Gut Feeling: A Faulty Hermeneutic

Yesterday I posted an email discussion I had with a friend of mine concerning the importance of sound exegesis, “Pragmatism: A Faulty Hermeneutic.” I believe that the validity of a doctrine rests in the proper understanding of scripture, not in apparent human results. The issue really centers around whether scripture or experience provides our “supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” I side with scripture. So does my friend Mike, but sometimes we need to be reminded of how that confession works out in our proclamation.

If we take the Bible seriously, we must find the meaning of scripture within the text itself. We must take into consideration the literary and historical context of the words, sentences, and paragraphs of scripture and seek to understand their meaning before we proclaim a gut reaction or half-baked understanding of the text.

That reminds me of another heated email exchange between Mike and I regarding the importance of doing sound exegesis. The issue that began the discussion was the meaning of “husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3. One of the guys, Bill, made a very good post that raised some important questions. He gave four or five possible interpretations of the phrase and called for further investigation and study in an attempt to uncover what Paul meant. Mike basically told us that we were wasting our time discussing and investigating the issue. Below is the post Mike answered Bill with. Then I laid into Mike, rebuking his faulty hermeneutics.

Bro Bill,

All the “extra biblical” information has been examined over and over again and still people cannot agree. I believe it is a “faith” matter and that God intended it so. I do not believe Paul made a mistake by not being clearer, because I believe he gave us what God wanted him to give us.

That “the just must live by faith” is more than axiomatic, it is the source of all our theology. It is the basice of every doctrine. God, it appears, decided to give us opportunity to have a faith relationship rather than a “legalistic” relationship with Him. I think more arguments would be settled, if we could just realize that each of us are on different levels at differing times in our lives. While there are many factors which seem clear, they too are based on faith. We cannot prove God, but by faith and relationship we believe He is. By faith we believe that Scripture is the fullest revelation of Him to man.

All I’m saying is that all our absolutes are faith based, why should this be any different?

Mike

Mike, with all due respect, I must object. Once again you are unwittingly demeaning the scriptures with your postmodernism dressed up in pious garb. While it may sound orthodox to say, we need to “take it by faith,” that makes no sense in this context. I must ask, take what by faith? Bill proposed several possible interpretations of the passage and correctly called for further study to determine witch is the most appropriate to the meaning of the text. Your response was to take “it” by faith. Which one of the possible interpretations do you want us to take by faith? How do we determine which one? Should we place all the possibilities in a hat, draw one, and take that one by faith? Your proposed hermeneutical methodology is ludicrous.

While there may not be a consensus as to what the text means, the one thing we as Bible believers know – there IS a meaning. I believe we can uncover that meaning through the grammatical historical method of interpretation. The bible does not mean different things to different people depending on what level they are in their life, as you say. The meaning of the text is found in the text itself. When the Holy spirit moved the Apostle Paul to pen the letter to Timothy, he meant something specific. It is our duty to study and determine authorial intent.

Faith comes into the hermeneutical process once we have established what the text says. For example, Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Through the grammatical historical process we determine what this text means. The verse may not answer the how, when, and why questions to our satisfaction, but it does speak to the what and who questions. Genesis 1:1 does not tell us what year this “beginning” took place, or exactly how God accomplished such a thing, or even why He, in His providence decided to create. The straightforward statement does make a bold theological statement regarding who and what. God created the heavens and the earth. Now we are to take that truth claim by faith. We must read on in the text to pick up some of the answers to our other questions. When you place faith over against the text, you replace the authority of the text with relativism. You can’t just pick a verse, inject your own meaning into the text, and then piously claim to be taking “it” by faith. In other words, we must take the scripture by faith, not our gut feeling by faith.

Mike, I’m only hard on you because I love you as a dear brother in the Lord. I know you are very conservative in many areas, but you are liberal when it comes to the interpretation of scripture. Your low view of the text bothers me. While you pound the pulpit of inerrancy, you reject its practical application. By dismissing serious study of the scriptures you undercut what you claim to affirm.

You are correct, we need to have faith, but faith in the inerrant authoritative, written word of God, not faith in our own unstudied fallible preconceptions of what the scriptures may or may not be saying.

by grace alone,

Don A. Elbourne Jr.

You are very wrong Don. I have a very high view of the text. However, I accept by faith that Scripture is true. When I say our belief is “Faith” based, I’m saying that I believe by faith that everything in Scripture is true.

That, my friend, is a very High View of Scripture. I do not base my belief on the hermaneutical mechanications of men, but on the plain teaching of Scripture. That is why, when Scripture says husband of one wife, I have no problem accepting that it is an argument against divorce.

When I say that extrabiblical material has been explored by good men on both sides without resolution, I mean that they both have arguments and both believe their particular hermanutical mechanication to be correct. When such mechanications conflict with the body of Scripture from my perspective, I take the literalist view. How you can call that a “low view” of Scripture is beyond me. I look at the justifications some make and wonder how they arrive at their conclusions. I simply believe you have developed faulty reasoning.

One other statement, because I’m about as frustrated with you as I’ve been in years with anyone, I’m talking about taking the Scripture by faith. Just who do you think you are, that you seem to think you have such knowledge? You’re just plain wrong on this. This is the second time you’ve accused me of a low view of Scripture and I’d like to know just what you consider a “high view”. Listen, by faith I believe that everything taught in Scripture is true. Whether or not others believe it is irrelevant. You cannot prove that Scripture is God’s Word. You must accept it by faith.

I believe in a seven day creation. I don’t understand it, but by faith I believe it. Many of you try to figure out ways to explain it, while I believe that there are some things which we will never understand. I believe in a Young Earth, about seven thousand years or so. The psuedo-intellectuals’ attempt to rationalize so called science with Scripture starts with bringing Scripture into line with science. Those who have a “high view” of Scripture start with bringing Science into line with the inerrant Scripture.

I’m sorry. I guess I’m just too dense to understand your conclusions. Perhaps one day I will attain such intellectual prowess as to understand what you mean, but for now you’re obviously just too far advanced for my finite mind.

Mike

Mike,

You can rant and rave, spit, holler, and stomp like Yosemite Sam, claiming that you have a high view of scripture, but your treatment of the text belies your affirmation. When you resist the discovery of authorial intent, you are taking a low view of scripture. When you reject attempts at sound exegesis, you are taking a low view of scripture. when you scoff at and refuse to consider the original languages that God used to breathe out His inerrant Word, you are taking a low view of scripture. When you cavalierly dismiss the literary structure of the God-inspired text, you are taking a low view of scripture. When you deny any consideration of the historical and grammatical context of a passage, you are taking a low view of scripture. When you instead opt to latch onto your preconceptions of what the text means to you over against any attempt to uncover what the text meant when it was written, you are taking a low view of scripture. When you advocate taking a gut reaction interpretation to an English translation by faith and negate any further study, you are taking a low view of scripture.

For those following this thread, please understand this is not about divorced ministers. There are good Bible believing men who have approached this text, took into consideration the literary and historical context, compared scripture with scripture, attempted to rightly divide the word of truth, and have come to the conclusion that Paul here prohibits divorced men from the pastorate. While I may disagree with their conclusion, I can respect their exegetical methodology and their high view of scripture. What I can not respect is lip service to inerrancy by someone who refuses to take the bible seriously on its own terms and scoffs at any attempt by others to do so.

Mike, you say you are taking a “literalist” view of this passage. Everyone does. I do not know anyone who interprets “one woman man” in this text symbolically or figuratively. Literalism is not the issue. What you are doing is taking the vagaries of an English translation and asking us to take by faith what you feel the phrase means without any further investigation of what Paul meant. That is a low view of scripture. It sets a human opinion and relativistic feelings above the authorial intent of the text.

Mike, I’m not trying to raise your blood pressure. Please forgive me if I’m doing so. My goal is to point out faulty hermeneutical methodologies that divert people away from a serious approach to scriptural interpretation. If the Bible says an ax head floated, I believe an ax head floated. If the Bible says Jesus rose from the dead, I believe Jesus rose from the dead. If the Bible says the Earth was created 7000 years ago, I’d believe the Earth was created 7000 years ago. If the Bible said that one day trees of the field will one day literally sprout human appendages and clap their hands, I’d believe it. If the Bible says a pink and purple polka dotted panda bear was on Noah’s ark, I’d believe that a pink and purple polka dotted panda bear was on Noah’s ark. If the Bible said that single men or married men without children could not be pastor’s, I’d go with that. Does the Bible claim these things? Some of them – yes, some of them – no. Its our duty to study and determine what the Bible actually says. The method by which we determine what the Bible says is hermeneutics. You can belittle the process by calling them “human mechanications” if you’d like (Whatever that means), but if we are going to take a high view of scripture we must take the bible itself seriously and not just place faith in our own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5) Once we have rightly exegeted the text, we can stand on the truth of God’s Word with unwavering faith. That is a high view of scripture. Anything less is not.

by grace alone,

Don A. Elbourne Jr.

Don, I do none of what you suggest. Where do you get your conclusions? You try to read too much into things.

I do not disavow the original texts. I simply say that the extrabiblical material has been evaluated and argued time and again by people on both sides.

You are taking a pseudo-intellectual position on these things. You put words into my mouth. I’ve never said that the original languages are not important. I study and use them all the time. However, I accept by faith the conclusions drawn, just as you do.

In spite of your protestations, you were not there. You must accept by faith much of what you accept.

When you say that I latch on to my preconceptions over against trying to discover what the text means, you are speaking from total ignorance. I’ve never advocated such an absurd position. Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean my view of Scripture is lower. Just because the conclusions I arrive at don’t jive with yours, does that make you and you superior? Only in your own mind.

Accept that others just might do as much study as you, and that others just might have a small amount of intellectual capacity. We can disagree with your conclusions.

I will admit to having some concern with those who put such emphasis on their ability to extract truth from difficult passages based upon their unique understanding of syntax and literary form. That tells me that Scripture is only for the elite and makes me think you have a very low view of Scripture, because it was written, for the most part, for the common folk in the common language of the day.

If God is not able to communicate to His servants without their having a doctorate in hermanutics, then it is an elitist religion. I totally disavow such, and think those of you who hold such positions are wrong-minded.

Mike

Mike, Let me respond to your specific points below.

Don, I do none of what you suggest. Where do you get your conclusions? You try to read too much into things.

I get them from your words. Let’s back track. Bill offered several possible interpretations of a passage and called for further investigation into their meaning. You disparaged his attempt by saying we ought to just take “it” by faith. I’m not arguing against your interpretation of the passage. I’m pointing out the importance of discovering what “it” is. What should we take by faith? And how do we discover what “it” is? I believe that step can not be brushed away as unimportant.

I do not disavow the original texts. I simply say that the extrabiblical material has been evaluated and argued time and again by people on both sides.

The “original texts” and “extra-biblical material” are two different things. When I use the term “the text” I’m referring to the Bible itself, usually the Greek or Hebrew. The term “extra-biblical material” refers to Greek writings that may be contemporaneous with the Biblical texts, but are not contained in the Bible. These writings serve only to shed light on what a particular word or phrase might mean. Lest we forget, the Greek text is the Bible.

You are taking a pseudo-intellectual position on these things.

I do not understand how a call to study the Bible on its own terms is pseudo-intellectual.

You put words into my mouth. I’ve never said that the original languages are not important. I study and use them all the time. However, I accept by faith the conclusions drawn, just as you do.

In spite of your protestations, you were not there. You must accept by faith much of what you accept.

We are talking apples and oranges here. What is it that we are to take by faith? That is what I’m trying to get you to see. As I said in my earlier post, once we have established what the text says, then and only then are we to take it by faith. If we take by faith our preconceptions of what we think a passage means then we are opening ourselves up to anyone’s fancy. When we cut the anchor rope of the grammatical historical method of interpretation, we set ourselves adrift into a dangerous sea of anything goes. Our interpretation of a passage must be anchored firmly in the text itself

When you say that I latch on to my preconceptions over against trying to discover what the text means, you are speaking from total ignorance. I’ve never advocated such an absurd position.

How else are we to understand your suggestion to “take it by faith” before we determine what Paul actually meant by the phrase? You told us that we were wasting our time trying to determine which of the possible interpretations best fit the text.

Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean my view of Scripture is lower. Just because the conclusions I arrive at don’t jive with yours, does that make you and you superior? Only in your own mind.

You miss the point at hand. This is not about agreeing on a particular interpretation of scripture. Its about agreeing that there is an objective meaning in scripture and it is our duty to use whatever tools necessary to get at those meanings so that we can rightly divide the word of truth. We can not ignore the grammar and syntactical construction of a sentence or turn a blind eye to the context in which a particular phrase is set and have any confidence that we are correctly understanding what the author meant. The words themselves are important. What did Paul mean when he wrote what he wrote? A refusal to ask that question belittles the word of God.

I will admit to having some concern with those who put such emphasis on their ability to extract truth from difficult passages based upon their unique understanding of syntax and literary form.

Mike, read the words you just wrote my friend. Read them again. I’ll agree with you on one thing. If someone claims to have a “unique” understanding, we may want to look closer at their interpretation, however let me address the main point you make here. Are you suggesting that we extract meaning from the text apart from “understanding of syntax and literary form?” The Bible contains words. Those words make up phrases and sentences. Those sentences make up paragraphs and those paragraphs are contained in larger units. In order to understand a sentence, we must understand grammar and syntax at some level or else the string of letters don’t have any meaning. Recognizing the literary form is essential to proper interpretation. I’m advocating that we take seriously the words, phrases, sentences, literary units, historical context, and genres of the biblical text. Anything less is a violation of our belief in plenary verbal inspiration.

That tells me that Scripture is only for the elite and makes me think you have a very low view of Scripture, because it was written, for the most part, for the common folk in the common language of the day.

We are not talking magic. A child just learning how to speak understands grammar at some level. They may not be able to diagram a sentence, label the parts of speech, or parse a verb, but they know that “May I have an egg for breakfast?” has meaning. If a parent ignores the grammar and syntax of the sentence the child may end up with a scorpion instead (Luke 11:11-12), if anything at all. Words and authorial intent are extremely important. If its important to understand what our children are saying, how much more important is it to know what our heavenly Father is saying through His written word?

If God is not able to communicate to His servants without their having a doctorate in hermanutics, then it is an elitist religion. I totally disavow such, and think those of you who hold such positions are wrong-minded.

Who said anything about needing a doctorate degree? I know you think I’m wasting my time pursuing mine, but I make no apologies for my passion for God’s Word. I do not believe it is necessary for every Christian to study in a formal setting, however I do believe that every Christian is obligated to read, study, and search the scriptures for themselves. This belief is one of the core things that makes me a Baptist. We do not simply take by faith what the Pope says, or what the church decrees, or what the pastor affirms. Instead we are to search and examine the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11)

I agree with A.W. Pink when he said:

The Bible is not designed for lazy people. Truth has to be bought (Proverbs 23:23), but the slothful and worldly minded are not willing to pay the price required. That ‘price’ is intimated in Proverbs 2:1-5: there must be a diligent applying of the heart, a crying after knowledge, a seeking for an apprehension of spiritual things with the ardour and determination that men employ when seeking for silver; and a searching for a deeper and fuller knowledge of the truth such as men put forth when searching for hid treasures – if we would really understand the things of God. Those who complain that these articles are ‘too difficult’ or ‘too deep’ for them, do but betray the sad state of their souls and reveal how little they really value the truth; otherwise they would ask God to enable them to concentrate, and reread these pages perseveringly until they made their contents their own. People are willing to work and study hard and long to master one of the arts or sciences, but where spiritual and eternal things are concerned it is usually otherwise

(A.W. Pink; cited in Iain H. Murray, The Life of Arthur W. Pink, p.235).

Sometimes interpreting and understanding scripture takes hard work.

The typical pastor cannot exegete a complete sermon from the original languages each week, much less three. The typical pastor in a Southern Baptist Church averages about 80-100 people each week. They do most of the ministry, most of the visiting, and most of the evangelism.

Mike, a man who is too busy to rightly divide the Word of Truth is too busy to preach it. I’d rather a pastor preach sound exegesis in one 20 minute sermon a week, than have him preach six one hour sermons filled with eisegesis, his own human thoughts, or false doctrine. If a difficult passage takes too much time to exegete correctly, then something else needs to be preached. The Bible is too important to treat its meaning lightly or to give its proper understanding a low priority. We can’t use our busyness as an excuse to preach any old thing. My human opinion or philosophy caries no weight. God’s word is our authority. We must preach the Word. How can we do that if we don’t take the time to investigate what it means?

If we are going to stand on the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy, let’s couple that stand with practical application of it. Let’s take the time to read, study, and understand the word that God has so graciously given us. Lets not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God. The words are important. Their meaning is important. Once we grasp onto that meaning, then we can preach the truth with confidence and honestly proclaim “thus saith the Lord.”

by grace alone,

Don A. Elbourne Jr.

2 Comments

Well, It looks like we had a real donny brook there doesn’t it? We have to meet for lunch again soon. 🙂

Don-
Although I agree with you, I know it is very easy to the “interperet by faith” mentallity. I myself have been at this point for a long time. I truly want to know the truth that God is trying to communicate through scripture, but have a hard time coming to any conclusion. Admitedly it is true that I haven’t researched as much as you or as much as I should, but I feel intimidated by the fact that there are truly great men of God on either side of the isle of every theological debate. Ex.- Eternal security in salvation, literal body and blood in communion- Gospel John, as well as many more. It seems that the more I study scripture I run into a passage that, taken by face value, would seem to contradict other scripture. I don’t want to force a scripture into my theological preconception if it doesn’t fit.
Is there any books you would recommend, or advice you would give to me.

Thanx,

Jason Hennen
St. Cloud, MN