Webster's defines hermeneutics as:
"The study of the methodological principles of
interpretation (as of the Bible)"
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary
In his introductory comments in his book on the
subject, Hermeneutics, Professor D.R. Dungan said:
Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation.
It is derived from the Greek Hermes, the messenger of the
gods and the interpreter of Jupiter. Every Hermeneus
was, therefore, an interpreter, as he was supposed to inherit some of
the mystic qualities of this god of philology, this patron of
eloquence. Sacred hermeneutics is the science of interpreting
the Scriptures. Exegesis (from ex, out, and egeisthas,
to guide or lead), means to lead out. It is the application of
the principles of hermeneutics in bringing out the meaning of any
writing which might otherwise be difficult to understand.
(Hermeneutics, page 1)
In this issue of Watchman Magazine, we
intend both to examine the Divine Hermeneutics, and to warn of
some present depatures from that hermeneutics. When we use the
term Divine Hermeneutics, we refer to the "methodological
principles of interpretation" which are established by God.
In other words, the principles established in this series of
articles are divine mandates. They are not "man-made"
principles as is commonly contended by some.
Certain fundamental principles must first be
understood, and form a basis for the issue. These are:
The Bible is the inspired word of God.
God has revealed His will to man through the scriptures. "And
so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed
as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the
morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no
prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for
prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as
they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:19-21).
The Bible is sufficient. In the
scriptures we are supplied with all we need to completely fulfill our
obligations to God and man. "All Scripture is given by
inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for
correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God
may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work"
(2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The Bible can be understood. "For
this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles;
if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God
which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known
to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which,
when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)"
Though some deny this truth, the validity of this
point can be established with simple logic. God created
man. God revealed His will for man through the Bible. If
the Bible can not be understood by man, this means that God's
creation of either man or His word was flawed. Such a position
impugns God's perfection, and makes him capricious, as we are told by
our Lord, "the word that I have spoken will judge him in the
last day" (John 12:48).
The Bible must be understood. As in the
statement of Jesus noted above, the scriptures clearly and
consistently demand that we be obedient to his word. It is
obvious that to obey, we must understand. The fact that God
demands obedience means that God demands and understanding of His
word. Though we admit that our lack of spiritual maturity can
sometimes make this understanding difficult, it does not excuse
us. Peter said of Paul, and the rest of scripture, "...Consider
that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; as also our beloved
brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to
you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these
things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught
and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also
the rest of the Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16-17).
Contrary to popular thought, it does matter what you believe.
The Divine Hermeneutics
The special articles which make up the theme of this
month's issue establish positively the Divine methodology for
interpreting the Bible.
Larry Fain, in his article "All
authority resides in Christ", establishes the fact that
Christ, as the son of God, is the final messenger from God. As
Christians, we are obligated to follow his will in our lives.
Jerry Fite, in his article "How
to Establish Authority" gives us a primer on how God's will
is established. He skillfully points out from the teachings of
our Lord Himself that expressed statements, approved examples
and implication are all legitimate examples of the way God
reveals his will to man.
Steven Deaton, in his article "Expediency"
notes a "trouble area" regarding the establishment of
God's will. Many who have departed from God's will claim
they are merely practicing expedients in fulfilling God's
commands. Deaton clearly shows the difference between choices
inherent in what God has authorized, and departures from His will.
Larry Fain weighs in again in his article "Silence
Never Authorizes", anther "trouble area", as some
make the adolescent argument, "It doesn't say I can't do
it!" Fain ably shows that silence does not permit free
reign. Rather, we are bound to respect God's silence as well as
His revealed word.
Departures from the Divine Hermeneutics
It can rightly be said that every apostasy which has
taken place since the establishment of the church had its genesis
either in a misunderstanding of, or rejection of, the principles of
divine authority. Whether we refer to the gradual changes of
the first several centuries which led to the establishment of the
Catholic church, the imperfect efforts of the Reformers, the failures
of the Restoration movement as it splintered with the introduction of
the Missionary Society and instrument, or the embrace of human
institutions in the 1940's and 1950's, the digressions came as men
set aside the authority of God for their own designs and innovations.
The modernist who denies the inspiration of scripture
has rejected the Divine Hermeneutics. The denominationalist who
tolerates multiples belief systems with the attitude that sincerity
is sufficient has rejected the Divine Hermeneutics. Those who
augment the word of God with creeds, whether written or unwritten,
have rejected the Divine Hermeneutics. Those among our brethren
who are clamoring for a "new hermeneutics" do so because
they have rejected the patterns established by the Divine Hermeneutics.
All of these are worthy of exposure and
refutation. However, there are other prevelant attitudes which
strike closer to home among the people of God. These are
addressed in the second section of our theme issue.
Donnie Rader, in his article "Legalism"
documents and refutes a common departure from the Divine
Hermeneutics. Some brethren, under a false guise of
conservatism, do as the Pharisees and bind the traditions of men upon
others. To do so is as sinful as the liberal error commonly
noted as a depature from the authority of God's word.
Marc Gibson, in his article "Modernism"
not only notes the obvious modernist depatures observed above, but
also documents a dangerous trend which can be referred to as incipient
expressions of modernism, which exists among Christians.
As brethren become more enamored of higher education, replacing the
simplicity of the gospel with the theological flights of fancy that
are so prevalent among the "elite" of our society, this
danger will become ever more prevalent.
Jeff S. Smith, in his article "A
Gospel/Doctrine Distinction" documents the rise of
"Neo-Calvinistic" thought among Christians, who seek to
make a distinction between Gospel and Doctrine. Though the
words are not the same, the idea that the two things, gospel and
doctrine, are disparate entities is not true. Some seek to make
the distinction in an attempt to practice a broader fellowship than
that allowed by God. Smith refutes this error in his fine article.
Finally, Dennis Reed, in his article "Passivism"
points out the dangerous apathy among Christians which leads to a
toleration of religious error. Satan is at his strongest when
he can convince Christians to ask, "Who cares?" As
brother Reed notes, such an attitude has gained ascendency among some
in the church today.
On behalf of our readers, I extend my thanks to these
men for their fine work in defending the Divine Hermeneutics, and
warning against departures from God's word. I commend their
efforts to you.