Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Biblical Hermeneutics 101
Part 1

It was last September that I posted an article that gave an overview of Biblical hermeneutics. It was, in part, a response to the dialectical method, which takes a thesis, an antithesis and derives a synthesis. Such "truth seeking" has been going on for some time and is an integral part of Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven" system. It's what helps him find unity where there is none.

My original intent was to get into more depth at a later time, although it was not my intention for it to be so long before I did so. We make plans, but sometimes other things force us or distract us from our plans.

In any case, it is my desire to give a worthy series of articles on this vital subject. No doubt it is needed as so many seem to have forgotten the basics. And having lost their moorings, many have slipped off into one error after another whether it be Purpose Driven, Emergent or the Seeker movement. Then, of course, are those who formerly claimed to be orthodox but apostatized into universalism, what has become to be known as "Gay Theology" and plain old liberalism.

So, what is this "Hermeneutics thing" all about? For a review, read this article and you will get the introductory article. It'll show you what it means and where we are headed. So, give it a read and come on back here afterward. God willing, it won't take another six months or so to get another post on this subject.
But at this point, we pick up where we left off this past September:

We Take the Bible Literally

When people communicate, we take one another literally. If we didn't, it would be impossible to know the intent of the person or people we are listening to, wouldn't it? Of course! When someone says "I went to the store after sunrise today to get a gallon of milk, some cheese and a few pounds of steak" we don't scratch our heads and wonder what they meant. We don't read between the iines for a "deeper, hidden meaning". We simply hear what another person said and, assuming we know the person is credible, take him or her at their word. The same is true of the Bible. That doesn't mean that there aren't exceptions to that (just like in everyday life), and we'll get into that. But we treat the Bible as any other literary work.

You say, "Why is this an issue and isn't that just common sense?" Well, you would think it's common sense but not everyone uses common sense. Over time, many "scholars" have sought to "demythologize" the Bible. For example, Rudolf Bultmann, a Lutheran theologian who lived in the early part of the 20th century, was a German rationalist who sought to "demythologize the Bible". He didn't care for the miracles in the Bible, so he decided they had to go. This was, in part, an effort to harmonize science and the Bible. It was assumed that science was the determiner of all truth. This, of course, included the theory of evolution.

Anyway, we take the Bible literally! When Genesis says that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth", we believe it. When it says that it took six days, we believe it. When it says that there were two people known as Adam and Eve, we believe it!

Now, this is where someone with an attitude says "Well, then, you must believe in a flat earth! After all, the bible refers to the "four corners" of the Earth".

Yes, we are literalists. But we are not "wooden literalists". Remember the example I gave above about going to the store? The example includes the words "after sunrise", right? What does that mean? When you hear someone say something like that, do you take it to mean they are making a scientific statement the movement of the heavenly bodies? Of course not! You know they are including a phrase that describes things as they appear, not as they actually are. In other words, I may say "Wasn't that a wonderful sunrise?" but you know I don't mean "Wasn't that a nice rotation of the earth?". Silly, isn't it? Yet there are people who would say that taking the Bible literally would force us to believe in a flat earth. I have debated people like this. It is totally worthless to do so, with a possible rare exception.

The Bible uses literary devices just as we do in everyday speech.

When we fail to take the Bible literally, we open the door to all manner of error and imagination. I remember one "theologian" who said the story of Jonah was an allegory. Rather than an historical account, it was an allegory that illustrated the captivity of Israel. Jonah = Israel. The great fish = captivity. The sea = all the gentiles.

Of course, the logical question is "How do you know that is what it really means?" And there is no objective answer. It's merely up to one's imagination what it means if it is an allegory.
Stay tuned -- part 2 will be coming.

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