What is it and why do we use it?
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Through the course of writing my various commentaries on the Bible, I have been accused by more than one person of not adhering to various established disciplines while interpreting Biblical scripture. The concern of these well meaning folks is that I am interpreting in error and thus am giving an erroneous explanation of what is going on in the various Biblical accounts I’ve thus far shared. I can certainly sympathize with their concerns; I have found myself more than a little perplexed from time to time from interpretations given by noted, lettered Biblical scholars. The list of these various interpretations in which these established disciplines were utilized is quite long from Dispensationalism to Kingdom Theology. I will not go too deeply into these two schools of thought except to say they stand in complete and absolute opposition to one another, yet the conclusions of each were reached utilizing these established Biblical disciplines I am accused of NOT using myself.
The foremost of these disciplines is called Hermeneutics. This is word which sounds far more intimidating than it really is. This from Wikipedia for expediency’s sake:
Hermeneutics /hɜrməˈnjuːtɪks/ is the theory of text interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts. The terms "hermeneutics" and "exegesis" are sometimes used interchangeably. Hermeneutics is a wider discipline that includes written, verbal, and nonverbal communication. Exegesis focuses primarily upon texts. Hermeneutic, as a singular noun, refers to a single particular method or strand of interpretation (see, in contrast, double hermeneutic). The understanding of any written text requires hermeneutics.
Hermeneutics is derived from the Greek word ἑρμηνεύω (hermeneuō, 'translate' or 'interpret'). It was introduced into philosophy mainly through the title of Aristotle's work On Interpretation, commonly referred to by its Latin title De Interpretatione. It is one of the earliest (c. 360 B.C.) extant philosophical works in the Western tradition to deal with the relationship between language and logic in a comprehensive, explicit, and formal way.
The early usage of "hermeneutics" places it within the boundaries of the sacred. A divine message must be received with implicit uncertainty regarding its truth. This ambiguity is an irrationality; it is a sort of madness that is inflicted upon the receiver of the message. Only one who possesses a rational method of interpretation (i.e., a hermeneutic) could determine the truth or falsity of the message.
Here is a clearer understanding of the discipline by Daniel Little, University of Michigan:
There have been two very different approaches to social explanation since the nineteenth century, and they differ most fundamentally over a distinction between explanation and understanding or cause and meaning (von Wright 1971). This distinction divides over two ways of understanding a why question when it comes to social events. “Why did it happen?” may mean, “What caused it to happen?”; or it may mean, “Why did the agents act in such a way to bring it about?”.
The hermeneutic approach holds that the most basic fact of social life is the meaning of an action. Social life is constituted by social actions, and actions are meaningful to the actors and to the other social participants. Moreover, subsequent actions are oriented towards the meanings of prior actions; so understanding the later action requires that we have an interpretation of the meanings that various participants assign to their own actions and those of others. So the social sciences (or the human sciences) need to be hermeneutic: researchers need to devote their attention to the interpretation of the meanings of social actions. (Central contributors to this tradition include (Dilthey 1989), (Weber 1949), (Ricoeur 1976), and (Gadamer 1977). See (Sherratt 2006) for a very good treatment of hermeneutic philosophy of social science.)
Hermeneutics is named for the Greek god, Hermes, son of Zeus. Hermes is a god of transitions and boundaries. He is quick and cunning, and moved freely between the worlds of the mortal and divine, as emissary and messenger of the gods, intercessor between mortals and the divine, and conductor of souls into the afterlife. Given the subject matter of Judeo-Christian scriptures, utilizing the discipline named for a mythological Greek god set forth by a Greek Philosopher (Aristotle) is rather curious. I’ll circle back to that later.
While the discipline of Hermeneutics associated with philosophy dates to approximately the time of Aristotle (360 BC), Biblical Hermeneutics came about much later and initially broke into two separate camps: Jewish interpretation and Christian interpretation. While Christians embraced the Old Testament scriptures as well, these scriptures experienced quite a bit over overlap with their Jewish brethren. However given the starkly different beliefs of the two camps, the interpretations were vastly different. Clearly the Jews did not regard Christ as the Messiah, thus any interpretations of scripture using Talmudical Hermeneutics (מידות שהתורה נדרשת בהן ) painted quite a different picture.
Even within Christianity, the application of Hermeneutics has had an uneven history with respect to adhering to strict disciplines. Grammar and exegesis utilized as a point of proof seems to take a back seat to presupposition and there is the main problem with the application of Hermeneutics to faith. People of different faiths believe different things. How sincere will one be to follow the evidence provided by a strict application of Hermeneutics if it begins to run counter their belief? In truth, not too many. Thus a sort of “safety net” is first put into place; parameters which will ensure that the evidence leads to only one conclusion. This is the presupposition.
In Catholicism, this presupposition (coupled with the necessities dictated by Constantine the Great) led to the Apostle Peter being regarded as the first Pope. Because of misapplied Hermeneutical interpretation, when Jesus said to Peter, “…and on this rock, I will build My church...” The Ecumenical Councils found justification in imposing an earthly hierarchal structure, placing layers between man and God. The whole scripture passage doesn’t appear to me to impart that message, but I don’t have an agenda to fill as did Constantine the Great.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
- Matthew 16:13-19
Biblical interpretation under the direction of Constantine created a meaning not readily apparent to the Spirit-filled Christian reading that passage. Could it be interpreted to mean what Constantine decided it had to mean? That certainly seems to be the case as the 1.2 Billion Catholics throughout the world according to census figures compiled by the Vatican in 2013 can attest. But to a good majority of Protestants today, that Hermeneutical derived conclusion remains in error; Protestants do not see Christ naming Peter to be the specific head or director of the church on earth.
I will slightly digress here to allow my opinion on the matter. What I personally see in this passage is Christ speaking about believers in a general and Peter’s belief in Him as a specific example of faith. It was upon that rock of faith Christ would build his church. How radically different the two meaning are. The true meaning was completely lost due to an agenda and a presupposition. The truth was buried for approximately twelve hundred years, and to approximately 1/7th of the world’s population, it still is.
This is the essential problem with the modern application of Hermeneutics to the Bible. Once again I realize that I am opening up myself to a hail of criticism for having the temerity, the unmitigated gall, the unbridled hubris to attack such a tried and true discipline. But I stand by my claim; it is a poor discipline to be applied to divinely inspired works and I will give you my reasons as to the why by the end of this commentary. In the meantime, I am going to do my utmost to lay out my argument, begging the reader’s indulgence.
As I have already pointed out in just two areas of belief above, these are the essential reasons for the uneven history of the application of Hermeneutics to the Bible. In matters Biblical, it appears prior to implementing the discipline, one MUST have an idea of where they desire to go; a presupposition. Once the path has been constructed, the Hermeneutical discipline is applied to present the “proper” interpretation and give such validity. If one believes Christ wanted the Apostle Peter to be the Pope, one will utilize the proper Hermeneutic interpretation to arrive at that conclusion. If one does not believe that Christ intended for the Apostle Peter to be the first Pope, the same utilization of Hermeneutic discipline is applied. But is this how God wanted us to learn? Ah… and there is the rub.
Entering into the study of Hermeneutics, I would like the reader to consider this small example of the problems inherent with application of a presupposition. Consider this passage from Luke:
And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
- Luke 22:19
In Catholicism, this passage has been interpreted into the doctrine of Transubstantiation. This means that at the time of the Eucharist, the bread and the wine literally become the fleshly body and the blood of Jesus Christ. This was a doctrine first conceptualized in the 11th Century by Hildebert de Lavardin, Archbishop of Tours. It was held up as legitimate by the Council of Trent in 1551, being called, “…that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood – the species only of the bread and wine remaining – which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation"
Catholicism, interprets the scriptures such as the one from Luke above along with the Eucharistic discourse given by Christ in John 6, and in 1st Corinthians 10-11, where Paul equates the body and blood of Jesus with the "bread" and "cup of benediction" used in the Eucharist. Suffice to say that Protestants did not arrive at the same conclusion as did the Catholics on this matter, despite the standard rubric utilized by both parties to ferret out error. Why would this be? My answer comprises the remainder of this commentary.
The Bible as a unified compiled work did not come into being until Jerome’s translation of the Latin Vulgate circa 382 AD. Under the direction of Pope Damasus I, Jerome was commissioned to transcribe the Greek Septuagint and make revisions to the Vetus Latina (old Latin translations) of the four Gospels from the best of the old Greek texts they had available. Though it wasn’t his intent to make a new version of the Bible, the very nature of the work and the constant revisions necessary are reflected in voluminous correspondence. Latin was the official language of Rome, especially among the schooled and nobility, thus the Vulgate was transcribed and we had our first sanctioned codex of scripture—the Bible.
How exactly was Hermeneutical discipline applied to these works prior to this time? How exactly was Hermeneutical discipline applied to the transcription under Jerome’s care? What of the many epistles which may have been written, circulated about the Empire, but were lost prior to compiling any of the works which make up the New Testament? As an example, between 1st and 2nd Corinthians, it is quite clear the Apostle Paul received a letter from the Corinthian Church. 2nd Corinthians is an answer to their questions, but is it reasonable to believe that the letter written to Paul would have been just as important as a part of scripture? Would those early Christians not have been just as divinely inspired to write what they did if Paul felt compelled to answer them?
Take for example this passage from the Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than Christ.” - Colossians 2:8(emphasis mine)
In theology, there are three classical interpretations for what it is Paul was saying here. I wish for the reader to pause for a moment and reflect on what I just imparted to you: There are three classical interpretations rather than one. Ruminate upon that while I continue. I will cover the three in brief here as they are covered in greater detail elsewhere.
(I have provided a link to one source here: http://www.xenos.org/essays/stoich.htm )
· The first view is that Paul is talking about the Old Testament Law.
· The Second is that Paul is referring to Demonic spirits.
· The third is that Paul is talking about religious principle, primarily those which existed before Christ. It would appear there is some overlap between the first and the third.
There are a host of theologians over the course of centuries who have all fallen into different groups regarding this point Paul was trying to make. So what is the truth? It would seem that based upon the various adherents of any one particular belief, the truth is what you agree with. Hermeneutical discipline was merely a tool to utilize in order to buttress the given argument.
Obviously I have my own opinion which I have given in earlier commentaries. I arrived at my conclusions through years of study and prayerful contemplation. Paul makes much of the fact throughout his letters that our realm is ruled by unseen Powers and Authorities. Since Christ came to this realm to redeem us back to Himself, it would appear as though we were under the rule of someone or something else.
The author of Hebrews makes an interesting claim with respect to Christ and the Rulers and Authorities:
It is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. – Hebrews 2:5 (emphasis mine)
Clearly the author of Hebrews is stating that angels—spiritual entities—have no place or rule in the world to come, implying that they already posses such rule here and now. In 1st Corinthians, Paul seems to reiterate this thought:
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then when He comes, those who belong to Him. Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, Authority and Power.
- 1st Corinthians 15:22-24 (emphasis mine)
The Greek usage of the word “Dominion” or “Kingdom” here is Basileia (βασιλεία). Strongs defines this word as:
royal power, kingship, dominion, rule;
not to be confused with an actual kingdom, but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom;
of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah;
of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah's kingdom; a kingdom, the territory subject to the rule of a king used in the N.T. to refer to the reign of the Messiah
- Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance #932 (emphasis mine)
The implication is clear. Paul regarded his world post Christ’s ascension as still being under the rule of spiritual entities of vast power. This condition would persist until the end whereupon Christ would remove these spiritual entities from power. Given the wealth of evidence just in Paul’s own writing, why would any believe Paul was merely talking about the strictures of the Old Testament Law? The answer, of course, is presupposition. If one would faint away at the thought of there being spiritual entities of vast power who are the true rulers of this realm, then one will “read” the evidence in such a way as to make such entities disappear. This type of parsing of scripture using Hermeneutics is akin to an ostrich sticking its head in a hole in the ground in an attempt to hide.
Hermeneutics was first applied to philosophy. While I will admit that I may be on somewhat shaky ground here, I will state that human philosophy as such is a singularly human construct. It does not mean that a philosophy is absent any truth; I find quite the contrary. But one usually will not assert that philosophy is a product of divine inspiration. (I did say I was on shaky ground, didn’t I?) So what is divine inspiration? Why would I separate such works from that of philosophy? Let me endeavor to explain the difference—at least to my mind.
This from Wikipedia for expediency’s sake:
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. In more casual speech, by extension, "philosophy" can refer to "the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group".
The word "philosophy" comes from the Ancient Greek φιλοσοφία (philosophia), which literally means "love of wisdom". The introduction of the terms "philosopher" and "philosophy" has been ascribed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.
I am going to state clearly that when one is dealing with Spiritual matters, human logic and reason may sometimes not apply. (cue the groans from all corners) What do I mean by that? Actually it is quite simple. As a point of human logic and reason, Jesus Christ should not exist. How can one be God AND a man? How can an individual exist in eternity AND exist simultaneously in a given, finite place in space and time? From the laws we understand in our temporal realm, that would seem to be an impossibility. Human logic and reason presupposes a certain “end game” if you will; it presupposes that certain truths remain absolute. Hermeneutics where applied to philosophy would follow that end.
But how does that same discipline apply to writing which doesn’t rely on human logic and reason? How can one apply human logic to Christ walking on water? The basic laws of physics would negate His being able to walk on water. The polarization of the molecules of water create surface tension—a type of skin—which is strong enough to allow very light object to remain on its surface. (a leaf, small insects, et al) The weight of a fully grown man, however, would far exceed this molecular bond and he would fall through. We all know this as a matter of fact, so logic (which presupposes this outcome) dictates.
I have outlined in an earlier commentary my thoughts on scripture. I regard them as divinely inspired, but they are not the inerrant word of God. (That commentary can be found here:
It was more than twenty years after Christ’s ascension that we can date the first of the known works which make up the New Testament, that being Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica circa 52 AD. While it is quite possible that there were other letters sent back and forth during these early years of the infant church, without evidence to support that assertion, there is no way to know. But whether there was the written word or not, is not the point. For the majority of the existence of the Hebrew people from Noah on (to be fair, from Adam and Eve on), there was no written word to chronicle these people and God’s admonitions to them. Such did not occur until approximately 1485 BC with Moses. If one opts to place the birth of our earth and people at approximately six thousand years that would me that approximately half that period we were without any written record; there was nothing to hold up to critical analysis.
The intent of Christ was not that we necessarily compile a written word; the intent of Christ was that we form interpersonal relationships. These relationships were to be centered on the Truth of Jesus Christ. As we enter into this relationship with Christ and by extension other Christians, we are to widen that circle to include those who don’t yet share in that relationship. This was the Church which Christ told Peter He would build—on that Rock of Faith. At this time in history, there was no critical analysis of the letters which were being written, no critical analysis of the Gospels which had been penned. These were people in a close, Christ-centered relationship which wrote what they knew as a result of that Christ-centered relationship. Their works were the result of “Divine Inspiration,” an outgrowth of that Christ-centered relationship. How does one decide on a matrix which will quantify the results of these inspired works? Certainly it would seem that employing a man-made construct would be the absolutely wrong thing to so. Let me explain:
In the book of Acts, we see a situation whereupon the Bereans (a people who lived in what is now known as Veria in Greek Macedonia, northern Greece) were preached to about Christ by the Apostle Paul and Silas. Upon hearing their words, the Bereans searched through the Hebrew Scriptures to make certain that what they were being told was truth. As Paul and Silas were preaching Christ, they utilized a common thread with the Hebrew Scriptures to point out His validity within them. This did not sit well with the Jews who were in Thessalonica. That Jews in Berea were being converted based upon the evidence in the Hebrew Scriptures was simply too much to bear. As far as they were concerned, the Hebrew Scriptures were NOT to be used to validate Christ. Period.
While this stirred some discord in Berea, Paul was sent to Athens where he continued preaching. There he ran into philosophers and the stoics. Upon hearing what he was saying, they became perplexed. Paul was alarmed at the plethora of idols all about the Greek city and was advancing the idea that there was only one God and He presented Himself in the personage of the Christ. To the Athenians, this was interesting enough for them. However when Paul got to the resurrection, most of them begged off. To their logic and reasoning—their Hermeneutic discipline negated any validity of a man dying, being buried for three days and then coming back to life. Hermeneutical discipline failed to buttress the validity of the Christ by the very people who pioneered the Hermeneutic discipline.
So the Jews who had their own method for interpreting the scriptures failed to agree with Paul on the nature of the Christ. Likewise the Greek Philosophers who spent a great deal of their time ruminating of various philosophical disciplines failed to agree with Paul on the nature of the Christ. Would not an unbiased view of the account offer up only one true interpretation regardless the people doing the interpretation? “But that is not fair!” one may say. “People are free to believe or disbelieve. They are free to ignore the evidence presented before them.” True enough, but Paul handed them no Hermeneutical argument as such; Paul simply told them what happened as he was taught it. As any good Bible student is aware, Paul was taught by the risen Christ.
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.
- 1st Corinthians 2:6-8 (emphasis mine)
And that brings me to my next point. Paul and his conversion, his teaching via the Spirit is really the model for all Christians. We can learn the truth the EXACT same way Paul learned the truth. I would be so bold—and confident to say that there have been people on this earth who have lived in the years since Paul who have learned from Christ in the exact same way. These are people who had no formal training or schooling; they were ignorant of such words as “Exegesis” or “Hermeneutics.” Yet they were given information directly by God Almighty. These were people who because they were not puffed up with knowledge gleaned from the hallowed halls of academia God found open and willing. These were people who could hear the truth because they were not too busy listening for the applause of man.
When modern teachers of theology dismiss their Christian brethren so quickly for revelations because they have not been properly schooled, what exactly are they saying about the early church fathers? What are they saying about Christ? Clearly the imposition of these restrictions put in place by these self-anointed “gatekeepers of the truth,” would keep even the Christ from being eligible to preach on His life.
Geerhardus Vos (1862 – 1948) was a Dutch Reformed pastor and a Calvinist. He was educated at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids Michigan and then Princeton Theological Seminary. He received his doctorate in Arabic Studies from the Philosophy Faculty of Strassburg University in 1888. “He was probably the best exegete Princeton ever had,” Benjamin B. Warfield once told Louis Berkhof. Abraham Kuyper was so taken with his academic acumen that Kuyper offered him the chair of Old Testament studies at the Free University of Amsterdam when he was only twenty-four years old. J. Gresham Machen commented that if he knew as much as he did, he would be writing all the time. Cornelius Van Til considered him the most erudite man he had ever known.
By all accounts, Vos was most comfortable studying and teaching, avoiding attention as a result of the response to his many works. His area of expertise was eschatological studies. Briefly, eschatology is the study of “end things,” in this case, the end of this present realm. For all his accolades and education, Vos had a difficult time looking at the broader picture and instead focused on marrying the God of the Old Testament with that of Jesus Christ. This isn’t to dismiss Vos’ work; quite the contrary. But it is to illustrate that despite his advanced education and accessibility to the best information of his day, Vos remained mired in tradition which severely clouded his studies. His Hermeneutical conclusions always supported his beliefs rather than the evidence.
I firmly believe Vos was a man of God and followed the leading of his heart. I am also not above seeing that God uses people and circumstances which best fit the age they exist in. It could well be said that Geerhardus Vos did just as God wanted him to do to properly answer the questions put before those within his particular sphere of influence. Vos had to fight back against the onslaught of very Liberal theologians who, goaded by Darwinian logic, sought to diminish Christ and His works, distilling everything down to a moral equation. Despite Vos’ stilted view, his goal was to elevate Christ and keep people aware. Perhaps a gentler hand in that chaotic era wouldn’t have sufficed.
Vos was very firmly attached the idea that human beings were a sinful creation, destined to hell lest they come to know Christ and repent of their evil ways. Liberal theologians of his era didn’t care for such an outcome, but had no more understanding of scripture than did Vos. Like the atheists of today, they simple found it more expedient to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and reject God’s deity altogether.
The problem as I have already pointed out in my commentary on the “5 Points of Calvinism,” is that such a stance, no matter how well intentioned, relegates the majority of humanity - since the very foundations of the earth were laid - to a fiery hell. Such is not of God and will only be supported by Hermeneutics if one enters into the study with a presupposition. (The Atheist argument has also been addressed in my commentary, “Do Atheists Have A Point?”)
With all due respect to Geerhardus Vos—and others who have dedicated their lives to academic study of God whether it be to prove or disprove, I would say that not stepping back to analyze God from the perspective of God has taken them off the path of truth. God is not human. To anthropomorphize God in any way outside of the Christ is to build upon a flawed premise which will lead to a flawed conclusion. As Christians, we’re called to a very simple life. We are to emulate Christ in all we do. We are to allow others not already in a relationship with Christ to be able to see Christ in our actions. If we are not doing that, it really does not matter how many degrees or letters one has after his name. Paul pointed this out in 1st Corinthians 13:1:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Theologians, teachers, pastors and other learned individuals know where to find the verse in the Bible by heart, but they NEVER think it applies to them. They have placed themselves above such humility because God has already validated them by virtue of their positions, degrees and letters. Well then call me Nathan, because I’ve got news for such people.
In my more than half-century of life, I have seen enough in religious circles to know one thing with absolute certainty: Not a one of these lettered theologians knows the actual details of what went down during Christ’s ministry, or the time of the formation of the early church. This is where secular history is extraordinarily valuable. It is one of the main reasons I immerse myself so much in the history of the entire world, and not just what was recorded in the Biblical texts. It isn’t that I don’t regard these texts as legitimate, but it is that they were usually written to a select group of people for a specific purpose. Biblical Hermeneutics dismisses all of this because prior to the execution of a particular study, the predetermined objective is already decided upon. The discipline of Hermeneutics is merely misapplied to buttress the predetermined objective. This will be argued heatedly by my detractors, but consider the multitude of religious thought just within Protestant denominations. There are quite a few. Some major ones raise to the top like cream, but there are lesser ones as well.
Now consider that the seminaries which school those pastors and Doctors of Theology all have classrooms and teach their version of Hermeneutical disciplines. Employing Hermeneutics, one group will stake their life on a doctrine called “The Rapture.” Employing Hermeneutics, another group will stake their life on a doctrine which asserts that it is the responsibility of Christians today to “cleanse the earth” so that Christ can return: Dominion Theology. When one examines these two theologies, one will quickly see that they stand in direct opposition to one another. The former doctrine holds to a view that at a certain point, Christ will whisk His children off this planet so they will avoid the calamity He is about to visit upon the earth. The latter doctrine holds to a view that in order for Christ to return, this present earth must be cleansed of all evil. Can you imagine the objective of this particular movement? That which is not considered of God, must be excised so Christ can return.
Let me reiterate: Two different conclusions reached using the same Biblical scriptures and the same Hermeneutical discipline. How is this possible? The answer is one I have already given. The objective of each was already laid out and both the scriptures and the discipline were merely tools of validation.
So what was missing that this could happen to cause these two diametrically opposed conclusions? First, be aware that it is not just these two views, but a host of others which lie in between. What is missing is the Spirit. I know that sounds far too simple, but that is the answer. It is the ONLY answer. Man-made constructs act to nullify the ability of the Spirit to work in our hearts and our minds. When we utilize these various disciplines in place of the Spirit, we are telling God that we know how to get closer to Him better than He does.
For Peter and John to confront the “Doctorates of Theology” of their day with the teachings they’d received from the Spirit took tremendous faith. But in Acts 4:8, it doesn’t say, “Then Peter, filled with the knowledge of years of study and verifiable Hermeneutical harmony of the scriptures…” Instead Acts 4:8 begins, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit said to them…” The religious leaders were astounded. Despite what they may have thought about their own pedigrees, it was clear they were standing before two humble men—who just happened to know a great deal more about the subject matter then they did. The reason goes back to that explanation in verse 8; “Filled with the Holy Spirit.”
In my commentaries I buck quite a bit of tradition. I don’t necessarily like having to point out how much we’ve allowed the works of man to seep into and replace what should be solely the abode of God, but someone has to. In my younger days, I lamented not having had the opportunity to go to seminary and learn. I dearly desired to study with others and bounce concepts off of learned scholars, but my life’s path was to take me elsewhere. Of course I never lost my curiosity and while I still do not understand God to the degree that I would like, I do try to trust Him. When God tells us that He will impart His wisdom to us through His Spirit, when He tells us to seek Him first, and then all the rest will be added to us, then I have to believe Him.
Thus in my various studies, I have seen many good people who have suffered terribly because they have done exactly what I am endeavoring to do now. I don’t regard myself a modern-day martyr and let me be perfectly clear: I do not covet such a position. However I realize there is cause and effect. Both Peter and John were threatened by the “Doctorates of Theology” in their day as recounted in Acts. These "learned theologians" were men who simply could not abide these bedraggled Christian upstarts who had no formal schooling coming in and telling them they were wrong. To concede such would have been bad for their business. To be certain, business for those religious leaders—just as it is for those in the business of religion today—was pretty good. Unfortunately for the “Doctorates,” too many of the “simpletons” (read Christ-believing people) in the crowd were in agreement with Peter and John and what they had preached. It forced the religious leaders to begrudgingly back down after issuing a few more threats.
Academia has its place and I am well aware of that. However just like with how we as Christians have remade the image of the church into that of an angelic hierarchy, we have also done the same with our institutions of higher learning. We do not teach our seminary students truth; we indoctrinate them and call it truth. After careful examination, it would seem that “truth” is a relative term. Every seminary teaches their version of “truth” and their version only. Every seminary uses the same tools, but only to buttress their version of the truth. When the sought objective is already decided upon, of what use are the tools? If one were to have given Michelangelo a block of marble already sculpted into a figure, he would have little use for the chisel and sanding cloth. Such tools may have made it look as though he did something, but he’ll know that he did not.
Christ desires a relationship with us. He loves us and wants our lives to be lived for the brief period of time we are on this planet with purpose. As a people, we are more content when we have purpose. Our purpose as Christians is to usher as many of our fellow human beings into the same love relationship with Christ we experience. We are to revel with them in their victories and cry with them in their sorrows. We are to comfort them and support them through the good and bad times in their walk—and they’re to do the same for us. This is the truth which has been lost by the influence of the teaching of angels which Paul warned us about.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the Gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
I want you to know, brothers that the Gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
- Galatians 1:6-12
Need I be the one to point out by virtue of that dialogue Paul would be invalidated as a leader or teacher in the modern church? The mere fact he asserts the claim that he learned from no man is enough right there. What is a seminary if not one man teaching another? Does the Spirit figure in this instruction? I would dearly like to believe so, and despite my seeming issues against orthodox methodology, I know the Spirit can and does still work. But like the Pharisees of old, their resistance blunts the effect.
There is no way I could make it through seminary today. It is not that I couldn’t write the type of papers they want to see and pass their exams; rather it is that like Paul, I would not be doing so to please man, but to please God. In order to do that, I would have to present something other than what is taught in seminary. God has placed these thoughts and observations upon my heart. I realize this will put me at odds with those who hold to orthodox views; they have much to protect. To cede the fact that what they may have learned is in error takes such people out of the pulpit and places them in the pews. Such is a little like always having had the benefit of flying first class and then facing the prospect of having to ride coach; you just cannot go back.
Let me be clear about something while we’re on that subject. I have no desire to be anything other than what I am: a witness for Christ. The thought of leading a huge church or organization is an anathema to me. I realize that this is the sole motivating goal for a great many of our religious leaders today, but such is not of Christ. While I’ve got the time, I will endeavor to impart these thoughts to any who bother to read them. I am not desirous of tearing down the citadels of religion just to take over and build my own; I desire to see such fall away to be replaced by Christ. I know that this is mostly wishful thinking. Human beings simply aren’t that humble. Few are the men and women I’ve come across who have looked at the edifice they’ve built and walked away from it because they recognized the barrier it truly proved to be between them, their congregation and Christ. (To be fair, I have known a few who did do this.)
Do I believe that Hermeneutics can be used as an accurate tool to help to understand scripture? I believe that understanding the historical context, the proper definition and usage of the word and its attendant meaning within the narrative context, understanding the culture of the people who wrote it and to whom it was intended is vitally important. I have used such discernment when putting together my own commentaries. What I do not regard as useful is the application of such tools to prove a presupposition. This, I believe, I have proven occurs far too often within theological academia by virtue of the examples I have presented. The reader will have to ultimately decide whether my opinion has merit or not. To the students presently in academia, I would suggest pointing out the conflicts of the various doctrines to your instructors. Ask why such exists if all are applying Hermeneutics without a presupposition?
This brings me to my next point and really the most important one on this particular subject: The power of the Spirit. It is my firm belief that the best “Hermeneutical” discipline one can employ in attempting to understand scripture is the Spirit of the Living God. We were given the power of the Spirit, but the simple truth is we don’t really believe in the power of the Spirit. It is a given we don’t trust our fellow Christians to properly utilize the power of the Spirit; that is just too much spiritual freedom. “Someone has to keep a lid on things!” One can argue to the contrary, but the mere fact we continually use man-made concepts to understand that which Christ said He freely would give us proves the truth of my assertion.
The proof of a Christian is in their fruits and those fruits are easily manifest to those who already possess them. Preach Christ crucified and now risen; preach His love for all mankind, preach the relationship He so desperately wants and I’m pretty certain you’ll find very little need for Hermeneutical discipline. Scripture only gives a faint verification of what is already known in the heart through the Spirit.
I would urge those who have taken issue with my commentary to read this essay by Dr. Donald G. Bloesch Ph.D. While I do not agree with all he concludes, I was frankly well pleased by the fact that I had found his essay after I had completed my own and realized he had said many of the same things and raised similar issues. His essay can be found here: