Archives For Hermeneutics


From hay-on-wye.co.uk

As we were sitting in evening worship this past Sunday Madelyn handed me a ruffled piece of paper and said this, “Daddy, this is torn from your bible!” I looked and it was a missing page that had torn out of my bible. All of Scripture is important but what was missing as parts of Matthew 5-6 (i.e., the Sermon on the Mount). I am not sure what page I would choose to lose in Scripture but it definitely would not come from those famed chapters in Matthew. I thought about an illustration that I would make in this blog. I thought how important each page of Scripture is and then I thought about the Dead Sea Scrolls and various textual discoveries made.

You see discovering manuscripts is important because it allows us to see if the translation of Scripture has been accurate over a period of centuries. With the advent of technology and discovery, textual critics (fancy term for nerds who forget more than many of us know about Scripture) have determined that much of what we contain now is not incredibly different from the older manuscript evidence that was discovered. There are a few variants but these “missing pages” have been crucial for our understanding of how Scripture was transmitted and translated over the years. I digress at this point but two helpful books before I make an illustration and land this plane:

Now, the illustration. While studying for sermons I often will go to Google Books (highly recommend this) and will try to see if a commentary is available for me to peruse a particular passage. Sometimes I get lucky and all the pages I need are available but more often than not I get this nasty message from Google Books: “Page ________ is not part of this preview.” Ugh! How frustrating. Usually that is the page I needed and it is missing.

Imagine reading a story, getting to the climax and then the page is missing. What a horrible story! What are we to do with that? There is only one page I know of that is missing in Scripture and that is the page God has left blank for us to write on. It is the missing page of Scripture because it is our invitation to place ourselves in the story. You see, Scripture makes no sense to us unless we place ourselves in the midst.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)

The Torah was only words until the reader placed themselves at its mercies…at its pleadings…at its yearnings. Consider A. W. Tozer:

For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.

Tozer, A. W. The Pursuit of God (p. 9).

Until we write that page Scripture is no different than other literary classics like The IliadRomeo and Juliet and others. Will you write your page and place yourself in God’s divine narrative? Your page is missing.


In my morning reading I came across a familiar passage and wanted to share it with you and some of the thoughts I wrote down in my journal.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good. Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

Perhaps your experience is similar to mine in that when this verse is read, quoted or used it is within the context of atheists. I have heard many Christians say, “How could someone not believe in God? The Scripture says ________.” They will quote Psalm 14:1. I think people do not believe in God for a variety of reasons (hypocritical Christians?) but I wonder if we could go a different direction with the interpretation of this Psalm. Let me ask the question, “Who is the fool in Psalm 14?” They are those, contextually, who God looks down and sees that the people are 1) not understanding, 2) not seeking after him, 3) they have turned aside, and 4) become corrupt (14:2-3). Now surely this broadens our interpretation of simply atheists. Surely you know some folks at church that fit the bill there right?

Look at how Eugene Peterson words the Psalm in The Message

1 Bilious and bloated, they gas, “God is gone.”
Their words are poison gas,
fouling the air; they poison
Rivers and skies;
thistles are their cash crop.

2 God sticks his head out of heaven.
He looks around.
He’s looking for someone not stupid—
one man, even, God-expectant,
just one God-ready woman.

3 He comes up empty. A string
of zeros. Useless, unshepherded
Sheep, taking turns pretending
to be Shepherd.
The ninety and nine
follow their fellow.

I wonder then, who is the fool? I find it interesting that Psalms 14:1-3 is quoted nearly verbatim in Romans 3:10-12. The context there is that we are all sinners in need of the justification of God by faith. So then is it a stretch to say that the fool in Psalm 14 who says “there is no God” might be us? The immediate context for David are the enemies of his kingdom but the larger implication is that sometimes we are fools. Consider the following:

  • We are fools when we do not believe God will deliver us in a difficult situation.
  • We are fools when we try to conduct ministry, spiritual formation and kingdom-work on our own without the guidance of our Father.
  • We are fools when we do not lead our families spiritually.
  • We are fools when we try to bind things in Scripture that God never intended to be bound.
  • We are fools when we make it our goal to “correct” every person’s theology whom we have contentions with as if we can come up with a perfect theology on our own.
  • We are fools when we neglect the poor and build massive buildings (does Babel ring a bell?) and have big-screen TV’s, elaborate pulpits complete with techno-savvy ways to make ministry “easier.”
  • We are fools when we do not evangelize and disciple others.
  • We are fools when we judge people, as if we are the perfect standard.
  • We are fools when we say God can’t do something, as if our existence were not evidence for God being able to do something.
  • We are fools when we keep sin to ourselves.
  • We are fools when we spend too much time at work and forget our families.
  • We are fools when we do not take care of ourselves physically.
  • We are fools when we isolate ourselves in our Christian bubble, forgetting that God actually came in the flesh.
  • We are fools to think God does not care about us (how many hairs do you have on your head again? God knows).
  • We are fools not to learn from the past, redeem the present and wait, with hope, for the future.
  • Finally, we are fools when we think it is up to us to become righteous.

Tough list. I look at it and mourn. Because I want to be honest with you, I am a fool. At times, my actions and thoughts reveal the claim that there is no God even thought intuitively I know there is. Sad. Christ, forgive me.

Who is the fool?

 

 


Proverbs 26:5 reads, “Answer a fool according to his folly or he will be wise in his own eyes.” I often heard this quoted by preachers, teachers and students who are apologetically inclined to defend the truth against the skeptics and naysayers of our society.  There is some merit to answering a fool to his folly as some people make arguments based on little to no research whatsoever.  It can be a daunting task defending the truth especially with the internet being at everyone’s fingertips.  People, under the auspices of anonymity, feel like they can say anything and everything they want to hiding behind their cute and clever “screen names” while dishing out their rhetorical banter like Krispe Kreme doughnuts.  People can spend hours and hours online at forums defending/attacking (depending on your posture) arguments for/against God, the Church, Jesus and Scripture.  There is no longer a need for debates as we remember reading about them (Warren/Flew debate is still an amazing read) rather the debates are right in front of our very eyes with the click of a mouse and a stroke of a key.  Sometimes it is appropriate to answer people and respond to their poor assessment of Christianity.  Jesus responded on more than one occasion to the Pharisees’ inaccurate assessment of who He was.  At one point in the narrative Jesus gives such a compelling argument that Matthew records this statement: “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions” (22:46).  So there is a need in some instances to respond to the critics, to the skeptics and to those wishing to spread false statements about Jesus.  Perhaps maybe we need to respond more to our brethren than those on the outside (?)!

But… or rather resoundingly BUT….

Proverbs 26:4 reads, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.” It’s funny that this verse

arugingontheinternet

comes before the previous one because I have rarely heard this quoted (wonder why?) but it makes perfect sense.  You can only say so much and spend so much time with someone and at the end of the day it’s better to smile and walk away than to say keep fighting.  Jesus is not going to cast you to outer darkness because you did not win an argument (whatever we mean by “win” anyways).  Some people are just looking for an argument (even some people in the church) and they can’t seem to operate unless they are dissecting every statement you make and claim you purport.  In the context of Jesus speaking to disciples about pseudo-Christs and to not listen to them Jesus offers this proverbial statement: “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather” (Matt. 24:28).  In context Jesus means that the disciples are to avoid people who believe that they are Christ and to avoid those who gather with them but I would suggest that we avoid all types of argumentation that lead us to the vultures.  Simple farm wisdom suggests that if one lingers around the hog pen too long eventually he or she will end up smelling like a hog.  It is best to, like Jesus suggested, shake the dust off our feet and move on (Matt. 10:14).  You did your best to talk/reason with them and God has not chosen you to reach out to them and perhaps someone else will be able to do it.  For some of us this is difficult because we are the ones who love arguing yet we call it “discussion” or “dialog.”  I think you love being right and want people to know it.  You can’t win everybody so move on!

So there are times when we answer people and times when we do not answer people but the point I want to make is that we need to make the best use of our time.

Song of Songs #1

July 27, 2010 — 2 Comments

I wrote a post a few months ago about sex (“Sex is Great!“) and the church’s need to have a theology on sex based on Scripture and a great springboard for such a discussion is the book Song of Songs in the Old Testament.  I am beginning a series of posts based on that book and eventually I will turn these posts into full class material to be taught to both youth (in the fall) and eventually adults (in the winter).  We will take this slowly and methodically.  Again, I would like to thank David Shannon, minister with the Mt. Juliet church of Christ, who opened my eyes to the need of teaching this book.     

Beloved

2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine. 3 Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out.  No wonder the maidens love you!  4 Take me away with you—let us hurry!  Let the king bring me into his chambers.

Friends

We rejoice and delight in you ;  we will praise your love more than wine.

Beloved

How right they are to adore you!  5 Dark am I, yet lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon. 6 Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun. mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have neglected. 7 Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday. Why should I be like a veiled woman beside the flocks of your friends?

Something first you should notice is that the woman speaks most in the song.  This is rare in the Old Testament but not uncommon (see Ruth and Esther).  Something else you need to realize is how the woman jumps from the different senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing.  All are utilized in the song and points to the power physical beauty has on an individual.  One scholar notes:  “Touch and taste combine with the sound of the words as they roll of the tongue.  The kisses on the mouth, the lovemaking, and the wine join together to provide readers with an introductory verse that plunges them into heady waters of this poem.  Here is no gradual acclimation, a step at a time, but rather a baptism by fire!  With the assonance of the sounds, the word pictures of kissing with desire, and lovemaking that can only be compared to the intense pleasure of drinking wine, the poet leaves the reader or listener in no doubt as to the direction she is taking.”[1]

There is so much to get into grammatically that the space is unavailable here so I suggest you see Richard Hess’ commentary referenced below.   I can’t help but to notice how much the woman values her appearance.  She is upset because the sun has darkened her skin but to her beloved she says that she is lovely but to the maidens she beckons them to not make snide remarks or look at her as if she is weird.  She is dark because of her devotion to her family.  A side note here—guys we need to be concerned about what we say about our spouses, girlfriends or those we are trying to “woo.”  Girls are concerned about their self-image and we always need to continually let them know how beautiful they are and how lovely their appearance is to us.  To the woman she was lovely in the man’s eyes but to the maidens the woman seemed a little more self-defensive.    

A second thing I appreciate is how much the two of them love each other and how they long to be with each other.  Verse 7 is a bold statement in that they want to plan to be together at noon and verse 4 says, “Take me away…let us hurry!”  Married folks—when was the last time you felt this way about your spouse?  When was the last time you just wanted to be in their presence not just for love-making but for the company and for being together?  The woman is saying, essentially, that the king’s love(making?) is more intoxicating than wine!  Even the most expensive oils and perfumes and colognes hold no value to their love. 

Young people, you probably get this more than most of us adults.  You know the power of physical attraction and how a girl consumes your mind and all you can think about is her skin, her eyes, her appearance and the more you try to not think about her the more you end up thinking about her.  That is what this love is between this couple and they want to consume it at the appropriate time. 

A lot to learn in these short verses but we will stop for now and let you make some comments.  What did you see in these few verses?


[1].  Richard S. Hess, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005): 50.

Bibles and Consumerism

June 28, 2010 — 2 Comments

I was looking on my twitter feed and noticed a tweet about this new bible called the Green Bible which is the latest edition to a string of study bibles which aims to help the reader grow closer to God.  Consider the publisher’s promotional statement for the Green Bible:

The Green Bible will equip and encourage you to see God’s vision for creation and help you engage in the work of healing and sustaining it. This first Bible of its kind includes inspirational essays from key leaders such as N. T. Wright, Barbara Brown Taylor, Brian McLaren, Matthew Sleeth, Pope John Paul II, and Wendell Berry. As you read the scriptures anew, The Green Bible will help you see that caring for the earth is not only a calling, but a lifestyle.

What does it mean to “read the Scriptures anew”?  It means reading it with a particular lens that causes you to look at verses differently and perhaps causes you to change your theology.  I understand that each and every one of us bring something different to the Scriptures when we read it but often these study bibles influence that even more.  Study Bibles are a billion dollar a year industry and publishers seek to find the latest “fad” or interest to peak reader’s attention or to reach into people’s pockets.  I looked on Christianbook Distributors and saw the different study bibles and here are some of my favorites (there were 950 different ones to choose from):

  • Thou Art Loosed Study Bible
  • Fire Bible (in chocolate and pink)
  • The Explorers Study Bible
  • The American Patriot’s Bible
  • TNIV True Identity
  • Serendipity Bible

I could go on and on with different bibles and I am not trying to make you feel guilty if you have one of these but my question is this: What happened to simply reading the Scriptures without having some sort of commentary?  Why can’t we read Scripture and let it be our “delight” and on God’s law we “meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2)?  I understand that these bibles are tools to help you see the divine but what better way to see the divine than to read about Him in the book that he wrote?  One of the best decisions I made was to purchase an NIV bible that has hardly any footnotes and does not have one cross-reference.  It makes me do the work and does not distract me from simply reading the Word.  Look, all you need are pages with words on them.  You don’t need a Life Application Bible with Italian Duo calf-skin leather on it.  It’s just a Bible.  If you want to look cool carrying your $120 Bible into worship then by all means go for it but carrying that thing is not going to change your life.  Reading it will.  

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  Psalm 119:105   


I have been labeled every status known to churches:  staunch conservative, fence-rider, bleeding liberal.  I am not sure what my identity is anymore as people have just called me everything.  I am not a fan of those terms for one reason: they are not biblical.  I don’t find the word “conservative” in any passage of scripture nor do I find “liberal” used in Scripture which speaks about where someone stands doctrinally (2 Cor. 8:20 in the NIV uses “liberal” to discuss the gentleman sent with Titus to the church in Corinth).  I also do not like those terms because they are so subjective as one can be conservative in one circle and be a liberal in another and vice-versa.  I also do not like the terms because it assumes a level of pride where we often view ourselves as well-rounded and we have the ability to separate a person according to their stance in doctrine. 

I just get tired of all of the talk about who is liberal and who is conservative and how we fellowship people based on these tags.  I am not opposed to discussing things about doctrine and where one stands but to label them as conservative or liberal as if one is better than the other is, in my opinion, unbiblical.  “That congregation claps in worship which lets you know just how liberal they are.”  I actually had someone say this to me my response was, “Are you serious?”  The Episcopal Church welcomes gay priests into their parishes and we call people who clap in worship “liberals”?  My argument may be semantic in nature but it is an argument that I believe is valid.  May we stop labeling each other and promote love and unity in our brethren.  By the way…correcting false doctrine is an act of love you know?  Calling someone a “bleeding liberal” is not.


The fallacy of expertise is the idea that there has to be an expert to explain everything because there has to be an answer.  I call it the “Open Forum Fallacy.”  When I attended Freed-Hardeman University the highlight of the year for bible majors was the FHU Lectureship.  The highlight of the FHU lectureship was the Open Forum which was an opportunity for Dr. Ralph Gilmore to field difficult questions about Scripture and theology.  to this day, I do not see how he does it as it is phenomenal the amount of knowledge that this man retains. 

Having said that, it seems that congregations and people in general flock to people of expertise to have an answer for everything.  People who have cancer will seek 2nd and 3rd opinions from experts.  When our economy went in the tank CNN, FoxNews and MSNBC became enamored with economic experts who knew exactly why our economy spiralled down (yet did not tell us beforehand…that’s another blog).  In churches I notice that people ask the preacher, youth minister or resident scholar the toughest questions on doctrine, philosophy and theology and we are “suppose” to have the answers. 

I reject that completely.  For once I would like to hear these four words said at an open forum or from the lips of an expert I DO NOT KNOW!!!  Perhaps Dr. Gilmore has said it (I heard him say to me before, “Well I am not sure about that Ed!”) or maybe you have heard an expert say that before.  To me I appreciate a person who looks me in the eye and says to me that they are not sure about an answer than come up with some sort of answer that is really not an answer at all. 

Do I have to have an answer?  Is it not just as good to relish in the search of an issue than get a pre-fabricated speck answer?  There is a difference to me in cooking a meal and buying a pre-cooked meal.  The home-cooked meal has love, energy and (hopefully) home-made ingredients in it.   The pre-cooked tastes good but it is just not the same.  

So when you think you have the answer to everything because you are an “expert” perhaps it would be wise for you to take a piece of humble pie and say, “I do not know!”  I get irritated with extremists (atheists and Christians alike) who say they have the answers because they are the ones who have done all the research.  Hogwash!  Just say, “I do not know!”  fides quaerens intellectum (Google it).  This is where we should be. 

Disclaimer: There are things we can and do know.  I am not speaking of these.  I also use Dr. Gilmore as an example of one who is humble and who does admit to grey areas but does so with scholarship and fairness to the text.           

Pick and Choose

October 16, 2009 — 7 Comments

I want your opinion on something that is controversial in the churches of Christ so please feel free to comment on it.  A book that has probed my thoughts more than any other book has in a long time is Scot McKnight’s Blue Parakeet.  It is a book designed to help readers rethink how they should read the Bible.  Really it is a book on hermeneutics.  I will not get into much of the discussion but here is a few select quotes:

Furthermore, it is my belief that we-the church-have always read the Bible in a picking-and-choosing way.  Somehow, someway we have formed patterns of discernment that guide us.  (McKnight, Blue Parakeet, 122)

When we see how we actually live, we have two choices: either become radical biblical literalists and apply everything (and I mean everything), or to admit that we are “pickers and choosers.”  (123)

So here is my question: “Can we avoid the fact that we pick and choose in a certain manner?”  “Is it enevitable?”  Can we really believe the old adage, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” in all circumstances?  I am open to your thoughts.


Chew on this for a little while! 

Whenever we pick up the bible, read it, put it down, and say, “That’s just what I thought,” we are probably in trouble.  The technical term for that is “proof-texting.” 

Ellen F. Davis, “Teaching the Bible Confessionally in the Church,” in The Art of Reading Scripture, Eds. Ellen F. David and Richard B. Hays (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003): 16. 

Good quote from an interesting read.