Friday, May 29, 2009

Hermeneutics Part II

In response to questions/comments pertaining to yesterday's post, I've decided (pun intended, some will get that joke) to expound upon on point 4 today, and Lord willing point 5 in the near future.

4. Scripture interprets scripture, never tradition.

First, just let me say that I used the term "tradition" in it's historic theological context. By that I mean both the Roman Catholic view of "sacred tradition" in which their sacred traditional doctrines and practices, though unfounded in scripture, are viewed as being on the same hermeneutic pillar as scripture itself. I include as well the view in which tradition represents beliefs and practices not found in the historic Biblical Christian faith and practice.

Now, in this post I intend to open the scope of the term tradition, and hopefully do so in a manner that keeps the conversation coupled together with simplicity and clarity. Complexity can lead to confusion if we're not careful, so may the Lord grant patience to me in formulating these thoughts.

The church is called in Holy Writ the "pillar and buttress of the truth." The church of the Lord Jesus Christ as an institution has offered to the believing world confessional statements declaring what Christians believe and why they believe it. Here is what I believe to be an excellent example from the 1689 Confession of Faith Chapter 1 Statement 10, "The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved." Scripture is declared in this statement as the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice. This is an orthodox view of the Holy Scriptures. This was confessed and proclaimed by the messengers and churches representing the church as an institution in their time. The church has been the means chosen of God to uphold, confess, and proclaim His truth. Therefore, private interpretation which contradicts the historic traditional theological stance of the church is actually un-Biblical. Even so, in various times through various personalities, confessional statements pertaining to Christian thought, worldviews, and theological concepts which are un-Biblical have been set forth. In these situations the Lord has always brought forth His true church to speak against them, and confess and uphold the true Christian faith as founded in God's word. Though it has often cost the most heavy price of blood through faithful martyrs, God has chosen to preserve His truth through His church. In this sense, the tradition of the historic Biblical understanding of orthodox Christianity is not to be avoided, but rather to be embraced with thankful hearts and attending ears. Again, for clarity purposes let me state, this does not mean extra-Biblical statements are always correct and to be upheld. As the confession itself states, any confessional statement of man is subject to correction by the sacred text of scripture.

What about those who claim they approach scripture with no traditional presuppositions? In that they mean they approach the scripture without the influence of man or culture. I would say they are simply unaware of the impact of man and culture on their worldview. I would go on to say the most difficult thing for us to do as individuals is to admit the traditional values and opinions placed within us by our community, family, friends, educational systems, entertainment venues, etc. For myself, coming from an upbringing in which we were not in a local church regularly hearing Christian doctrine, I thought I had an advantage when coming to the scripture. I was wrong. I had so many un-Biblical presupposed ideas of God that it was pitiful. Looking back, most were instilled in my thought process through statements by family members, dear friends, co-workers, and others whom I thought had a better understanding matters of religion and theology. As I read scripture I found myself actually looking for proof texts at times! I would actually focus upon statements or phrases I believed would support my radical presuppositions. I was engulfed in tradition, and would commonly state in the same smug tone as the Pharisee staring over the Publican in the temple, "I'm so glad I'm not battered with tradition like so many others are who can't see clear Biblical truth." All the while I was corrupted from years and years of un-Biblical influence which was imposing itself upon my study of scripture.

Moving on, here are a couple questions for the reader... If you found out today that your view of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church was never held to by anyone in the church's history, and that it has been condemned by orthodox Christianity for let's say 300 years when someone outside the church first proposed it, would you continue to hold to your position? Would you shout as many do that others are followers of traditions of men, and your view comes from you and the Holy Spirit teaching you? Or, would you re-examine your view in light of the historic Christian interpretation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church? These are important questions to ponder. Are you actually going to claim that 2000+ years of faithful Christian interpretation of scripture is wrong, and you are the first to get it right? Sadly, many do.

"It's just me and my Bible and the Holy Spirit!" "I don't follow dead men!" "I follow THE BOOK, not some book written by know-it-all theologians!" "I don't need some church to tell me what to believe, it's just me and Jesus!" Ever heard or made those statements? Here are some questions to ponder in light of those statements... If it's just you and your Bible and the Holy Spirit, why did God place Pastors/Teaching Elders in his churches? If you don't follow other men, why do you impose your own presupposed ideas into the text you read? If it's not important to be a MEMBER of a local church, why does God command the church to be over the matters of discipline in a believer's life? How can you be disciplined and held accountable if you refuse to be a part of His church? If the Holy Spirit is teaching you all things in scripture, why doesn't He teach you Hebrews 10:25(I admit, some sarcasm in that question)? Why does scripture mention Pastors(who I might remind you hold the primary responsibility of teaching Biblical doctrine to the church) as being those who have watch over your souls if they are not needed in your life? Just some questions to ponder.

Finally, let me say that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit no one will ever know truth. The Holy Spirit must effectually work in our heart as truth is presented to us in whatever format. Yet, therein lies the key to this post... the format. We are all to meditate upon the word, and that's a given. However, that is not the ONLY means by which truth is presented to us. God has given to us pastors, teachers, Godly parents, etc., as means of proclaiming His truth to us. God has again chosen to uphold, protect, and proclaim His truth through His church and not apart from His church. It is not that we mindlessly follow the teachings of men when we hold to the historic orthodox Christian faith. Rather, we are being Biblical and we are holding fast the things handed to us from faithful men, and are now going to faithfully teach others.

As the Ethiopian Eunuch rode in his chariot he responded to Philip by explaining his understanding of Isaiah's text with the question, "How can I understand these things unless someone explains them to me?" God had sent Philip, a missionary of His church, to explain the truth as the Holy Spirit illuminated the message in the heart of the Ethiopian. We should thank God for His servants who faithfully present His truth, for this is the very means by which God has chosen to save those who will believe (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Hermeneutics - The rules and principles by which we study a text.
Classic Hermeneutics - The rules and principles by which we study classic literature.
Sacred Hermeneutics - The rules and principles by which we study the sacred text of Holy Writ.

Ten Basic Principles of Biblical Interpretation Agreed Upon By Most if Not All Historic Baptists

1. The Bible as we know it, 66 books, contains the infallible inherent word of God.

2. The New Testament is the final revelation of God, and the final interpreter of the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

3. Apply the literal, grammatical, historical method of interpretation.
A. Literal - We take scripture literally, as God's actual word.
B. Grammatical - God has communicated through human authors, to human audiences.
C. Historical - There is a historic context that we must apply to the text.

4. Scripture interprets scripture, never tradition.

5. Perspicuity of scripture, in that it can be understood (and should be read and studied) by the layman.

6. Unity of scripture. The Old Testament and New Testament are complimentary of each other, not contradictory.

7. Diversity of scripture. Scripture is written by various authors, in various historical contexts, and each should be considered in interpretation.

8. The New Testament clarifies and explains the types and shadows in the Old Testament.

9. Typology of scripture. Old Testament scripture is filled with types and pictures of the coming Christ. Again, these are explained in the New Testament.

10. Near context is related more than far context. In other words, if Paul uses an illustration of a vine, we should look at the immediate context for the understanding. If he quotes an Old Testament passage we might find it's meaning there. But to go to Peter who perhaps could be speaking of a vine as an analogy of sin growing, and apply to Paul's analogy which is actually speaking of the kingdom growing, we greatly abuse scripture.

Finally, a didactic or systematic study of a subject is more significant than a historical or descriptive narrative. In other words we derive our doctrine of public corporate worship by studying the New Testament Epistles which command various elements be found in worship. For example, this is more profitable than reading the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and then determining our worship based upon what we see happening in various situations found in that historic narrative which chronicles many happenings in an infant New Testament Church.

I posted this because I genuinely believe that developing a proper hermeneutic is a key factor in Baptists rediscovering their historic faith. These easy to understand principles are expounded upon by Fred Malone at the 2005 Southern Baptist Founders Conference, and can be heard here. May the Lord bless your study in the wonderful words of life!