This is the third article in a series on hermeneutics that
demonstrates why the one biblical hermeneutic exposes errors of interpretation.
I have been reading a number of wide-ranging articles particularly dealing with
the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the church, and church polity. Many of them
illustrate how easy it is to insert personal presuppositions into a text. A
partial hermeneutic is often responsible for this. Ignoring texts that clarify
or failing to use grammar, context, or the historical setting of the text is a
sure formula for theological disaster.
God, the author, in His wisdom gave the average believer a clear way to understand what He intended to convey in the text. The unlearned person, as well as the intellectual, has no trouble finding ways to corrupt the scripture. Sometimes this is done by adding to the text and other times by taking away from it. Every error you can think of has violated either some part of or the entire single biblical hermeneutic. Pride would make us think that our positions are pure and without flaw, but that is not true. Baptists are proud of their doctrinal distinctives, but few are able to give explanation for them without violating the text. Much of what we have adopted has come from culture or history and is only a reaction to the wrong interpretation others have used to build their error. That is not to say there is no truth in what they propose, but we tend to be selective in our use of scripture in order to build our own tower of Babel.
If I have any area of expertise at all, it is in the doctrine of the church and particularly church polity. Not a single one of us is infallible, and that is why we need to be willing to honestly challenge each other’s conclusions. I am amazed at how blatantly our own crowd will often make a “grammatical pretzel” out of the text, twisting it in an effort to insert a cultural polity into their position. God has given us clear tools to define congregational government, but those have to be ignored to arrive at a political structure. One reason this is done is in reaction to error. It is right to oppose the idea of the pastor’s acting as a despot or dictator, but the answer to this problem is to let the text speak. The interpreter does not have to destroy the office of the bishop/elder/pastor/shepherd to deal with that error. To relegate the office of pastor to one of a mere lackey who only serves as an example is desperately misguided. This is often done by tossing proof texts around and ignoring all the teaching on the subject. In the text, the whole of the teaching about this office gives a powerful picture of the function of a true under-shepherd.
Sometimes the office of pastor has been developed in response to cruel and despicable treatment of pastors by those who often are goats, and not sheep. Even this sinful practice does not give us leave to create an unbiblical style of pastoring. Both of these described errors rest on the ignoring of the context and the historical setting of the text. God gave us simple examples so we couldn’t possible miss what He wanted our polity to be. Can you imagine a shepherd who led only by his example? The answer is so elementary that even a child could tell you what sheep and shepherds do.
We have already noted that a study of grammar, language, and words is the first task of the interpreter. Few believers are trained grammarians, but that does not mean we cannot know what the text says. The problem with language experts is that they too often tend not to observe their limitations. Let me say again that when we have done our best with the language, words, and meaning in the text, we are still left with a question; an accurate conclusion needs to be tested by a study of the full context and the historical setting of the text. This is where the average believer should begin to ask questions about an uneasy conclusion provided by the experts. The answer is not in just a part, but in the whole.
The sinful nature is prone to wander. When someone wants to be free to sin, he will even use selected scriptures to give credence to his unwarranted conclusions. This selectivity in choosing texts that agree with them is well illustrated in today’s rush for schools and others to approve the drinking of debilitating alcohol. Lust is a terrible thing, and it causes us to do what even common sense tells us is wrong. How could you possibly trust the conclusion of anyone who seriously believes in the Big Bang theory? I personally wonder how you can even trust the theology of anyone who says that the Bible does not condemn booze as a beverage.
In case you are wondering about these strong words, let me tell you that being this close to the Bema tends to discourage one from giving support to sinful practices. The crowd who reject plain words like “sodomy”, or “murder” for abortion, have tipped their hand. We are too close to the end to be nice to the devil and make sinners comfortable about the heinous moral error that God hates.
People who often say they believe in literal interpretation may not mean what you do when you use that term. Even Luther and Calvin claimed to use literal interpretation - and they did - but not when it came to eschatology (prophecy) and soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). Not all their teaching was bad, but that still is no excuse for giving them or anyone else a pass when it comes to the clear, normal, plain, consistent use of the Bible text. Go ahead - make my day!
What is Truth, Part 2
Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min.