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The Divine Hermeneutic

Theme Editorial
Stan Cox


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:

  1. 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).

  2. 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).

  3. 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)" (Ephesians 3:1-4).

    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).

  4. 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.

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