Regarding Responsible Reformation
by Al Maxey -------
Issue #53 ------- July 11, 2003
Reading furnishes our mind
only with materials of knowledge; it is
thinking that makes what we read ours.

--- John Locke (1632-1704)

Building Biblical Hermeneutists

The importance of sound biblical hermeneutics cannot be overstated. Our perception of Truth ultimately depends upon our approach to the inspired biblical record. Equally important to this process of discovery, however, is the nature and ability of the hermeneutist. If one employing a sound hermeneutic is himself unsound, the result will be disastrous to the appreciation and application of Truth. Often our focus in such a study is upon the various rules of interpretation. In this article, however, let us shift our focus to those assorted qualities and characteristics which can either help or hinder one in his quest to become a good biblical interpreter.

That Which Helps

Common Sense --- One thing I try to convey in all my classes on Sacred Hermeneutics is that the number one quality of a good biblical interpreter is common sense. Without it one is destined to fail in his quest for genuine understanding of God's Word. "It is not hoped that any number of axioms and rules of interpretation will compensate the unfortunate interpreter who is lacking in good judgment and sound common sense. Laws of all sciences presuppose ability in him who would use them" (Dr. Clinton Lockhart, Principles of Interpretation, p. 13). "The interpreter of Scripture, first of all, should have a sound, well-balanced mind. For dullness of apprehension, defective judgment, and an extravagant fancy will pervert one's reason, and lead to many vain and foolish notions" (Dr. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, p. 151).

A Deep Faith in the Inspiration of the Scriptures --- It is critical that one have a solid conviction that the biblical record is indeed the very word and will of God to mankind. God-breathed. A serious view of Scripture is conductive to a serious study of it. One will be more likely to exercise care in the interpretation of these writings when he realizes that he is seeking to understand the very thoughts of his Creator!

A Desire to Seek Out and Know TRUTH --- A good interpreter of Scripture must have a genuine hunger and thirst for a deeper understanding of the things of God. An eagerness to receive the Word, and a willingness to daily search the Scriptures for greater awareness of Truth (Acts 17:11), is critical.

A Sincere Heart; A Desire to Promote Truth, not Peddle it for Personal Gain --- "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the Word of God for profit; but with sincerity we speak" (2 Cor. 2:17). Those who "preach for profit" will often interpret the Word according to the desires of their hearers in order to maintain their position and popularity (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

A Good Education in Biblical Backgrounds --- A working knowledge of the original languages of the Bible is very important if one expects to acquire deeper appreciation of the message of the Lord. "There are many thoughts in the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures that can not be so clearly presented in any other language. In translating any book from one language into another, much of the beauty and strength is lost. Other things being equal, the scholar in Hebrew and Greek is the better interpreter" (Dr. D.R. Dungan, Hermeneutics: The Science of Interpreting the Scriptures, p. 28).

Knowledge of the geography of the biblical lands, biblical history, the customs and cultures of the peoples of the Bible, biblical archaeology, biblical chronology, law, politics, the civil governments of the time, the religious and philosophical groups of the day and their teachings, textual criticism, the transmission of the Scriptures throughout the ages, the many and varied versions and translations of the Scriptures ..... all of this, and much more, will have a tremendous impact upon how well one is equipped to accurately interpret and apply the teachings of Scripture.

EXPECT to Understand the Scriptures --- A good interpreter will believe that God's Word can be understood. It may not always be easy -- study and research may be required in some areas -- but the understanding is there for those who seek it out. If we believe that God's Word cannot be fully understood, "our investigations will amount to but little more than a pious waste of our time" (Dungan, p. 32).

Prayer for God's Guidance --- Before approaching any study of the Word, one should pray that God's Spirit will guide him into greater wisdom and understanding. In so doing, one approaches the Scriptures reverently. All biblical research should be done both prayerfully and carefully.

That Which Hinders

A Desire to Please Men --- When one is more concerned with what others will think than with knowing and proclaiming Truth, it will affect his interpretations of the Word. His interpretations will invariably become slanted toward those whom he seeks to please or appease. "To such men the Word of God may never have been very precious, but the honor that comes from men continually lessens their feeling of loyalty to divine authority, until they are willing to preach anything, true or false, if it will only give them favor with the people. They become willing to sell their pulpit, and themselves also, to the highest bidder" (Dungan, p. 37).

Making the Scriptures the Domain of a Select Few --- This is known as The Clergy Syndrome. This enables a few individuals to establish a monopoly on biblical interpretation, and it sets them up as the authorities to whom the "laity" come to appeal rather than to God and His Word. In time, it is no longer what the Scriptures say that truly matters, but rather what the "authorities" say the Scriptures say. "This is partly from laziness that makes us willing to accept statements, rather than look for the truth ourselves. In this way errors are handed down from one generation to another, for centuries, without having been suspected of being untrue. Some great man has made a hasty statement, which, at the time, he intended only to be understood as a kind of guess, and then it is copied by one after another, till a dozen or twenty scholars can be quoted as holding that view; and this will be evidence enough for the faith of all the rest, for centuries to come" (Dungan, p. 38).

Viewing the Scriptures as a Source of "Proof-Texts" --- When the Bible is viewed as some kind of legal reference book, to be referred to only to prove others wrong and ourselves right, one will quickly arrive at numerous false and confused perceptions of Truth. Such men approach the Word already convinced in their own minds of what they believe ultimate Truth to be in all areas. Thus, they search the Word only to find something which will verify their positions, practices, and preferences. This is known as The Dogmatic Method of biblical interpretation.

Entering Bible Study Irregularly or Only out of a Sense of Duty --- In such persons there is no real desire to learn, or to come to a deeper awareness of Truth, but merely a sense of needing to fulfill one's duty to spend a certain amount of time in Bible reading and perhaps to cover a specified number of chapters or verses per day so as to "get through it" in a year's time. Others may read the Scriptures even less frequently than this. Thus, there is no real commitment to the Word of God, or to any systematic endeavor to truly perceive what is being said. It is a surface perusal at best, and leaves one lacking in substance and depth.

A Thirst for Self-Exaltation and Personal Distinction --- Some desire the acclaim and honor which goes with the title: Biblical Scholar. They will thus search the Scriptures high and low for something that they can bring forth, which, in turn, will call attention to their efforts ... and to themselves. "For the purpose of maintaining a reputation for independence of thought, they adopt anything and everything that promises to bring them to public view. They must find in the Scriptures what no one else has been able to find, or their claim to acuteness will not be well maintained" (Dungan, p. 46).

Sectarianism --- A particular denomination, or sect, or even a "party" (faction) within a religious group or movement, will often feel the need to defend their group and its particular perceptions and practices. This is often referred to as "defending the faith." The Bible therefore becomes a weapon used to attack those "outside the fold," and to defend the flock against the "wolves." The desire to study God's Word for the purpose of defending one's traditions, customs, methods, practices, and religious preferences, and to attack those with whom one differs, will almost always lead to serious misinterpretation and misapplication of the Scriptures.

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Thanks so much! These Ten Commandments for the Church regarding divorce and remarriage (Reflections #52) really are helpful .... especially now!

From a Reader in Texas:

With tears in my eyes, I read Reflections #52. Your timing could not have been more perfect. Thank you, dear brother!

From a Reader in Nevada:

Boy, is this needed in our congregations! Thanks, Al.

From a Reader in Edinburgh, Scotland:

Just a note to first of all continue to encourage you in your endeavours with Reflections. I really enjoy what you write and it is pretty much the same thing that I am trying to do in my house church. I have good news regarding the chap that was visiting with us the last time I wrote to you -- I baptized him yesterday afternoon, 6 July. This is a guy who, 6 months ago, was an atheist who believed in reincarnation and was opposed to organized religion -- he freely admits he would not have stepped into a church building. However, over the months he has gotten to know our group as friends and has been open to questioning about things of God. I was really thrilled when he asked me to baptize him. One thing I've learnt, though -- if baptizing someone in the sea, find out when the tide is supposed to be in! It didn't help that I can't swim and am pretty much afraid of the ocean!

We continue to meet on a Sunday, devoting most of the day to our gathering, and breaking bread as part of a fellowship meal together. We still discuss your Reflections articles in our assemblies, and I have used some of these in helping this former atheist come to some understanding that he was a sinner. I just gave them to him to read and within a week he wanted to be baptized! I just wanted to let you know that your work has encouraged and aided mine on this side of the Atlantic!

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