Contending for Old School Hermeneutics

Traditional hermeneutics have always held that Scripture has but one meaning although there may be many applications.

This principle protects us from false doctrine. When we come to difficult passages we go with the whole teaching of Scripture on the subject. For instance, verses like Philippians 2:12 “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” are used by cults to teach a works based salvation. But the principle of Doctrinal (or Theological) Unity takes into consideration the fact that the entire body of Scripture combined overwhelmingly teaches otherwise, therefore there must be another explanation of this verse because we know the Bible does not contradict itself. 

 

“what is one small hermeneutical step in the wrong direction turns out to be one giant step toward the wrong theology” 1  – Norman L. Geisler

If you’ve followed this blog for a while you know that we love the subject of hermeneutics. Proper interpretation of the Bible is essential to have a right understanding of God’s Word and to protect us against false doctrine. I don’t pretend to be a scholar but I have been around long enough to be able to spot the insidious new wave of liberalism resurfacing in conservative evangelical churches in recent years.

One reason for this is the ongoing attack on the inerrancy of Scripture and a departure from traditional principles of  interpretation. The emergence of the “new” hermeneutic has been investigated by Robert L. Thomas in his book Evangelical Hermeneutics; The New Versus the Old:

“Changes in hermeneutics have coincided with changes in evangelicalism. … Recent hermeneutical trends have forced evangelical interpreters to choose between two hermeneutical systems that oppose each other in dramatic ways.   …. There is utter confusion because they share no commonly accepted hermeneutical procedures among themselves.” 2

the most notable difference between new hermeneutics and traditional principles is the overwhelmingly subjective nature of the new approaches versus the objectivism of the old.  … The new hermeneutics provide no stopping points to limit the extremes to which  individual personal inclination may go in fostering new teachings allegedly derived from Scripture.”3

Many of these changes in hermeneutics are affecting the church’s thinking regarding feminism, missiology, ecumenism, Gnosticism, and homosexuality, just to name a few. So, here’s a reminder of some of the fundamental rules for engaging in a God honoring study of the Bible.

TRADITIONAL HERMENEUTICS

Inerrancy:  Believing in the inerrancy of Scripture is an absolute prerequisite. We must come to the Bible believing that it is entirely true and without error in the original writings. It can be fully trusted in every sense, including all matters pertaining to science, history, geology,  and spiritual enlightenment.

We believe in the grammatical-historical method of interpreting Scripture based on a specific set of hermeneutical principles. When we talk about grammatical we’re referring to the words, their meanings, the sentence structure, the interaction with the original language, etc.  By historical we’re speaking of things like: Who wrote it? Why did they write it? When did they write it? Who did they write it to? What was the cultural context?Was it written to Israel or the Church?

Changes have brought about much confusion over definitions therefore a good traditional definition of Hermeneutics  could be defined as “a set of principles” while  exegesis is an implementation of valid interpretive principles” 4. Simply stated, hermeneutics would be equivalent to the “rule book” for playing the game and exegesis would be like “playing the game”.

Read More