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The Problem with Hermeneutics Created on 30 April 2016

The first barrier to overcome when interpreting Scripture is the stronghold of prejudice[1] held against a non-academic analysis of the Bible. Pertinent hereto is the fact that the so-called 'scholars of Scripture' in the time of Jesus - the Scribes, Pharisees, priests and Sadducees - all but a very few got His coming and His truth completely wrong. They relied on their academic ability and scholarly technique to discern truth. And so they missed it. They missed the Messiah because they tried to find Him according to human understanding - human logic. They did not trust the Father to teach them (refer John 6:44-45). Instead, they filtered Scripture through human devised logic.

I make it clear that I do not hold a wrong attitude towards 'academics' per se (I am a scholar of Business and Management), but oppose a primary reliance on human effort to reach or understand the ways of God.

So, when Truth eventuated right in front of the very eyes of even those who were closest to Him they could not recognise it. In reality their mental and spiritual strongholds did not permit them to duely consider any other teaching than what they WERE WILLING to see. In truth, they only saw what they were willing to see, and that was not anything which did not make sense to them like a Messiah who was the son of a humble carpenter. So 'holy' were these people that real truth actually offended them [2] .

Image of Carpentry tools It was a matter of precluding anything which did not agree with their doctrine.

To the Jews at the time, and to all believers forever, Jesus exclaimed that those who genuinely WANTED TO find truth - meaning, those who were willing to cast off the prejudice of their mindsets - would find it[3]. And, only them.

And so, in general, so-called scholars and academics filter biblical teaching through the their own learned human standard. And then, when something is presented that does not line up with this standard or 'truth', they dismiss it on the back of their own 'technical analysis'. In other words, for them human logic supercedes spiritual essence, even if such essence originates from Truth in person - Jesus Christ. Can you see Humanism[4] in there?

Such is what we have today. If a non-academic farmer or fisherman were to proclaim profound truth the religious establishment inevitably would find fault with it.

The problem with this, of course, is that we tend to believe academics because they are presented as 'smart' or 'informed' or 'in the know'.

Image of Academic paper

The opposite is true also; if a 'learned' man (or woman) were to share their understanding of a passage of Scripture, or give a detailed exegesis or analysis of it, then the prejudiced mind would almost automatically afford truth to such teaching - not because it indeed is truth, but because it was taught by a "learned" person. And so, the Honours graduate knows more than the Bachelors graduate, and the Doctor of Theology more than the Master of Theology. Or so it is presumed in foolishness.

Now, academics may be good, but it should not be the starting point concerning spiritual matters. In fact, some of the most intellectually gifted teachers of Scripture have openly proclaimed that they could not afford to rely on their academic abilities to understand God's way. The Apostle Paul, on all accounts, was an excellent scholar and academic. A man noted by another Apostle (Peter) as teaching stuff that is "hard to understand"[5] . But guess what? Paul counted all his learnedness for "dung" (KJV) so that he may attain the truth about Christ. He cast it off because he knew it would hinder his practical knowledge of God.

Carnality gets well-meaning believers to rely on academic papers, scholarly commentaries and "exegesis" by experts to understand Scripture.

The word translated as "soul" in the Bible is the Greek word psychḗ. So "soul" is psychḗ. From this base word psychḗ (soul) is derived the word for that which is of the soul, or 'soulish'. It is the word psychikós. So psychikós is the word 'soulish' although the biblical English language does not have a word for 'soulish'. So, it is translated "natural". Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 2 - referring to the psychikós person' - accurately translated 'the soulish person' (a person who relies on their natural brain or grey matter to understand the truth of God) as opposed relying on the Holy Spirit to work through their own spirit to understand the things of God. Paul goes on to say, ' the "natural" person (the psychikós person, or the one who relies on his/her own mental ability) cannot understand the things of the Spirit':

13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man (psychikós) does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

It is important to know that even though a person may be a Christian, they may still operate from the area of the "natural man" instead of being led by the Spirit. Of course, all Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle James says as wisdom that is from the "natural" man[8]: This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic[9].

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

It follows that the Bible was 'written' by the Holy Spirit and that only the spiritual mind - the one who has (and is) being renewed by the Holy Spirit - has any chance of understanding it.

So, to pass the first barrier for understanding God's way in Scripture is to cast off prejudices as to where truth may come from and what it may sound like. And to accept that God's way is not always readily understood: The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (refer Deuteronomy 29:29).

The second barrier to overcome, and related to the first noted already, is to cast off presumption[6] . In this instance the presumption is on the part of the interpreter who presumes that the mind of God can be known or explained through human logic or literary technique. It suggests - like any psychologist would - that the mind of a person (in this instance God) may be known through asking questions (in this instance questions concerning His writings) and then analysing the answers to arrive at 'an accurate rendition of His intention with the passage'.

It is to 'bring God down to a human level'. To explain the full set of God's motivations and plans with any one passage of Scripture. To presume that all of God's purposes may be known and that such purposes are organised by the interpreter in the correct line of order.

Hermeneutics is an age old literary term to describe techniques devised for the interpretation of literature. It is defined in the following way: "Hermeneutics (/hɛrməˈnuːtɪks/ or /hɛrməˈnjuːtɪks/) is the philosophy and methodology of text interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts." (Wikipedia) It has origins in philosophy having been devised by, amongst others, people who were theologians, philosophers and scholars at the same time. We already know what the Bible says about the philosophy (or the logic) of men and how Christians are to avoid it[10].

"Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (November 21, 1768 – February 12, 1834) was a German theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar known for his attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant Christianity."

But, considering that the Holy Spirit himself says in 1 Corinthians 2 (referenced above) that His truths cannot be understood by human logic, is it any wonder that so many different versions of "truth" exist, only to confuse and misdirect the naïve and trusting believer?

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher.jpg

Notwithstanding, Hermeneutics has found prominence in religious works possibly as a means to settle doctrinal disputes and address questions unanswered by Scripture.

Literal Hermeneutics suggest that all passages in Scripture are to be understood literally, as in 'earth is God's footstool'. So, in Literal Hermeneutics, God practically has a footstool and He practically puts His feet on it. Cultural Hermeneutics, for instance, understands Scripture (read, 'filters Scripture') through an understanding of the prevailing culture of the author at the time when the passage of Scripture was written. Can you see how self-defeating Hermeneutics really is? If the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture and if no word was ever written without His approval, then what has the culture in the time of Abraham or Malachi or Solomon or Jude or Jesus or Paul anything to do with what God wanted ordinary people to understand thousands of years later?

Have a look at 1 Corinthians 11 where Cultural Hermeneutics suggests that this passage has no bearing on the headcovering nor the length of a believing male or female's hair today because Paul was simply reflecting on cultural practices 2,000 years ago when he wrote this passage. So, Cultural Hermeneutics says 'any reference by Paul for a man to cover his head when he prays is irrelevant to Christians today - it has no bearing on honouring or dishonouring God'.

Let's have a look at what is written:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ (a universal, timeless statement or instruction). 2 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you (a universal, timeless statement or instruction). 3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (a universal, timeless statement). 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.

In verses 1-3 of this chapter we learn that Jesus is the head of the man. This is a universal, timeless statement of Scriptural truth. Then, based on this universal, timeless statement ment of truth, Paul gives instruction regarding headcovering when praying or prophesying in the verses 4-7. Then, so as to confirm what he said in verses 1-3, Paul reiterates the fact that he is speaking in universal, timeless terms by stating another Scriptural truth which is derived from human history 4,000 years earlier. Verse 8: For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. Paul 'sandwich wraps' his instruction about headcovering with two statements of universal, timeless value to be observed by Christians through-out the ages. Though Paul based his instructions on truths from 4,000 years earlier, Cultural Hermeneutics insists that 2,000 years after Paul's instruction, they were no longer relevant to Christinas today. Clearly there is a gross inconsistency in the application of Scripture.

What is the significance? The significance is that Cultural Hermeneutics - the sensual logic of men - get well-meaning Christians to dishonour Jesus by not taking off their hats or baseball caps or other headcovering when they are praying or prophesying. Similarly, when women pray or prophesy without their heads covered they dishonour their head.

Cultural Hermeneutics is not of God.

It should be very clear that a man covering his head when he is praying or prophesying is dishonering Jesus - his head. Yet, human philosophy through literary technique in the form of Hermeneutics says otherwise. It remains in direct contradiction to what the Holy Spirit taught through the Apostle Paul.

Side issue: Let me state briefly that the pursuit of the biblical standard concerning authority and headcocvering does not unduly enghance or diminish the value of either male or female. Male and Female have exactly the same value before God. This question however, speaks about a difference in role. Inasmuch as there is a difference in role between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, there is a difference in role between male and female for Christians. And, I do not believe Christians should enforece their standards on secular society.

Hermeneutics offers a way to interpret what exactly God was trying to say when He inspired the sacred writings of Scripture. It offers us a way to truth amidst the many years that have passed since the writings were penned and the many changes in society and language since that time. As such, Hermeneutics has a noble purpose. But its nature is not noble at all. Hermeneutics, by its very nature, PRESUMES to understand the mind of God. It seems an innocent - even humble - presumption. But surely it is not godly at all.

Why then is it that people try to interpret Scripture through academic exegis or literary technique (Hermeneutics)? Because they are not spiritually minded as the Spirit requires. What is Hermeneutics image

 

If God wanted Scripture to have been interpreted through literary technique, He would not have taught us - in Scripture - that His Spirit is to be our teacher and our guide[7] . You see, Hermeneutics, by its very nature, serves to supplant the Holy Spirit.

The less you rely on the Holy Spirit for Scriptural interpretation the more you have to rely on Hermeneutics. The more you rely on the Holy Spirit the less you need Hermeneutics. It is going to be one of the two - Hermeneutics or the Holy Spirit?

Surely we should know that the Holy Spirit knew what He was talking about 2,000 years ago when Paul penned 'only the spiritual mind can understand the things of the Spirit - the mind that relies on grey matter will remain clueless' (1 Corinthians 2, paraphrase).

 

Footnotes:

[1] 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. (2 Corinthians 10) [back]

[2] 54 When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses,[h] Simon, and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” 57 So they were offended at Him. (Matthew 13) [back]

[3] 11 “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (Matthew 11) [back]

[4] Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over acceptance of dogma or superstition. The meaning of the term humanism has fluctuated according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it.[1] Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of human freedom and progress. In modern times, humanist movements are typically aligned with secularism, and today humanism typically refers to a non-theistic life stance centred on human agency and looking to science rather than revelation from a supernatural source to understand the world. (Wikipedia) [back]

[5] 14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. (2 Peter 3) [back]

[6] Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 91:13) [back]

[7] 27 But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will[a] abide in Him. (1 John 2:27) [back]

[8] 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Free from Indwelling Sin 8 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans7:21-8:2). We see that our decisions may be swayed by either the "inward man" of the spirit (which, accordingly, is taught by the Spirit) our by the flesh, which is "earthly, sensual, demonic" (see text below). [back]

[9] 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:15) [back]

[10] Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8) [back]

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Time spent reading the Bible and meditating on it is likely better time spent than reading any other thing, including this website.

If you do read what is written here, please consult the Bible and test what is written. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom. Keep that which is good and reject that which is not from God.

Should you come to a different understanding than I please let me know - perhaps I can learn from you.

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