Sunday, November 15, 2009

Understanding Hermeneutics - the first step

When considering hermeneutics some are a bit put off by the fact that some begin by quoting Scripture as providing the contours, the boundaries as it were for proper hermeneutics, hermeneutics which is the proper method of Interpreting Scripture. They see this as perhaps circular reasoning and are maybe embarrassed by it.
Let me suggest that this same unease is encountered by some who study and debate Christian apologetics. They are uneasy about beginning with Scripture. They think that this somehow is a refusal to find “common ground” with “the unbeliever” or “the seeker”. ( if there is such as person as a seeker in the Bible’s sense of the term. ) and that such a method commits the fallacy of circular reasoning. Furthermore in such debates from Christians discussing apologetics you find the fear that if the believer begins with Scripture, then all that will ensue with the unbeliever is a “shouting match” where the believer says “God says” and the unbeliever rejoins “Who says” or perhaps a seemingly reasonable argument that “we must not assume the very thing we are trying to prove”.
What is often forgotten is first of all the motive for the Christian to do apologetics, that is offer a defence for what the Christian faith is, is his faithful response to the word of God found in 1 Peter 3 “Always be ready to give an answer … the reason for the hope you have.” And the reason he is motivated by this is because the Lord God has already worked in his heart to convict him of his sin against God, brought him to repentance and filled him with his Holy Spirit. That is, God has transformed him, and that is the reason why he wants to obey 1 Peter 3:15. It is only a Christian, one transformed by God already who wants to do apologetics with his unbelieving neighbour.
That is the foundation for all he does as a Christian. So methodologically he begins apologetics with his understanding of the unbeliever as a sinner, one in rebellion against the Lord God. Then he takes a two pronged approach to the unbeliever. He reasons with him to show that his worldview, the unbeliever’s worldview – whether it be naturalism or a even a religious worldview, is incoherent, it just doesn’t provide for meaning and reason and love and ethics and right and wrong and science and the like. Then he asks him if he can share about the Christian Worldview of the bible that does provide and account for these things and he can speak of the Creator of all, God, who is personal and Sovereign etc, Who is outside of His Creation and yet enters into it to relate to man, and how man sinned and rebelled and how God in His wisdom and plan sent Jesus, Who is God, into the world to redeem Him, etc.
In the end it has to be assumed, that the unbeliever is in rebellions against the God who is his Creator and Creator of all, even though he does know him. Rom 1. The unbeliever is actively and continually suppressing that knowledge.
So what we need to understand here from this illustration from apologetics is that methodologically it is reasonable and coherent to argue from Scripture right from the very start in any endeavour we take as a Christian, and ever so much more when it comes to hermeneutics.
Thus we begin our discussion of correct hermeneutics, that is, how one can rightly interpret the bible by quoting Scriptures that make it clear that:
1. Scripture is God’s Word. Inspired, breathed out. 1 Tim 3:16.
2. Scripture has to be accurately handled. 2 Timothy 2:15 “accurately handling the Word of Truth”.
3. Scripture is Truth. 2 Tim 2:15.
4. Scripture is clear though it has some passages that are hard, but not impossible to understand. So 2 Peter 3:15-16. It just means a lot of hard effort needs to be put in, indeed in 2 Tim 2:15 it requires “a workman”, one who puts in much effort! In Deut 6:6-7 Moses tells the Israelites to teach these words to their children, to discuss them. The assumption is that it can be understood. Then in the reading and application of the book of the law in Nehemiah 8:8, it says the scribes ”read and gave the sense of the Scriptures” Now there’s a good reminder of the role of the elder in expository preaching of the word to God’s people. Then Jude 3 assumes that Christians can understand the word of God for we all are to “contend for the Faith once for all delivered.”
No doubt there are others to add, but these at least are a minimum.

your brother in Christ,

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What happens if you take Genesis 1 as semi poetic

If you happen to study the issue of how a christian is to interpret Genesis 1 you will no doubt find a small number of people who take the genre of Genesis 1 to be semi poetic.
I actually read yesterday on the net that Rob Bell takes the even stronger position of calling it poetic, even though most commentaries point out that it is certainly not Hewbrew poetry as found for example in the Psalms. Have a read of Wenham's Commentary on Genesis 1-15 where this is addressed.
But a few take the supposed lesser position of calling it semi poetic.
Now even though I don't believe it can be taken as semi poetic, after all, finding a few repetitive phrases or even a triadic structure that some see in parallel days of 1&4; 2&5; 3&6 doesn't make something semi poetic, let's for a moment assume they are right and see what follows from taking it that way.
If it is semi poetic then day, morning and evening do not function in the specific and clear way they seem to. Indeed as one advocate of this approach says for example about the creation of Eve from Adam's rib, this is just "a wonderful literary expression of the closeness between the sexes." In that case everything in Genesis 1 is not to be taken literally but poetically, even though it is asserted that this does not deny that Genesis 1 is historical.

Given all that we now meet a methodological problem in that when they get to 1:26f they suddenly switch hermeneutical horses and call that literal, not poetic since they still want to claim man is made in the image of God.
What this tells me is that this issue is very much a hermeneutical issue. And what's more, proponents of the semi poetic view are being arbitrary in their taking of Genesis 1 as semi poetic.
And that is totally irrespective of having to address the issue of the whole nature of poetry being somewhat subjective.
This is a very serious and difficult problem for those who advocate taking Genesis 1 as semi poetic and it is something they have to deal with.

What do you think?

In Christ,