(Please read yesterday’s post first).
Most people would tell you that the best way to hear God speaking through scripture is through something called hermeneutics.
Hermeneutics. The science of interpreting scripture. It comes from a root word that means “to interpret,” in fact. But dig deeper, and you’ll see the word “Herme” in there. That’s derived from Greek Mythology, referring to Hermes, the delivery boy of the gods. So by its very definition, hermeneutics is claiming to be the delivery boy, the means by which God’s voice comes to us through scripture (which should make you real uncomfortable, by the way since the Bible says no such thing). The typical ground rules for classic hermeneutics go something like this:
Before you can know the meaning of any given text for us today, you have to figure out what the author originally meant when he wrote it, which is the singular, true meaning of the text. To find that, you have to immerse yourself in the historical-cultural background of the author, which also requires knowing Greek and Hebrew (the original languages of the Bible) fluently. And the Bible is its own best interpreter, so the larger context of a passage always informs the meaning of a particular verse.
This sounds great, doesn’t it? Yeah. Super. But…uh… the Bible never actually says any of that. Those dandy little principles are the very same handles a rabid atheist uses to interpret Hamlet, The Road Less Traveled, or Homer’s Odyssey in a secular university classroom. But since when is God’s word just a typical hunk of ancient literature? There’s got to be a better way to interpret the Bible. More to the point, doesn’t the Bible teach us how to handle and interpret itself?
Yes, it does—in two brilliant ways. First, there are a couple of sections that tell us outright how to approach Bible study—teaching passages—and second, there are plenty of places where we can watch people full of the Holy Spirit handling scripture right within the Bible itself (if they’re full of the Spirit, their methods are obviously sound and worth imitating).
I’m not saying the principles of classic hermeneutics are bad in themselves. There is some wisdom there that can come in real handy, so you should definitely keep it in mind. I’ll get to some hermeneutical principles later on, in fact. Just don’t let them become the primary delivery boy. Because as Jack Deere points out, the Bible is not its own best interpreter. The Author is. And God is more than willing to help you understand and apply his written word. He built his church on “unschooled, ordinary men… (who) had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). He has promised to “guide you into all truth” by his Spirit (John 16:13). John the Apostle went so far as to say, “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you (a reference to God’s Spirit), and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (I John 1:27).
In that last paragraph God promised us a couple of massive things. He said that his Spirit will guide us into all truth. In fact, he will anoint us for the quest. He said he’ll teach us about all things. Even if we were suddenly exiled on a desert island without any pastors and teachers to guide us in our faith, we’d still have God’s Spirit teaching us. We’d be just fine. This is very, very real. We can abide in him—live in him, saturate ourselves in him, depend on his revealing work.
As William Law wrote a few centuries ago, “It is just as essential for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of Scripture to the reader today as it was necessary for Him to inspire the writers thereof in their day. For without the same inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit, it is no more possible for man in any age to experience the reality that is promised in the Scripture, than it would have been possible for “holy men of God” to write the scriptures without being “moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Pet. 1:21).”
After reading verses like Romans 1:21—which reminds us that human thinking without this inspiration is “futile” and that our greatest wisdom is actually folly—Law also says, “Man’s intellectual faculties, are, by the fall, in a much worse state than his animal appetites, and require of him a much greater self denial.” That ever occur to you before? That your logic got warped by sin too, maybe worse than anything else? That left to yourself, you’re doomed dumbness when it comes to spiritual truth? If you think about it, some of the worst sins in history haven’t been the ones done in the heat of passion, but in the grip of rationalization.
Don’t get me wrong; If you want to get as much out of Scripture as you did out of Hamlet in Mr. Blather’s class in High School, that’s your call. Have at it. If you want to “lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5,6), go ahead and order a stale scripture pizza through the old delivery boy, classic hermeneutics. But if you’re an average Joe who doesn’t have access to all kinds of historical context, Greek, and Hebrew, and just want to hear God speak through scripture like God intended, we’ll start with the instructions the Bible gives us.
See you tomorrow.