I start my class on How to Read and Understand the Bible this Wednesday (March 28). The first session (or two) will focus on the need for hermeneutics (the art and science of interpreting the meaning of the Bible). Here are a few chewy questions to ponder in this vein:
- If the Spirit is the one who guides into all truth (Jn 16:13), why do we need hermeneutics at all? What role do good interpretation principles play in reading the Bible?
- What role do you perceive the Spirit to have in your own Bible reading?
- Is the Spirit’s role primarily one of ‘there and then inspiration’ or one of ‘here and now illumination’?
- Does the Spirit have a vital role in reading Scripture, or is it just a complementary one?
- Is objectivity possible in biblical interpretation? I.e. can anyone read the Bible from a "neutral" viewpoint, or do we all bring presuppositions to the text?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Pastor Astor says
1. I believe God has chosen to work WITH people, IN history, WITHIN our boundaries of time and space. History is no problem to God – He will conquer without breaking the rules He has decided for the game.
Jesus came to us, not as a spiritual entity apart from us and our circumstances, but was incarnated into our reality. God became flesh. Hence, to be truly spiritual is to be truly human. In the same way God allows His Word to be soiled by our reality, marked by history and intermixed with the language, culture, personality of the ones who recorded them.
The need for hermeneutics is not a burden, but a testimony to the faithfulness of God and the miracle of a God loving enough to share our reality.
2. The Spirit reveals Jesus to us. Deep inside of us He turns words into Word of Life. The Spirit is the Spirit of the future, the Spirit of the eschaton – He draws the history of the world to its conclusion, therefore He is the Spirit of hope, the one who yearns in us for the completion of the task.
3. Primarily both.
4. I believe it is vital.
5. I believe that we all bring our presuppositions. I don’t believe an objective reading is desirable. We can learn (by spending time in other cultures and by measuring ours against the ones presented in the Bible) to be aware of our own culture and not reading it into the text, but I believe the role of objective spectator is reserved for God. The Word NEEDS to be received subjectively if we are to incarnate it for our time and place. It NEEDS to be taken personal, and have the right to judge us, heal us, send us.
RC of strangeculture says
I love question 5 because, to me, it gets at the heart of the matter.
We don’t read anything nuetrally.
When Romeo & Juliette 1st was performed the people saw it as a play were Romeo and Juliette were idiots who complietly were crazy for trying to go outside of the bounds of their family, etc.
The lesson then was: “do what you want and you will die.”
Today the story carries a new message for most viewers/watchers in that: “true love is worth death.”
It’s a complete turn around. No one can read the Bible, just for what it is because our own knowledge, experience, and viewpoint will often affect how we see it.
Do we view it as a historical document…or something living and active and always changing. And what if two people disagree where is the “Truth.”
ahh…i love it.
Bob Harvey says
1. Why? Because as you say, the Holy Spirit (HS) guides us into which is different from doing all our work for us. We have a role/responsibility. Principles assist us in handling the variables of language, culture, history, sociology, theology, eccesiology, etc.
2. Don’t have a crisp answer right now.
3. Primarily “here and now”.
4. Vital role, without the Holy Spirit our handling of the Bible is really worldly wisdom.
5. It does not seem possible for anyone to be neutral. We all have different life experiences, different personalities, different giftings, etc. NT Wright will not express himself the same way or approach the same scriptures in the same way as Dr. Bill Hamon, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Pope Benedict, etc. This does not make the task impossible but incredibly rich.
Looking foward to the class.
What are your thoughts on 1 Cor 2:11-12 in regard to interpretation?
Benjamin Sternke says
Thanks for all the responses!
Astor – I agree with all of it, especially the point about an objective reading not being desirable. N.T. Wright goes further and says the dichotomy between “objective” and “subjective” isn’t even a helpful one.
RC, loved the illustration about how we “read into” Romeo and Juliette. Makes one wonder how people will interpret the stories and movies we make today!
Bob, we’ll talk in tonight’s class a bit about question 4, about if there is a difference in the way we handle “sacred” texts vs. “profane” texts.
Mike, I am still working some of those issues, but I do believe the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential if we are to learn to “live into” Scripture and allow it to shape our lives. That is, I don’t think a non-Christian can read the Bible and it will “magically” make them into a Christian, or make them understand something new about God. The question remains, though: HOW does the Spirit do these things? And how does the Spirit’s work interact with our effort? I’ll be exploring these issues in tonight’s class a little, which you can download by going to the class blog.