Hermeneutics

Principles of Hermeneutics and Personal Bias » Strangers and Exiles raises some interesting questions:

My understanding of hermeneutics is that it refers to a process of scriptural interpretation and that, first and foremost, the goal is to
discover the truth. In other words, God intended to convey His
revelation in terms of that are specific and understandable

My position that I will attempt to demonstrate below is that 2e stretches the definition of hermeneutics too far and makes claims for it that do not hold. He then combines this with a neat demonstration of the  hermeneutic circle where his presuppositions lead him astray.

So why do I say the definition of hermeneutics is stretched too far. First you might like to see read some of Hermeneutics – Wikipedia (more expansion of this would be good). Anyway:

  • Hermeneutics itself is not just about scriptural interpretation (that is Biblical Hermeneutics which is a specialised subject). That is pedantry on my part as clearly 2e has in mind Biblical Hermeneutics rather than simply Hermeneutics.
  • My understanding is that making the claim that hermeneutics has a goal of discovering the truth goes beyond it’s scope and is too restrictive. Hermeneutics is more about seeking how to understand, how to interpret rather than about getting to a "correct interpretation" which is still a far cry from "discovering the truth". My IVP Dictionary of Theology says:

Indeed, whether we should speak of an interpretation as ‘correct’, ‘productive’, ‘valid’ or ‘responsible’ remains still a hermeneutical question.

We would need to go into the works of Schleiermacher, Heidegger, Childs and the like to really get at this definition.

  • Apparently Emilio Betti argues that hermeneutics is vital to the well being of society and that all interpretation is open to correction and revision which should promote greater tolerance between persons (from same IVP Theological dictionary).

We then have the neat demonstration of a hermeneutic circle that starts with two logical leaps. The first that hermeneutics si to discover truth. The second comes from jumping from hermeneutics is about discovering the truth to "God intended to convey His
revelation in terms of that are specific and understandable". That leap comes from 2e’s own preconceptions about the Bible, about God, about the nature of revelation etc. It does not come from any commonly held definition of hermeneutics. I do not claim that this makes it wrong as a statement. I do claim that it makes the claim relational.

In other words "God intended to convey His
revelation in terms of that are specific and understandable" becomes shorthand for "Everything in my life experience, my own core beliefs, what I already know of Scripture, of God, the world, of Wayne Grudem, Bible Translation and interpretation, of Suzanne means that I approach this discussion believing that God intended to convey His
revelation in terms of that are specific and understandable".

Thus I claim that we cannot say "God intended to convey His
revelation in terms of that are specific and understandable" is some kind of objective fact that will be true for all people at all times and places. Now I don’t believe that 2e is trying to say that. However, the danger of not actually and explicitly recognising some of these boundaries is that we jump to conclusions and generalities that are just not true.

So this is where we get the circle. 2e approaches a text/discussion with his own world view and that world view influences his interpretation which informs his world view, there is no end to the cycle in terms of start or finish. There is no problem with any of that, it is normal, natural and inescapable (but in this case unrecognised and undeclared).

The problem is if we go on to say that Suzanne approaches the text/discussion with a bias but fail to recognise that we have done exactly the same thing but with a different (and somewhat opposite bias)

What sort of problem? Well firstly, if you start with a bias towards Wayne Grudem then it is an easy mistake to see that Suzanne has criticised him in comments and that he responded and then to take another article and assume it is by Suzanne when in fact the link to a post in

In particular, Suzanne McCarthy of Better Bibles Blog repeatedly expresses criticism of  Grudem’s thesis in his book  Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism that egalitarianism presents a danger to the church which ultimately undermines the authority of scripture.

is actually a link to a post by Peter Kirk. I do suspect that there is an implicit tendency within someone who follows Wayne Gruden to assume that criticisms are by women who don’t like what Wayne Grudem has to say about their role and authority.

Secondly, when we start with a view on the authority of women and what the Bible says about it then we start preparing a petard on which to hoist ourselves:

If we impose some external belief system or biases on the task of
understanding scripture, the result is a predisposition to go to great
lengths in finding evidence to support or defend a bias (depending upon
the commitment to the bias). When I read McCarthy’s blog and her
critiques of Grudem, it quickly becomes apparent that the obvious
readings of Biblical texts regarding the roles of men and women in the
church are not to her liking and that she imposes a culturally informed
hermeneutic on her interpretation of such texts.

So the criticism is that Suzanne (well Peter and Suzanne) are taking their bias and due to that are not taking the obvious reading of a Biblical text. Oop’s there was the bear trap. Let us consider the text in question. Romans 16:7

The problem for 2e is that the Wayne Grudem view is not the obvious reading of this text. "Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who
are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me." (KJV) the obvious meaning is what Wayne Grudem with his own pre-conceptions cannot handle is that Junia is an apostle ergo women can have positions of authority in the Church.

The bear trap is that Wayne Grudem has spent so much time telling us to use plain and obvious readings of the text that when he does something completely different himself we are sucked along with him.

2e, all I want to say is, do not be so convinced that Suzanne and Peter present too many complicated issues as they approach Scripture and teaching in a rigorous way that you miss the point that in this case Wayne Grudem who talks a great deal about the plain and simple reading of scripture has done exactly the opposite.

Finally, I want to end with a challenge. If it is true that

God intended to convey His
revelation in terms of that are specific and understandable

then why did he do such a bad job of it? Why can’t we agree on issues that Jesus taught about such as pacifism, poverty, justice? Where is you evidence that this is what God intended to do? As you look through the history of Christian thought what supports this conclusion? Does this teaching of Jesus meet this claim (think parables)? How do you fit this with 2 Peter 3:16? What does this statement say about your understanding of who God is as creator of the universe and your place within it?

Of course all these questions are valid challenges to me, my position and thinking on these issues as well and I make no claim to have the exclusive truth.

3 thoughts on “Hermeneutics

  1. John Radcliffe

    Dave,
    “Then why did [God] do such a bad job of it?” A Good question. Here’s my (current) take on the matter.
    I believe that the Bible we have (after allowing for transcriptional errors) is exactly the Bible God meant us to have: it is as much his “word” as if we heard him say the words himself. So just as I don’t believe that God would lie to, or deliberately mislead me, I don’t believe his word does either. (This also implies that it should, in some way, “make sense”.) That, in effect, is what I would mean by calling it “infallible” or “inerrant”.
    So why isn’t it clearer? Unlike some “clear-cut” religious groups where people are told what to believe, do, not do, wear, eat, etc, frequently God seems to do things differently: things aren’t always neatly packaged, clearly black-and-white, and we have to weigh up alternatives that don’t seem to be mutually exclusive.
    But why? Why is so much of the Bible anecdotal and descriptive (“A did B and C happened”) rather than instructional and prescriptive? Now I don’t think it’s just to provide jobs for pastors, preachers, teachers, commentary writers, theologians, etc. Nor is it a set of puzzles for us to solve, or a series of tests to keep him amused as he watches us fail. So what on earth does God think he’s doing?
    For me, that last question offers the key. If we are perplexed by how God deals with us, it’s because we fail to grasp what on earth God is in fact doing with, in and for us. If all he wanted was for us to “live right”, then perhaps an instruction book would have been the answer. But what if he wants us to grow and mature in Christ-like-ness, and to develop relationships with other people and with himself? The fact is, whether we like it or not (and usually we don’t), we usually grow most during difficult times [insert your own illustration here]. Consequently, that is frequently what God gives us.
    So when it comes to doctrinal disputes, what if God is as much interested in how we reach our conclusions as in the conclusions we reach? By “how” I mean not only the interpretational principles we use, but how we interact with those who disagree with (annoy, verbally attack, or even slander) us. And in what we judge to be “so fundamental” that we must take a stand on it (even to the death, if need be), and what issues we consider “compromisible”.
    So I don’t think we’ve got the Bible by chance. I suspect it’s an optimal result: I think God did the critical path analysis and concluded: “OK, the Bible it is then”.
    Have a good Christmas (whatever you understand that to be)!

    Reply
  2. Dave Warnock

    John,
    Good points. I am not very far from here. I just see a little more human choice, creativity, fallibility, editing, call it whatever in the production of Scripture.
    So when it comes to doctrinal disputes, what if God is as much interested in how we reach our conclusions as in the conclusions we reach?
    Absolutely agree. I think God is always interested in the “how” over the “what”. That is one reason why I love the explorations of trinity that focus on dynamic relationships.
    I also feel that an understanding of the text as living rather than static helpful in this regard.

    Reply
  3. PamBG

    Hermeneutics is more about seeking how to understand, how to interpret rather than about getting to a “correct interpretation”
    Someone in college asked me “What is the difference between interpreting scripture and hermeneutics?” My reply was “Hermeneutics is the PROCESS of how one interprets” which, ironically, 2e stated. For me, that means that the idea that there is a “correct interpretation” is part of the hermeneutic, part of the process. But 2e just inserts it from ‘outer space’, as it were, without seeming to think that the idea of a “correct interpretation” needs any defence. Personally, I think that such a supposition needs a lot of fleshing-out. I would not be happy with “Scripture can mean anything we want it to” either, but I don’t think we can just posit such an idea as if it was blatantly obvious.
    God intended to convey His revelation in terms of that are specific and understandable.
    Well, personally, I disagree that God intended his revelation to be specific and understandable. Here is another huge statement that needs fleshing-out. This goes against the vast majority of historic Christian tradition which witnesses that God’s revelation is in some sense mysterious and only partially grasped by human beings. The word “specific” really worries me. Then we get these never-ending “What do you mean by X” discussions and the “Are you a REAL Christian” tests.
    The worse-case scenario is that you end up invoking the last verse of Revelation (as did the denomination I grew up in) and pronounce as heretical anyone who omits one of your beliefs and anyone who disagrees with one of them. Like many conservative Protestants, this risks approaching “Salvation by cognition” rather than “Salvation by grace through faith.”
    This statement is a hermeneutical statement – part of 2e’s process of interpreting scripture. It needs to be recognised and named as part of the process, then it becomes transparent. Otherwise, we just start invoking God’s will over all our preconceived ideas.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>