Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hermeneutics: Clarity or Confusion?

In a comment to the post below Rosemary, a regular commenter on this site, raises questions about whether we who engage in hermeneutics, via blogs such as this, are helpful or unhelpful in the cause of building up God's people. Rosemary is especially concerned that hermeneuticists may be (a) confusing that which is clear (b) denigrating God's ability to communicate and clearly to his people for all ages through his revealed word, and (c) even going so far as to claim that God is wrong on some matters.

These are grave charges, as Rosemary points out, for Scripture has some serious warnings for false teachers.

In response I would say, first, that certainly it is possible that I am wrong.

Secondly, hermeneuticists need always to be alert to the possibility that we are playing a devilish role in the sense that, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, we are mischievously asking the question, "Did God really say that?" Worse, we can go on to presume that our knowledge of a matter is greater than God's knowledge, so that, in the end we aspire to play the role of God, or at least the role of Jesus, "You have heard it said, but I say unto you ..."

Thirdly, hermeneuticists could become so ensnared in the detail of their work that they unconsciously become purveyers of confusion instead of carefully dedicated to the goal of clarity.

But what if a hermeneuticist avoids these dangers, and carefully works away at issues of interpretation? Is this a wrongful activity, full-stop?

Not at all. Every Christian is involved in the work of hermeneutics. Every preacher is a hermeneuticist. Here is a very simple test case. Has any reader of this blog sold all they have and given the proceeds to the poor? I suspect none have. Why not? I suspect each reader who has not done this has determined, through an act of interpretation of Scripture that Jesus' words to this end do not apply to them. The reasoning they would give would involve classic 'hermeneutical moves': reading the text in context, asking questions about applicability to every time and place, comparing this text with other texts (which, in respect of this case, make presumptions about Christian disciples owning possessions and using them wisely etc).

There is more to say, but I need to stop for tonight!

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