Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Necessity & Aim of Hermeneutics

Max Strange

The hope for anyone who comes to the Word of God is to know the God of the Word (Phil. 3:10). This, I hope, is the immense drive for any and all who scan the pages of Scripture and applies hermeneutic principles. The great Apostle to the Gentiles had this same ambition to know Christ. Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…” For Christians today, we have this same Spirit-propelled ambition and struggle. The struggles are many that keep us from seeing the Word of God rightly and because of this, we must understand the great necessity for hermeneutics and have its goals in mind. 

First, we have the necessity of hermeneutic. God is a communicator and by nature a revealer. Within His own Trinitarian perfection, long before the world ever existed, God communicated. All things were planned within the Godhead to speak, create, send Christ, redeem a people, etc. In a most basic sense, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are by nature communicators.

From this same and only God comes man. God designed man to utilize language, to understand, to apply truth, and to ultimate communicate back with God. Man was designed to be a receiver and proclaimer of a Christ-centered revelation. When God spoke to Adam to “Be fruitful and multiply,” Adam automatically interpreted rightly what God had said and he was to proclaim it to Eve and to future generations. Adam was made to receive, interpret, and communicate God’s Word. He had a perfect hermeneutic of God and he perfectly understood God’s speech-acts. Adam was meant to find his meaning, destiny, existence, and purpose in the communication of God and in his perfect God-given interpretation of that communication. He was meant to interpret his entire world in the way God the Communicator communicated it to him. Unfortunately, man fell into sin and lost his way.

Adam rebelled against God and his perfect hermeneutical grid was thrashed. The way Adam could understand God was shattered like a pair of glasses thrown from a high office building. His framework was not distorted but pulverized into a million bits of confusion, creating an “epistemological disaster” (the science of knowing God). This shattering presupposes the greatest urgency for hermeneutics. However, hermeneutical skills alone cannot undo the fallen sinner’s condition to understand God’s meaning and significance.

In order to understand God, one must have the Spirit of God living at home in the heart. The new creation must take place with the Spirit dwelling and imparting the mind of Christ in the soul to begin a reverse of the curse. Noetic salvation takes places, a sort of redemption of the mind commences (1 Cor. 2:16). The mind goes through a transformation process to know and love the God he was alienated from (Romans 12:1-2). Everything attached to the curse grows dim and everything concerning Christ grows big and beautiful as the Christian’s interpretive framework realigns with God’s Word. Yet, our remaining sinfulness and confusion “conspire to lead us always away towards a Christless interpretation.” Many inside and outside the Church twist God’s Word and do damage to the Word of God by unnecessary allegorization and spiritualization of the text. They banish the Biblical authors, who stood in the presence of God, from their meaning, and fail to see the big storyline in favor of nearsighted personal application. Many do their best to unsupernaturalize the Bible and deem that the most significant process of interpretation is the readers' own meaning. Most often, we simply approach the Bible with all of our presuppositions that confuse the interpretation. Therefore, after all this, the necessity for hermeneutics should be plain to see.

Second of all we see the goal and function of hermeneutics. The initial goal of hermeneutic method is to find the author’s intent. The hope is to close the gap between the text and its world and the reader with his present world. History, culture, grammar, syntax, accumulated theological context, are all ways in which to understand the meaning that the author intended for his audience and the application the audience would have walked away with. However, the process does not end there. The author’s mind is not the goal but the Christ who author’s all Scripture. The interpreter creates a theology of many parts to see how it fits the whole and therefore ought not to leave out the redemptive-historical significance, the overarching theme; the meta-narrative of God’s story.  One who does walks up to the edge of the Grand Canyon and simply stairs at his feet. 

Hermeneutical principles also establish authority. It shows us that God’s Word isn’t a jar of clay that one uses to mold into some subjective ash tray. Hermeneutic principles, one’s that we naturally had before sin, reveal to us that there is an objective standard of authority above and beyond our own taste, feelings, opinions, likes, dislikes, and intuitions. It shows us that there is an art and a science to God’s Word and that it stands in authority over us and not some toy-thing to played with or trifled with.

Finally, hermeneutics functions as a saint unifier. Hermeneutics is a good tool for the entire Christian community (Acts 17:11). The church meets and understands God’s Word together creating a dynamic understanding of God. This unifies the people in truth and in spirit and cultivates a camaraderie of love, not merely in emotion but all according to the truth of God’s Word.

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