Bible - Interpretation

What Must We Do To Restore a Safe 'Hermeneutical House'?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
God's inspired, inerrant Word must be our sole authority, and our infallible critic, in every area - beginning with our interpretation of His Word itself.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part six (and the conclusion) of a series. Read part five.

Adapted from Christianity and Neo-Liberalism.1

Christians can be no less careful with the interpretation of Scripture than the inspired writers were themselves. Truly, the church of Jesus Christ must be the Scripture-driven church. God's inspired, inerrant Word must be our sole authority, and our infallible critic, in every area of life and ministry - beginning with our interpretation of His Word.

An Unsafe House

As we said at the beginning of this series, the principles and methodology of hermeneutics are like the unseen supports of a house - the foundation under the basement, the wood inside the walls. The house - the part that we see - is the interpretation of the Scriptures, and the system of doctrine we derive from that interpretation.

If we employ sound interpretive principles, and we employ them carefully and consistently, our system of doctrine will be correctly derived from the words of Scripture. We will believe the right things, because we will believe what God says. Spiritually speaking, our doctrine will be a house that is safe for us to live in. Those sound principles are grammatical-historical principles, and those principles are an integral part of the system of doctrine contained in God's Word. Substitution of man-made interpretive principles for God-ordained interpretive principles is the first step on the road to perdition. This has been Satan's method ever since he first said to Eve, "Has God indeed said..."

If sound interpretive principles and methodology have been gradually undermined, our system of doctrine will be increasingly unsound. Our system of doctrine will not be correctly derived from the words of Scripture, and will rely instead on the words of men. We will believe the wrong things, because we are being deceived. Spiritually speaking, we will be living in a house that is increasingly in danger of collapse. If we go on living in that house, we will do so at the peril of our souls.

Use of the hermeneutic of trust, the animus imponentis, and perspectivalism in much of Christian academia and the church has gradually undermined sound interpretive principles and methods. Human authority has displaced Biblical authority. The result is exactly the kind of confusion that Satan, the enemy of men's souls, desires.

Thousands of people in churches across America and around the world are being deceived. Spiritually speaking, they are living in a house that is in imminent danger of collapse, though most do not realize it. Most of them continue living contentedly in that house, week after week. They assume that their local church (and often their denomination) is still a bastion of doctrinal conservatism, and that liberalism is something on the outside. Those who go on living in such a house, and under such misconceptions, do so at the peril of their souls.

Needed: A Hermeneutic of Biblical Authority

What must God's people do, to restore a safe "hermeneutical house"? God calls upon His church not to practice a hermeneutic of trust, but a hermeneutic of Biblical authority. It is the entrance of God's Word that gives light (Psalm 119:130). We are to judge everything and everyone in that light (1 John 4:1). We may trust the teachings of other Christians only to the extent that they conform to the Word of God (1 Timothy 6:3-5). We are not to be tossed about by every wind of doctrine, but to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:14-15). Man is constantly changeable and changing. Only God and His Word are unchangeable and unchanging (James 1:17, Psalm 119:89). The Berean believers did not trust the word even of an apostle of Jesus Christ, but searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether the things that the Apostle Paul taught them were true (Acts 17:11). They practiced a hermeneutic of Biblical authority.

The apostles themselves, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, also practiced such a hermeneutic. The New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament over 270 times, and their writings form an extensive commentary on Old Testament truth. They demonstrated that the Old Covenant revelation is the foundation of the New. They explained how much of the Old Testament was fulfilled in the coming of Christ and the establishment of His Church, and that much remains to be fulfilled in the events leading up to and culminating in His second coming. In doing these things under the inspiration of God, the apostles practiced the principles of grammatical-historical hermeneutics themselves. They were exceedingly careful in their handling of the existing Scriptures as they were directed by the Spirit to write the remainder of the canon. In some cases (e.g., Galatians 3:16) the apostles demonstrated that correct interpretation of Scripture - in fact, major points of doctrine - can hinge on minute details, such as a word being in the singular or plural.

Today, we can be no less careful than the inspired writers of Scripture were themselves. Truly, the church of Jesus Christ must be the Scripture-driven church. God's inspired, inerrant Word must be our sole authority, and our infallible critic, in every area of life and ministry ???????????????¢?? beginning with our interpretation of His Word.

References:

  1. The material in this article is adapted from chapter eight of Christianity and Neo-Liberalism by Paul M. Elliott (Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2005). This book is available in our online Resource Store.

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