[Sticky] What is Hermeneutics and why is it so important.
According to the dictionary, Hermeneutics is the philosophy and methodology of text interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts. It is the blueprint we use to build our theology, upon which we build our doctrines which then determine our practices. Concerning the Bible, it’s been said that a book that can mean anything, means nothing and that is absolutely true. The biblical authors warn us in many places to guard and protect our doctrines, beware of false teachers and be always on the lookout for the many anti-Christ spirits which have always been and will always be one of the biggest threats to the church. Only a thorough understanding and application of Hermeneutics can ensure we are properly understanding and applying the scriptures to our lives. We have been doing a horrible job interpreting the Bible for a long time and crafty men have been exploiting it for their own gain since the beginning of the church and the problem is the Christian. We have placed the responsibility of understanding the Bible solely in the hands of the clergy while the Bible explicitly tells us that each and everyone who calls themselves a Christian is going to be judged on their understanding of the Bible and how they applied it to their lives. Your pastor is not going to be standing between you and God as your defense attorney, only Jesus will and God is going to judge you based on how much your life looked like Jesus’ life, period. Jesus is more than your mediator, he is your example. How can you model your life after his if you only know what your pastor or Sunday school teacher has taught you or how much tradition has steered you away from what the Bible really says. You are solely and completely responsible to self feed from God’s word and without Hermeneutics you have no guard rails or fences to keep you on the path and no blueprint to build with. “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:15-16)
Our current clergy/laity dichotomy is not anywhere supported in New Testament scripture. Our current church dynamic has more to do with Roman Catholic doctrines that the Bible says nothing about. We get the word Clergy from the Greek Cleros which is a reference to the the Old Testament “Casting lots” which was the practice of the temple priests for determining what part of the sacrifice went to which priest. The word we use for laity comes from the Greek word for people. A large portion of the book of Hebrews is exclusively dedicated to the priesthood of EVERY believer and Ephesians 4 clearly shows us that the gifts to the church are for the explicit purpose of teaching and training EVERY Christian for ministry. There is not a single example in the New Testament that reflects our current church leadership dynamic. The Bible is clear that it is NOT your pastor’s job to teach you the Bible, it’s your job to learn it. Your pastor’s job is to shepherd you, period. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14)
The principles you’ll learn here are not new, they are not my opinions and they are a reaction to the allegorical school in Alexandria, Egypt that sprung up in the second century. By the turn of the third century the church in Antioch, Syria could not in good conscience practice what had become traditions in the church developed by the school in Alexandria. By that time that had a put together a consistent cannon of scripture based on the texts they had and set out to put together a means through which they could interpret scripture in such a way that would put the emphasis on what the original biblical authors were saying to the original recipients of the epistles and how to apply them to their time given the differences in the eastern and western cultures. This premise is based on many influences, not the least of which being the culture of the earliest church and how the metaphors idioms would have been understood by those people. They school of Antioch knew full well that the first Christians were by and large Jewish converts or gentiles who were being taught the scriptures by Jewish converts. For instance, you cannot fully understand what Jesus was really talking about in Matthew 22 without at least a working knowledge of ancient Jewish wedding traditions. Without this knowledge you can grasp a superficial idea of the story and apply it to your life but there is much more to that story than what we read on the surface. I’ve seen this subject taught from many different viewpoints from many Bible teachers and they have all missed the primary point of the story because of our modern interpretation based on traditional teaching and our contemporary view of our own culture. Jesus wasn’t only talking about Jews and Christians here. What gets lost in the interpretation and cultural misunderstanding is that it is only those who serve him that will attend the banquet along with those who the servants bring in, with no respect to Jewish bloodlines or heritage and with no regard to the stature or standing of those who were invited. This example isn’t to say that we have been given false teachings. My point is that without knowing some history we have been given only a partial picture of Jesus and his teachings. This problem is being compounded in our day due to the acceptance of the multitude of gifted speakers who have not put in the work to learn what the Bible was saying to the original readers before they try and tell us what it has to say to us. The western church is full of leaders with little or no formal education in biblical studies and this is why American Christians will follow any charismatic personality with a gift for public speaking or writing books that tell us what our itching ears want to hear. This is why nobody bats an eye when they get caught faking healing, asking for millions of dollars for private jets, live extravagant lifestyles, have extramarital affairs and why the church in America is the subject of tremendous ridicule, scrutiny and lacking in credibility all across the globe. Health, wealth and prosperity preaching is almost exclusive to the USA and most other countries see our famous preachers and televangelists as being the norm in America and that fact alone causes me both tremendous sorrow and great shame. The worst part is that the great majority of these popular celebrity preachers have little or no formal biblical education. They peddle the gospel of Jesus Christ like hotdogs and beer at a ballgame and the American church bought it and that’s where the shame lies. American Christians don’t know their Bible well enough to recognize a proof texting charlatan when they see one and allow him or her to get away with mass deception, the likes never before seen in the history of the church since the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church circa 432 A.D.
It’s the plague of the modern church and Hermeneutics is the cure. The problem is that Americans are culturally conditioned to an expectation of instant gratification. We want our hamburger made the way we want it and we want it ready when we pull up to the window at the drive-thru. We want a magic bullet for everything. We want a miracle diet pill but we won’t push away from the table. Why spend a lifetime studying the Bible for eternal answers when we can have our best life now given to us by an untrained snake oil salesman who wrote a book about it that we can read cover to cover during a transcontinental flight? Why should we give all that we have to build God’s eternal kingdom when a smiling thief tells us on TV that we can send him money to do it for us while he lives the life Jesus condemned? He’s on TV so he must know what he’s talking about, right?
I’m not the only buzzkill in all of this so before you click away you should know that the number of “true to the gospel” men of God out there who are like me, shouting from the rooftops to all who will listen that the Bible doesn’t say what we have been told it says. From out of the ridiculous emergent church movement there is emerging more and more faithful Christians who have drawn a line in the sand and said “Ye shall not pass” and their numbers are growing fast. We are out there, we will not go quietly into that dark night and we will kick your sacred cows whether you thank us for it or not. The only question is, who will you follow and do you know your Bible well enough to justify your choice? Will you bet your life on it? Will you throw your immortal soul on that craps table and roll the dice or will you take the time to put in the effort to find the truth for yourself. Hermeneutics cannot always definitively tell you what the Bible says but it can reliably and undoubtedly tell you what the Bible does not say.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
All Bible quotations from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.