Hermeneutics (how we interpret the Bible) has really been on my heart recently. Biblical hermeneutics in a nutshell is the process of figuring out: What is the eternal/divine meaning of a text? (Not it’s immediate cultural application). A helpful case study of hermeneutics is 1 Cor. 13:12, Greet one another with a holy kiss. The Bible is very clear that we should do this, yet we don’t. Why? Are we disobeying the Bible? Are we not reading the Bible literally? Why do we not do this today? Because we understand this was a cultural expression of showing Christian love, the way a hug or handshake would be today. I defy anyone who says, “We must apply the Bible literally!” — because if you do please warn me to come late to your church service, after the “kiss the person next to you” time is over and done with. Bible translators have picked up on this, as you’ll notice in the 2007 New Living Translation (a translation that is more concerned with idea-for-idea from the Greek to English than it is word-for word) has 1 Cor. 13:12 as reading: Greet each other with Christian love. Alright, whew, now that is a church I can attend and not have to worry about if I used mouthwash that morning or not. Yes, we need to apply the eternal/divine meaning of a text literally, but not its immediate cultural and/or contextual application. A helpful hermeneutical phrase to remember is: The Bible was written for us, but not to us. When discussing debated issues amongst Christianity, I would advise people not say, “Well the Bible says so and so we do it” (i.e. It’s in the Bible and we take it literally!) as their argument, because if you say that in one spot, you’ve got to be consistent and use it all over (as well as wear plenty of Chapstick Flava-Craze , for all of our sakes), otherwise you too are simply picking and choosing. Instead, we must do the difficult task of hermeneutics each and every time we read the Bible: a text written for us, but not to us! (It’s no wonder people get Ph.D’s in this stuff—the problem is sometimes those only solidify our preexisting biases!)
This applies to all of the New Testament prooftexts a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon will give you as to why they don’t believe in the Trinity to the dozens of debated issues that divide Christian denominations. Saying “the Bible says so right here in this instance and we take that literally” simply isn’t good enough. Hey, I never said this wouldn’t get messy, something we really hate in church circles.
The thing that has put this topic so heavy on my heart is that hermeneutics is the key to understanding the Bible as we are meant to. If you just picked up the Bible out of the blue, without the understanding of basic hermeneutics, you are bound to be utterly confused and likely will get a very skewed version of who God is. One of the biggest questions that arises when someone tries reading the Bible from cover to cover (not the way it is meant to be read, btw), is: Why is the God of the Old Testament so vengeful? How can he command genocide? I found a great article by David Lamb that gives a great explanation to these questions. What I appreciate most about this article is Lamb’s humility as well as consistency. The thing that gets me fired up about biblical interpretation is when people pick and choose the parts of Scripture they like and toss out the rest, and you see people on both ends of the spectrum doing this; some do it with the moral commands they agree and disagree with, while others do it with theological positions they agree or disagree with. Lamb effectively singles out both of these groups as inconsistent viewpoints, and does a great job of giving solid hermeneutical options that show how we can continue to hold the entire Bible as truth in a way that is consistent from cover to cover, when dealing with this challenging question, and others like it. The article is only 2 pages and has cool pictures; even you can read that: Type in “page 109” at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/digital-issue/53
The biggest thing to remember when reading the Bible is that it is like a masterpiece painting. The entire painting tells one consistent story (Jesus redeeming humanity back to a love relationship with Him). You cannot take a hole puncher to a painting and look at only that dot, and/or only at 3-4 dots, and say you have the message of Scripture. At best, you’d be ignorant and/or incomplete, and at worst you’d be a heretic capable of committing all kinds of damage! The Story is the painting, not the dots. You must look at every dot in relation with the entire painting. And for those of you who have read the Bible from cover to cover and were left unimpressed, I honestly apologize that better prefaces aren’t put into Bibles giving better instructions on how to read it. I would expect you to get as much out of the Bible as I would if I popped in a new DVD and put the scenes on “shuffle mode”… I saw the movie, but it didn’t make any sense.
More on this to come, but this is a good start…