Hermeneutics

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This was originally published April 27, 2010 on Facebook as a Note. But I publish it here, to help tell about my faith journey.

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Hermeneutics is the fancy term for Biblical Interpretation. The term hermeneutics has its roots in the Greek messenger god Hermes, because he was ‘the messenger’ for the gods. By the way, this is the reason why, Paul is called Hermes in Acts 14.12 (but in the King James Paul is referred to has Mercury) because he was the one who was primarily speaking, he was considered (really misinterpreted by the people) to be Hermes the messenger god from the gods.

Another name for Biblical interpretation is Exegesis. It seems that the major concept behind Exegesis is that the reader/student allows the text to lead the student to the conclusion that the writer intended.

To be sure, there is much discussion about hermeneutics and exegesis, the whole goal being what is the truth with the claim that each and every Bible passage has only one, one, interpretation. This assertion is bold, especially in light of all the division seen within the realm of Christendom.

I have spent the better part of the last few years, researching and investigating hermeneutics and exegesis and have found that Bible students, Christians, me included, all read ourselves and our traditions into the Bible. I am not wanting to do anything else but to make us aware as disciples of Jesus, that we should be about searching for the truth. Jesus said that we can know the truth and the truth will set us free (John 8.32) He also said that God’s word is truth (John 17.17). Yet we are also encouraged by Paul to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2.15).

Many, many, many books have been written about this hermeneutical exegetical dilemma, of which I have several in my library. Furthermore many, many, many preachers, bible students, pastors, and others have argued for proper interpretation. This interpretative argument is an ancient one, going back, at least, to the days of Jesus because even he had to deal with biblical misinterpretations (e.g. Matthew 22.29).

I am not set to provide a discourse on this topic, but in my search, I have found that people generally fall into one of two exegetical hermeneutical camps. One, they have traditional interpretation. Or, two, they have existential interpretation. However, it is also possible that a person can blend the two having either a Traditional-Existential or an Existential-Traditional interpretation, where the word order reveals their primary, then their secondary emphasis.

By Traditional Interpretation, I mean biblical interpretation that is based primarily on the traditions of the person’s religious and non-religious upbringing. These are used to understand the Bible. Whether fully correct, completely incorrect, or partially correct, Traditional Interpretation uses tradition and traditional understanding to interpret the Bible.

By Existential Interpretation, I mean that the person answers “what does it mean to me?” this means that the person interprets the Bible by saying “this is what it means to me.” Whether fully correct, completely incorrect, or partially correct, Existential Interpretation uses the personal reference, the person’s own current context to interpret the Bible.

I must readily admit that the Bible is one of the most difficult books that I have ever read. There are portions of the Bible that seem so familiar, other parts that just leave me scratching my head, and others that beg me to try and figure out what it means and then understand what it means to each disciple and to the church.

The Bible is such a part of human history that concepts like “judge not” and “do unto others” and “love each other” along with “in the beginning” carry so much cultural baggage that when read in Complete Context, the Bible may or may not actually support the cultural interpretation (whether that cultural interpretation is traditional or existential).

My only point is this, as I have studied to understand biblical truth, traditional, existential, or a combination of those two, fall short in revealing a full understanding of biblical truth. Biblical truth seems best found by Complete Contextual Exegetical Interpretation. By CCE I mean an interpretation that takes into account cultural context, historical context, sociopolitical contexts, linguistic context, philosophical context and theological context in addition to the literary context in order to know the original intent of the writings, which include how the writings of the NT quote or allude to the OT.

The Bible’s message is simple, but the Bible is anything but simplistic. The Bible is a Narrative of God’s Covenant with his people. The Bible is more than “old” and “new” testaments, it is more than a “constitution”, it is more than love letter; moreover the Bible does not seem to be in any way a reference book of spiritual truisms, that would be the Book of Proverbs. But I must be candid, CCE interpretation can and will most likely confront Traditional and Existential interpretations. While I have found that the CCE helps reveal a more clear understanding of the original intent, but, but… I just don’t have the heart.

While I am tired of the arguments and the divisions, I want the truth. Yet, even after learning all of this, at the end of the day, I can adamantly say that interpretation means little. The core of faith in God is Love. Loving Him with everything I have, my heart, my soul, my mind, my strength, my finances, everything. Then in turn loving other people as myself, being compassionate, caring, non-judgmental, merciful, helpful. It is important to know the truth, but knowing the correct method of interpretation means nothing without love. Love covers a multitude of interpretational shortcomings and transgressions.

 
 
There was one response to this Note. Here was the comment:

This is very insightful. I wouldn’t mind if you would take the time to develop your method of CCE. One thing though, a method that we’ve been taught has tried to take “into account cultural context, historical context, sociopolitical contexts, linguistic context, philosophical context and theological context in addition to the literary context in order to know the original intent of the writings.” This is why I think it is important that you elaborate so that we can distinguish your method of CCE from the traditional CENI approach.

 
 
On April 28, I responded with the following:

I will provide an example of how CCE differs from CENI. CCE must stay within Narrative (Literary) context, while taking into account all the contexts mentioned within CCE.

CENI seems not to care about Narrative (Literary) context, CENI simply looks at the scriptures through a certain theological perspective that perspective is looking for commands, examples and rationally deduced necessary inferences.

For Example, the CENI method that I have been taught to use, utilizes Acts 2.38, Acts 8.36, and Acts 17.30 in sermon/teaching, yet does not reveal in that format that there are three distinct narratives.

Acts 2, the apostles at the day of pentecost are addressing people who already believe in YHWH the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they simply are asked to repent of the sin of slaying the anointed Messiah (2.36).

Acts 8 has Philip teach the Ethiopian about Jesus by beginning in Isaiah where the Ethiopian was reading. The Ethiopian was already a believer in YHWH the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, because he had been to Jerusalem to worship (8.27) but he did not know of whom the prophet was speaking.

Acts 17 has Paul in the Areopagus (17.19), these people are polytheists, and as such believe in the possibility that there is a god that they are not aware of, hence the monument (17.23). Paul tells them to repent from their ignorance of the one true living God (17.30).

The people in Acts 2 had to repent of certain transgressions (rejection of and crucifixion of God’s anointed).

The Ethiopian in Acts 8 had nothing to repent of, narratively speaking. He simply needed to know to whom the prophet was referring, upon learning that he wanted to be baptized in order to be in the new covenant.

The people in Acts 17, upon hearing about the judgment and resurrection (17.31-32) believed in the one true living God.

To take from these three distinct and separate narratives an essential element and blend them into a sermon or doctrine, overlooks the importance of the narrative (Literary) context.

While the information in Acts 2.38, Acts 8.36, and Acts 17.30 are individually true, they are true because of their Literary contexts, which hints at the Contexts behind the Literary (which I mention as the CCE), taken together it is possible that a much different conclusion is to be drawn. Perhaps Acts 2, Acts 8, and Acts 17, simply reveal that Matthew 28.19-20 is carried in unique ways because each audience is unique itself.

without getting overly in depth, i hope that helps.

I also added this comment:

you mention that there is a method that takes into account the contexts that I mentioned, I am thinking that I might be unaware of that method, could you share it with me.

Curious are you referring to this “Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers“?

On April 30, I offered one other thought to this:

I argued with myself for a great while, and even had some thoughts for putting another post to this note, but I have chosen to simply state the following.

Good, god-devoted people are going to argue about methods of interpretation until the day the sun stops rising. As such, intellectual unity on the interpretation of the Scriptures seems like a pipe dream. I simply wanted to state that traditional and existential hermeneutics will be challenged as the disciple gains better understanding of Complete Context. Yet even it that situation, faith (trust, belief in and dependence on God, and his anointed son Jesus, whom God raised from the Dead) conjoined with loving God with everything and loving your neighbor as yourself seems to be the core of the Bible’s message.

Blessings.

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