Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Liturgical Hermeneutic

Thus far in this series on bible interpretation called “hermeneutics’, I have addressed the need for our western culture to relearn “humility” in bible interpretation, as well the need to focus on “obedience” as a means of better interpretation. The last point that I would make in this short series is that we also need to rediscover “liturgical interpretation.” I have found that the best summation of this approach comes from the pen of Bishop Kallistos Ware.

He writes:

“As an example of what it means to interpret scripture in a liturgical way, guided by the use of it at church feasts, let us look at the Old Testament lessons appointed for vespers on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th. They are three in number… All are to be understood as prophesies of the incarnation from the virgin. Mary is Jacob’s ladder (Gen 28:10-17), supplying the flesh that God incarnate takes when entering into the world. Mary is the closed gate who alone among women bore a child while inviolate (Eze 43: 1-4). Mary is the house which Christ the wisdom of God takes as His dwelling (Pro 8: 22-30). Exploring this manner of choice of lesson for the various feasts, we discover layers of biblical interpretation that by no means obvious at first reading.”

While it should never be said that the plain meaning of words: phrases, clauses, and the like are of no consequence, it should also be said that the plain meaning is simply the first layer of meaning to be explored. The reformation was not incorrect in calling for a restoration of the plain meaning of the text; that was truly necessary in its day because for the most part it had been lost to the inventions of medieval preachers. However, the sad outcome was that as the liturgies were tossed out, so were the second layers of understanding exposed in the liturgies.

The liturgical cycle of the first millennium are not a mere option, they are a real necessity because they contain within them the deepest levels of biblical understanding.

Friday, March 18, 2011

An Obedient Hermeneutic

In this next treatment of bible interpretation I would like to consider the role of obedience in our hermeneutics.

In Gen 12:1 we read, Now the Lord said to Abram…

The very 1st thing worth noting is that the church of Christ believes and teaches that it is not only possible for God to make himself known & experienced by persons, but rather that it this is precisely the thing that God loves & intends to do.

God desires a situation wherein his creation lives before him at all times, & not only with God’s awareness of the creation's presence, but with the creatures equally aware of God’s presence.

At the same time we should also note that we are not told exactly how this voice of God came to Abraham, that is a mystery.

We know this, somehow, God revealed himself, & somehow Abraham heard rightly; so let me start again from vs 1:

12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

2nd, please notice that this conversation seems to be a monologue; I say it seems, but we cannot be sure that this was the whole conversation.

After all we do not know where Moses learned the content of this meeting (maybe Jewish elders, maybe Egyptian books, maybe direct revelation), however, we can be sure of this; this is the part of conversation that the Spirit wants the church to know.

The point of the conversation is that when God speaks to Abram he tells him you GO! & then as you GO, I WILL; in fact, God says I WILL 5 times.

You GO, & I WILL show you where, I WILL make you a great nation, I WILL bless you, I WILL bless those who bless you, I WILL Curse those who do not.

When God causes himself to be experienced by Abraham, & any person, he first commands a following or a work of faith, & then when we follow, HE ACTS before our eyes.

Notice what we read in vs 4:

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him … 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

As Abraham went, God began to Act, & to come to Him more & more. Abram left & god reveals himself again & tells him where he is going- To your offspring I will give this land.”

And as Abraham is strengthened he turns to God more and more, now Abraham begins to go before God

So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east.

And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.

When God speaks, if we listen, we follow, only then does He speak more, & the more He speaks, the more we can follow, & the further we are drawn into the life of God.

Interpreting the bible has everything to do with hearing God speak and following his commands so that we might further understand, no following results in no understanding.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Humble Hermeneutics

Before we begin a serious comparison between the ancient methodology of bible interpretation and that of the present, I want to emphasize the pressing need for humility in our day. Specifically, our need to rediscover humility in bible interpretation. It is due to our lack of humility that many are misled by the darkness both within us and outside of us. Thus, it is here that we might learn a thing or two from the dessert fathers.

The devil appeared to a monk, disguised as an angel of light, and said to him, “I am the angel Gabriel and I have been sent to you. But the monk said, see if you have not been sent to someone else; I am not worthy to have an angel sent to me. At once the devil vanished.

There is a tendency in contemporary bible interpretation to set aside the reality of our own limitations, and to presuppose that God is speaking to us and revealing something unique to us individually. Those two tendencies possess just enough error to be spiritually unhealthy. Surely God is speaking to us through his divine word, but never in isolation from the rest of the church. This means that whenever we deduce a meaning of a particular scripture, our conclusion cannot differ from that which others have received (all the way back to the beginning). If there is disagreement about a text, then we carefully consider the outcomes of debates, synods, councils, &C…. It may also very well be that the church has not given a strict conclusion about particular text, and we too must learn to hold a view any interpretation of those texts as private and not universal interpretations. However, when the church speaks with one voice, it is incumbant upon us to grow into that understandng and forsake our own. It is spiritual pride that leads a person to say, this has been revealed to ME, and no one else!

Like the monk in the quote above, we must learn to view our private interpretations and revelations with a great deal of suspicion, and the way to do so is by elevating the one voice of the church above our own. When we do this, those demons of interpretation quickly vanish. Those who pretend to speak with authority, yet whose voice is not aligned with the whole church (all the way back to the beginning) have probably bought into a similar false and demonic vision as that of the monk in our quote. The mindset that should prevail in us is one that sees the one voice of the church as greater than our own.