Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hermeneutics: From People to Person

As I mentioned before, the discussion of hermeneutics can often get clouded by systems, camps and institutions. Discussions can easily spiral from "How should we understand this text?" to "What is consistent with each group's position?"

This becomes equally confusing, for within each camp, institution or school, there run a number of different paths. As we try to clear up this mess, we often begin appealing to different scholars. We attempt to narrow down our understanding or disciplines by finding a person we most commonly try to model. Such divisions can have a very negative effect on the church and the cause of Christ.

However, every man who is called to Christ is also called into the Body of Christ. Therefore, he is not an island--left to determine his own personal meaning or simply listen for the voice within. Every man (whether pastor or not) should have teachers, mentors and preachers who have influenced them.

So, the question becomes, who should ultimately shape our hermeneutics?

There are countless people who have the opportunity to help shape the way we read Scripture. Through their teaching, ministry or simple example, they speak volumes to us and greatly impact our life. Consciously or not, these people have helped shape us and therefore shape the way we read the Word. However, when you try to communicate that hermeneutic to someone else, you discover something. Can I appeal to any authority?

You can reference a man's education and degrees. However, many esteemed theological institutions are filled with skeptics and heretics. Education does not guarantee they are right. You can appeal to their moral character. However, we all battle against the flesh (therefore, my sin nature diminishes that authority) and even "apparent external righteousness" isn't necessarily an indicator (for you can find many in cults who have great external morality to them). You cannot even appeal to changes made in your own life, for this simply is pragmatism and leaves the listener the option to appeal to their own changes and results.

However, if you could say you received your hermeneutic from a Perfect All-Knowing Teacher, that would carry some authority, right? Especially if He is telling you how to read it because He wrote it!

We certainly can discuss pastors, teachers, educators and faithful men who have greatly influenced our learning and whom we admire. That can be a positive, encouraging and God honoring endeavor. However, before we discuss all the people who have influenced our hermeneutic, we better first make sure we go to the person of Christ and understand He has all authority to tell us how to read our Bible.

"And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the {one and} only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"--John 5:37-47

In this brief exchange, Jesus makes a couple things crystal clear:
    The Bible is about Him.
Within this short text, Jesus states some obvious things. He has testified of Me (v37). This is not only a reference to John the Baptist (v 32-36) but that all the prophets have testified of Him. It is these [the Scriptures] that testify about Me (v39). Jesus states that the Word of God--which these men were reading--testifies of Jesus. God is choosing to glorify His Son through the written Word. If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me (v46). Specifically, Jesus is saying that Genesis-Deuteronomy (and sections of Psalms) testify of Jesus.
    These men reject Christ in the Scriptures for spiritual, not educational reasons.
While Jesus has no problem saying the Scriptures are about Him, He explains the resistance to this view is not academic. The problem goes beyond their rabbinic school or mentor. The problem is their heart. They do not have His Word abiding in them (v38). This is a steep charge, for many of these men would have the Pentateuch memorized, let alone the rest of the Old Testament. Jesus makes this deduction because they do not believe Him whom He sent (v38). These men clearly don't recognize God's Word when they see it, for He is standing right in front of them and they choose not to believe Him. They are unwilling to come to Him (v40). This is not just an issue of difficult teaching or a new paradigm. This is an issue of the will. Why wouldn't they want to come to Jesus? You do not have the love of God within yourselves (v42). These men may search the Scriptures, but it is not out of a deep love for God, but some other motive. They reject Jesus because they do not really love God. But what do they love? You receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the {one and} only God (v44). They prefer their teaching system, one in which people will "ooh and ah" their findings and give them reverence and respect. They study and teach for the sake of their own fame, not God's. And while they have set their hope in Moses, they do not believe his writings (vv45 & 47). Jesus says their hermeneutic is so flawed that they don't actually believe the words they are reading. Their hermeneutic forces them to distort the Word so badly that they actually deny what Moses said.

These results are not the speculation of a school or camp. This is not merely a way to read your Bible. When the King of Kings and Lord of Lords tells you how to read the Word (His Word) we should take notice.

Any discussion of hermeneutics must start at this point. Does the person see that all of the Old Testament is written to testify of Christ? And if you run into a person who denies the premise, it doesn't matter what scholar, church growth expert or theological institution has said otherwise, a rejection of Christ in all of the Old Testament is a rejection of the original intent of the text, as well as a rejection of the Author.

How we read the Bible is first and foremost and issue of submission. Are we willing to read it the way Jesus says we should?

[And if you're asking, But how do we know this is what He meant. Aren't you allowing one dialogue to determine the whole of Scripture? Do we have any way of knowing this is what Jesus had in mind?, then please patiently wait as I attempt to unfold that this is not the hermeneutic of one obscure text.]