This series of 26 lessons was developed for classroom presentation from the book by David Miller that should be required reading for every preacher, elder, and Bible school teacher in the Lord’s church: “Piloting The Strait”. This book is available from a variety of bookstores, Sain Publications at www.sainpublicans.com as well as from David Miller at www.apologeticspress.org.
CHANGES IN THE CHURCH
MECHANISM FOR CHANGE - HERMENEUTICS
THE NEW HERMENEUTIC - “ATOMISTIC INTERPRETATION”,
PRESUPPOSITIONS AND CULTURAL CONDITIONING
II Timothy 3:16-17 “ALL SCRIPTURE is GIVEN BY INSPIRATION OF GOD, AND is PROFITABLE FOR DOCTRINE, FOR REPROOF, FOR CORRECTION, FOR INSTRUCTION IN RIGHTEOUSNESS: THAT THE MAN OF GOD MAY BE PERFECT, THOROUGHLY FURNISHED UNTO ALL GOOD WORKS.”
II Peter 1:20-21 “KNOWING THIS FIRST, THAT NO PROPHECY OF THE SCRIPTURE IS IF ANY PRIVATE INTERPRETATION. FOR THE PROPHECY CAME NOT IN OLD TIME BY THE WILL OF MAN: BUT HOLY MEN OF GOD SPAKE as they were MOVED BY THE HOLY GHOST.”
Those who would change the church to something more in keeping with their ideas and notions say that previous hermeneutical principles have failed to take into account historical context in the interpretation of the Scripture. They describe the “old hermeneutic” as “rationalistic, inductive, formal” and the “new hermeneutic” as “grammatical/historical/contextual.”
This charge is absolutely false and un-supportable. Members of the churches of Christ in general have always approached their study of each book of the Bible with a “who, what, where, when, to whom, why” methodology. If perhaps commentators, teachers, or preachers have missed a point on a passage here or there is hardly adequate reason to abandon the only legitimate hermeneutical principles that exist in exchange for what they are advocating. They say we must use contextual analysis as part of our method of interpreting scripture; well: what have we been doing all these years if it wasn’t historical/contextual interpretation.
They say that “old hermeneutic” approaches the Bible “atomistically”. By “atomistic” they mean we have failed to treat each biblical document separately on its own merits when we introduce passages from other books and contexts into the book we are trying to interpret. They say we must not piece Scriptures together from all over the Bible in order to make an argument. This is the “unpardonable sin” of “proof-texting” (taking a position and then going to find disjointed and disconnected Scripture to prove our position).
From an audio tape of a presentation at Harding University lectures in 1989 “part of my problem with the way we use our hermeneutic to establish examples is we’re demanding that the New Testament Christians read their Bible and argue when they didn’t have a collected canon to use. They couldn’t have pulled I Corinthians 16:2 (giving) and Acts 20:7 (Lord’s Supper) together. (And understood as we do that these activities are to both be done on the first day of the week as worship to God.) They didn’t have a collected canon. But we do that and say we’re restoring New Testament Christianity using an argument they couldn’t have put together…this is not the way the early Christians even could have argued from Scripture.”
Critical of what he calls “hard-line patternistic formalism,” another speaker says the following: “We have approached the area of hermeneutics with the idea that the early church had a complete set of documents which we know as the New Testament and that they searched those Scriptures to determine God’s pattern in church organization, structure and practice. I submit to you that is an incorrect assumption.”
This speakers point is that since the canon (complete collection of the current books of the Bible) was not finished until around 400 A.D. then early Christians could not have had or made use of written Scriptures as we do. Without the collection they could not have drawn Scriptures together from different books to form conclusions as we do today; e.g. Acts 20:7 and I Corinthians 16:2.
What they really don’t understand is the nature of canonization or the formal collecting together of the books we know as our Bible today. The other thing that they don’t account for is that the first century church was guided by the Holy Spirit and continued to be so until those upon whom the apostles laid their hands had died. The fact that the complete scriptural canon wasn’t completed until A.D. 400 is totally immaterial. The collection that was formalized at that time was based upon accepted usage, not some scholar’s notion about what should or should not be included. That collection or canonization of Scripture was based upon and dependent upon widespread use and recognition of the New Testament books. The criteria by which some books were later questioned are evidence that those books were generally accessible to the churches across the known world. Scripture was copied and circulated among the congregations long before any formal collection into one Book; and the apostles encouraged it.
Colossians 4:16 “AND WHEN THIS EPISTLE IS READ AMONG YOU, CAUSE THAT IT BE READ ALSO IN THE CHURCH OF THE LAODICEANS; AND THAT YE LIKEWISE READ THE epistle FROM LAODICEA.”
II Peter 3:15-16 “AND ACCOUNT that THE LONGSUFFERING OF OUR LORD is SALVATION; EVEN AS OUR BELOVED BROTHER PAUL ALSO ACCORDING TO THE WISDOM GIVEN UNTO HIM HATH WRITTEN UNTO YOU; AS ALSO IN ALL his EPISTLES, SPEAKING IN THEM OF THESE THINGS; IN WHICH ARE SOME THINGS HARD TO BE UNDERSTOOD, WHICH THEY THAT ARE UNLEARNED AND UNSTABLE WREST, AS they do ALSO THE OTHER SCRIPTURES, UNTO THEIR OWN DESTRUCTION.”
Going back to our example of proper hermeneutics; the Master Teacher, Jesus Christ himself, what do we find? Early Israelites did not have access to all the Old Testament. Yet Jesus and the writers of the New Testament gleaned passages from various locations in the Old Testament canon in precisely the same fashion that we do from the New Testament. Jesus was guilty of the same charge that our wayward brethren would bring against us today. Jesus “atomized” Scripture as did virtually all of the writers of the New Testament.
The fact that the New Testament Christians lived during a period when the writings of the New Testament were incomplete in no way disproves the need for us to approach the New Testament as a completed body of Truth. In fact; to declare otherwise is to deny that the sixty-six books of the Bible are interrelated or intentionally bound together as a single body of Truth – God’s complete and total revelation to man. It denies that this body of scripture was protected by God’s providence and brought down to us for the salvation of our souls today.
The biblical view of inspiration requires that though the documents were in fact written by some forty individuals over a period of about 1600 years, the Bible actually has only one author – the Holy Spirit. The Bible, therefore, is intended by God to be taken as a single entity in order for us to be able to grasp His will for humanity. Likewise, God intends for us to perceive the Scriptures as verbally inspired. A position accepted and virtually unchallenged within the Lord’s church in my lifetime. That is, until we sent our best and brightest to the denominational seminaries to get their advanced degrees in religion and theology and to study at the feet of the denominational teachers and preachers.
Our change agent brethren further contend that our “old hermeneutic” fails to take into consideration that the interpreter and his interpretation is “shaped” by his own presuppositions. They say that the interpreter has been inevitably, and perhaps invariably, influenced by cultural, historical, social, and religious conditioning. And as such; we cannot reach an unbiased, application of Scripture; we cannot find God’s interpretation and therefore know what God wants us to know about his revelation to mankind.
If we have this problem; what makes our learned brethren any less immune to such conditioning? What gives them the ability to rise above their presuppositions while leaving the rest of us doomed to interpretation conditioned by our culture? What cultural, historical, social and religious conditioning forms their thinking? What are their “philosophic assumptions” which have shaped them?
Not only is this claim nonsense but it denies Jesus Christ’s own assessment of the situation:
John “AND YE SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.”
Their position is self-contradictory and therefore based upon false logic. Certainly we should be aware of our own personal biases and limitations when we approach the Bible. But God clearly communicated what he would have us believe and do.
Hebrews 11:6 “BUT WITHOUT FAITH it is IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE him: FOR HE THAT COMETH TO GOD MUST BELIEVE THAT HE IS, AND that HE IS A REWARDER OF THEM THAT DILIGENTLY SEEK HIM.”
John “I SAID THEREFORE UNTO YOU, THAT YE SHALL DIE IN YOUR SINS: FOR IF YE BELIEVE NOT THAT I AM he, YE SHALL DIE IN YOUR SINS.”
John “HE THAT REJECTETH ME, AND RECEIVETH NOT MY WORDS, HATH ONE THAT JUDGETH HIM: THE WORD THAT I HAVE SPOKEN, THE SAME SHALL JUDGE HIM IN THE LAST DAY.”
Most amazingly, advocates of the “new hermeneutic” take issue with the approach to the biblical texts that says that the purpose of the Bible and biblical interpretation is to inform human beings how to please God. Yet the biblical writers themselves (including Jesus) repeatedly speak of man’s entire earthly responsibility to consist of learning God’s will for their lives from His revelation in order to then do what His will requires!
Ecclesiastes “LET US HEAR THE CONCLUSION OF THE WHOLE MATTER: FEAR GOD, AND KEEP HIS COMMANDEMNT: FOR THIS is THE WHOLE duty OF MAN.”
John “AND YE SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.”
II Timothy “STUDY TO SHOW THYSELF APPROVED UNTO GOD, A WORKMAN THAT NEEDETH NOT TO BE ASHAMED, RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH.”
Acts “THESE WERE MORE NOBLE THAN THOSE IN THESSALONICA, IN THAT THEY RECEIVED THE WORD WITH ALL READINESS OF MIND, AND SEARCHED THE SCRIPTURES DAILY, WHEETHER THOSE THINGS WERE SO.”
I Thessalonians “PROVE ALL THINGS; HOLD FAST THAT WHICH IS GOOD.”
Situated throughout the writings of those who promote the “new hermeneutic” is evidence that they view truth to be relative, subjective, and unattainable. They appear to be infected with the presuppositions of Liberal and Neo-orthodox theology as well as various denominational philosophies. Concerning religious knowledge, we are told that “proof for such knowledge is beyond the borders of human proof tools” and that our “command/obedience metaphor” has created in us a false sense of certainty about our salvation. Well, I would hope that I can be as certain about my salvation as my obedience to God’s commandments will allow me to be. Else I would be without hope and as the apostle describes in I Corinthians “OF MEN MOST MISERABLE.”
Numerous biblical texts affirm, however, that truth is objective, absolute and attainable:
Proverbs 23:23 “BUY THE TRUTH, AND SELL it NOT; also WISDOM, AND INSTRUCTION, AND UNDERSTANDING.”
John 3:2 “THE SAME CAME TO JESUS BY NIGHT, AND SAID UNTO HIM, RABBI, WE KNOW THAT THOU ART A TEACHER COME FROM GOD; FOR NO MAN CAN DO THESE MIRACLES THAT THOU DOEST, EXCEPT GOD BE WITH HIM.”
I John 2:3 “AND THEREBY WE DO KNOW THAT WE KNOW HIM, IF WE KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS.”
Knowledge must precede faith:
Romans “SO THEN FAITH cometh BY HEARING, AND HEARING BY THE WORD OF GOD.”
Faith is accepting and acting upon what one knows to be God’s will:
Hebrews 11:6 “BUT WITHOUT FAITH it is IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE him: FOR HE THAT COMETH TO GOD MUST BELIEVE THAT HIS IS, AND that HE IS A REWARDER OF THEM THAT DILIGENTLY SEEK HIM.”
God desires “all men” to come to the knowledge of truth:
I Timothy 2:3-4 “FOR THIS is GOOD AND ACCEPTABLE IN THE SIGHT OF GOD OUR SAVIOUR; WHO WILL HAVE ALL MEN TO BE SAVED, AND TO COME UNTO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH.”
THE REAL PROBLEM IS THAT Mankind’s desire for a “new hermeneutic” reveals far more about the condition of their hearts than it does about our ability to grasp God’s originally intended meanings. It is an attempt to provide men with a sophisticated, so-called scholarly method to accomplish the same old human inclination to restructure and redesign religious belief to suit ourselves. And that is all it ever will be.