneutics

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.


13 responses to “Interpretation 5: Hermeneutics

  • Steve

    In Restoration Movement discussions, this hermeneutic is called “C–E–I”. I like Campbell’s comment (Proposition Six) on inferences and we would do well to remember it today:

    “That although inferences and deductions from scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God–therefore no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the churchs’s confession.”

    You might also like to read these:

    I’m leaving next Tuesday to head to Maud.


  • Steve

    yet they are not formally binding . . . that should be

  • Meowmix

    Keith, when you mentioned fasting, I thought of a question I’ve always wondered about and that is the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus. I’ve always wondered why that is overlooked. Not that I’m suggesting we all need to get out our water pails and soap…………….it’s just something I’ve wondered about. 🙂

  • cwinwc

    Your comment about Disagreeing in love reminds of the time an older brother in Christ who had been raised in the “debate them / skin em’” era said to me with a smile, “I just hate error.” Isn’t “hating” anything error I wondered?

  • Greg England

    The problem I saw with the CENI model is that others didn’t always agree with what I knew to be “necessary”! The real issue in this model is that we argue so much doctrine from Biblical silence and end up showing up the Pharisees with our fence laws to protect our orthodoxy … saying all the time we’re just trying to be faithful to God’s Word. Much, ifnot most, of the division among our tribes is over this CENI model, which I think is a horrible spiritual cancer among us.

  • Connie Lard

    Keith, I read somewhere recently (don’t remember exactly where, but I agreed with it) that good religion always leads to compassion. If it doesn’t lead to compassion, it’s not good religion. What you describe from your growing up years sounds more like arrogance than compassion, doesn’t it? You are right on target that the governing principle must be love. If that’s not the governing principle, then something somewhere is off-kilter.

  • Donna

    I too pray that in the future we can be a church known for love…not hate, for unity not division. It is just so hard for people to let go of long standing thoughts….but I must resolve myselft to loving THEM! Sometimes that is a real challenge.

  • Sonny Owens

    Keith, I grew up (spiritually) at the same place you did. Sure we went through some times of hard stances but these men (whom I do not always agree with) were men who loved the lost. Loved the brethren, even when they stood firm on what you might not agree with them on. Loved me and loved you. Don’t make everyone think that every thing at Eastwood was always a bunch of mean characters.

    Connie Lard said, “What you describe from your growing up years sounds more like arrogance than compassion, doesn’t it?” You and I both know that there were and are people of great compassion where you grew up. In fact, one lady of compassion paid for much of your schooling.
    Right now this congregation is reaching out to all people. We do take some hard stands but so did our Lord.
    Love you, and you know I do

  • Sonny Owens

    I am sorry for coming right back but I failed to type something I intended to say, ” Love is and must be at the forefront of faith and service to the Lord and mankind. But many make it sound like as long as there is love forget abiding in my word.”

  • kdavis777

    Dear Sonny, I think it was this statement that upset you, (“I’m sorry, but the message I got growing up was not one of love.”) I hope that I can explain myself adequately.

    First, it really is a false statement to say that I “grew up” learning anything about hermeneutics. I did learn a lot more than I thought, but just didn’t know what to call it.

    We grew up learning the “facts” of the Bible. We were taught about Jesus and His sacrifice, but somehow my experience did not lead me to see that as a relationship as much as an agreement. I learned that as long as I went to church, was baptized, served the communion, dressed right, and acted right, I was OK with God. Miss any one of those points (or a thousand others) and I was lost. I was scared not to go to church. I was scared not to believe, but I seldom if ever saw God as a loving Father who would save me no matter how bad I was.

    Second, I pray that you will not think that I meant that anyone at Eastwood was ever mean spirited toward me or the Lord or anyone for that matter. That would have been the exception not the rule. I grew up with some of the greatest people in the world. That statement had NOTHING to do with any of those people.

    Third, I cannot tell you how appreciative I was to sister Fenn, the Haddocks, the Stutts and others who took care of me when the elders would not and you know why they would not help us. Those people supported Ellen and myself because they loved us. Words cannot express my appreciation for them.

    Fourth, I am shocked that you would deduce from my blog that I had anything but love for any of those people at Eastwood and still do, including you my brother. I hope that you will reconsider your thoughts on this.

    The spiritual arrogance that I learned was from this false idea that we had the “truth” on the subjects that mattered based on this false hermeneutic CENI. Not only did we think we had the truth on all salvation issues, if one disagreed with us, they were doomed to hell. It was just not consistent. The part of my life I learned this from was not my young years as a child, but in my days as a student and up until about 7 years ago. (Please don’t hear me saying that my time in school was not valuable nor productive. It was both) I think it was about 7 or 8 years ago that I began to see many inconsistencies in the way we interpreted scripture.

    I’m not saying that everything about CENI is wrong or that everything about it will lead a person astray. I just think it assumes too much and certainly leaves us looking ignorant and inconsistent.

    In your comment, you “inferred” that people who preach love did not abide in the word. Your statement was, “But many make it sound like as long as there is love forget abiding in my word.” I have found the opposite to be true. I have found that being led by the love that Jesus had leads to many more truths than I have ever known and yet so few rules that really matter. The more I learn about Jesus the less and less I find to argue about with people who disagree with me. I feel that narrowing down the list of “musts” is even Christlike because that’s what He did for the Pharisees. When they wanted the “rules” He listed two: Love God and Love others. That about sums it up for me.

    Thanks for letting me see that I need to make myself more clear in the future. I hope that you will not tell people that I slammed Eastwood in any way because that was not my intent.

    As I close, I want to say this about what Eastwood is doing in East Florence right now. I think it is awesome. You folks are reaching out to people in the messiness of life and bringing them to Jesus. Praise God for that. I have told people how proud I was to see what you all are doing. Keep it up and may God be praised and may He bless you my brother.

  • Sonny Owens

    Wow, I opened a can of worms. Thanks for the response. You said, “I am shocked that you would deduce from my blog that I had anything but love for any of those people at Eastwood and still do, including you my brother. I hope that you will reconsider your thoughts on this.”
    I will reconsider!

  • cwinwc

    Sonny and Keith – Good exchange and in the spirit of love. The only thing I would add would be a caution on taking “hard stances.” If I have learned anything this past year it is that God has His own timing and sometimes His timing through circumstances that come our way can force us to take a hard look at those “hard stances.”

    I’m reminded of Matthew 15:22 – 28. (Matt. 15:22 And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.”
    15:23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is shouting out after us.”
    15:24 But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
    15:25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”
    15:26 And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
    15:27 But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
    15:28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.)

    In verses 24 and 27, the God of our Universe, the very Creator of Matter, answers through Jesus twice an emphatic, “No.” You can’t get any harder than God in Christ answering, “No.” Yet, we serve a living God, not an inflexible text and in verse 27 the Canaanite Woman challenges this “hard stance” again and the result is a change in the answer.

    Do we need to search the Scriptures to definitive answers to doctrine and how to be Jesus to the World? Absolutely! But I believe we must remember 2 things:

    1. The searchers (you and I) are not infallible.
    2. The author of the very Scriptures we study for our stances is a living, breathing entity and His own Scriptures demonstrate that sometimes “stances” give way to faith and love.

  • kdavis777

    Thanks Cecil for you remarks. You are a true shepherd my brother.

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