Hermeneutics

The Writing of the Two Testaments: A Consideration

An interesting phenomenon in regard to the reading of the Old Testament and the New is the respective chronologies of the authorship of the canons. Whereas the Old Testament was written over a period of approximately 1,300 years – taking Job as the earliest book (c.1750 B.C.) and Malachi as the last book (c. 450 B.C.), the New Testament was written within one average human lifetime. This represents a vast difference which ought to be given more consideration than it has.

The Writing of the OT

If we consider the span of years for the writing of the Old Testament we get something like this (citing representative examples):

  • Job – 18th Century B.C.
  • The Pentateuch – Mid 15th Century B.C.
  • Many Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles – 10th Century B.C.
  • Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah – 8th Century B.C.
  • Isaiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk – 8th to 7th Century B.C.
  • Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, 1 & 2 Kings – 6th Century B.C.
  • Zechariah, Ezra/Nehemiah, Malachi – 5th Century B.C.

During that time history witnessed the beginning of the nation of Israel under Moses, and the dominance and eventual waning of Egyptian and Babylonian dynasties, plus the Hittite, Assyrian, Persian empires, and the onset of the Greek empire. Israel rose to become a powerful state in the days of David and Solomon; then split into two kingdoms until some centuries later both parts of those kingdoms went into captivity.

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The Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutic

Origen Teaching His Students - Jan Luyken (1700)

Communication involves at least two parties in its process: the communicator who delivers the message and the recipient. Both individuals must follow some basic principles for communication to occur: the communicator must express the message clearly, and the recipient must understand the communicator’s meaning in its context. If individuals follow these rules for communication, how much more significant is the practice of attempting to understand correctly what God has recorded for them in His Word? This attempt at accurate comprehension is the study of interpretation, also known as hermeneutics. Biblical fundamentalists should be committed to an accurate understanding of God’s Word, and this understanding begins with accurate hermeneutics. The purpose of this article is to discuss the grammatical-historical hermeneutic (1) by distinguishing it from the allegorical hermeneutic, (2) by tracing the history of those two methods up to the Reformation, and (3) by explaining the basic principles of the grammatical-historical method.

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The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 12 and the List in Order

Read the series.

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 12: Never confuse application with hermeneutics and exegesis. It is always “explanation before application.” Making application a part of one’s interpretation is a subtle instance of putting an unrestrained ‘theological’ cart before an ‘exegetical’ horse.

Many modern hermeneutics writers tell us that we cannot omit application of a biblical text when we interpret it. I find that to be confusing. In fact, the more I think about it the more confusing it seems. Take the sentence “The NT is composed of 27 Books.” I know what it means, but am I applying it at the same time? When Jesus tells us to pray “Thy Kingdom come” how does He expect us to apply it? Mustn’t we first understand what “kingdom” means here? Again, when we are told to love our enemies, isn’t there a big difference between interpreting what that means and actually doing it?

Asking such questions alerts us to the meaming of application. It boils down to two things: the belief that “this text applies to me,” and the belief that “I need to act on this.” Since acting on something depends upon whether one believes a passage is directed at them the first belief is primary. That is to say, when we believe that a text of Scripture is aimed directly at us we are applying it to ourselves. So if we look again at the three sample sentences above it should be possible to show when application is happening.

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The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 11

Read the series.

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 11: While interpreting Scripture with Scripture is valid, it is only to be employed as a check upon interpretation. Using the Analogy of Faith as part of one’s hermeneutics introduces it prematurely and may smuggle ones assumptions into the interpretation.

All evangelical Christians believe that Scripture should be used to interpret Scripture. We all can recite at least some words from 1 Corinthians 2:13:

These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

But of course, 1 Corinthians 2:13 does not say we compare Scripture with Scripture; that is just assumed. And it’s a decent assumption, since we know that one part of the Bible (say Text B) may be used to throw light upon the part one is trying to understand (i.e. Text A). Scholars refer to this as “the Analogy of Faith” rule, and it is a good rule. The real problem is when Text A has not been sufficiently studied in its context before Text B is brought in to clear things up. Or to put it differently, trouble can ensue when Text B is called upon before Text A has been exegeted to smooth over “issues” foreseen in Text A. The Analogy of Faith is being misused by being introduced too early in the interpretive process. Let me provide an example.

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The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 10

Read the series. 

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 10: Never interpret the Bible via assumptions based on extra-biblical data (e.g. “science”, philosophy, history). These can help but they should never preempt Scripture.

This “parameter” is of course just a reiteration of the principle of the Sufficiency of Scripture, although the emphasis is upon the whole of Scripture’s content, not just that pertaining to the doctrines of our salvation.

The Bible is made up of all kinds of literature, some of it clearly defined, some of it less so. We are often told that each of these “genres” demand their own forms of hermeneutics, which is bolstered by studies in many non-biblical disciplines. I am not here talking about the work of men like Richard Burridge (What Are The Gospels?) and Craig Keener (Christobiography) on the Gospels as a special type of biography, but about ideas like the latest attempts to interpret the Bible through a Cosmic Temple motif, John Walton’s views on the ANE background of the Genesis creation story, the views of all and sundry about apocalyptic, and likewise those who interpret Bible books (esp. Revelation) in terms of intertestamental apocalyptic writings, or the philosophical hermeneutics which have caused so much confusion in the definition of the discipline in recent years.

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The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9

I was wondering what I ought to write about when I stumbled upon my old unfinished series on The Parameters of Meaning. I think these parameters are quite helpful guides for interpreters, but I clean forgot about them. Well, I’m going to try to put things right! Here’s “Rule 9” with a link to the previous eight:

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9: If a literal interpretation leads you into wholesale spiritualizing or allegorizing, or causes head-on conflicts with other clear texts, which then have to be creatively reinterpreted, it is an illegitimate use of “literal.” There will always be another literal meaning available that preserves the plain-sense of the rest of the passage in its context.

Reminding ourselves that by “literal” interpretation I am just talking about a prima facie or plain-sense reading of the text in its right setting, taking special care to examine the surrounding context before employing a text theologically. Strange as it may seem, more than one literal reading of a text is possible (hence, these “parameters”). It is possible to take a literal view of one text which will skew the rest of the passage, or a whole theology. A few examples will show what I mean:

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Does Romans 4:13 Universalize Israel’s Land Promises?

Masada National Park

Romans 4:13 has become a hotly debated verse lately between those who believe in a literal future fulfillment of Israel’s land promises and those who do not. Here Paul declares:

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:13).

Much discussion involves what Paul means when he says Abraham is “heir of the world.” Some non-dispensational scholars see this verse as evidence that Israel’s land promises in the Old Testament have been universalized in such a way that there is no longer an expectation of fulfillment of particular land promises for national Israel. Thus, Romans 4:13 allegedly transcends the Old Testament expectation of the land promises to Israel. Theologians such as N.T. Wright and Gary Burge, along with others, have promoted this view. Concerning Romans 4:13 Burge says,

The formula that linked Abraham to Jewish ethnic lineage and the right to possess the land has now been overturned in Christ. Paul’s Christian theology links Abraham to children of faith, and to them belongs God’s full domain, namely, the world” (Gary Burge, Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology, 86). (emphasis mine).

N.T. Wright declares:

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