Well, I thought I might spin out a 25 page booklet or so on biblical hermeneutics. I don't know if it will go anywhere. This was originally posted June 26, but I've moved it up so that the sequence is together.
1. Before You Apply
"God said it; I believe it; that settles it for me!"
The spirit with which this statement is often uttered is right on target. If something is God's will and God's position on an issue, no human being can dispute it. The Bible allows for questioning, but if God has spoken about something, his answer is the final answer.
"I, the LORD, do not change!" (Malachi 3:6).
Again, the spirit with which I have sometimes heard this verse quoted is right. In a culture where change is often seen as progress and we see science and technology getting better and better, we can tend to dismiss the old as irrelevant or ignorant. Christianity bids us believe that God has known everything from the very beginning. He is not growing up or getting better and better. God has always been an omniscient authority.
At the same time, these verses are often quoted to reinforce biblical ignorance and to support positions that are not God's. For example, you do not really know exactly what God has said, unless you know why he said it. To take a good number of the Bible's statements as timeless absolutes is to ignore the meaning God originally meant for those words, and thus to ignore the true message God was trying to get across.
And while God remains the same, humanity does not and has not. The Bible reveals that part of the unchanging "nature" of God is to communicate and relate to the world in terms it can understand. We cannot listen to the Bible and not see God meeting different people and groups in differing ways over time. The same Bible that allowed divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 prohibits it in Matthew 19:7-9. The same Bible that involves stoning a man for violating the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36) tells a different group not to let anyone judge them because they do not keep it (Colossians 2:16-17).
God is an "incarnational" God, a God who takes on the flesh of those to whom he wishes to reveal himself. The story of revelation is the story of God meeting people where they are, using categories they understand, "stooping to their weakness." It is why Solomon's temple was structured just like the other pagan temples of his day--God was saying something to Israel in terms they could understand.
I suspect that discerning God's voice is ultimately as simple as becoming a person "after God's own heart" and being in the center of his will. But a deeper understanding of the process of hearing God's voice through the Bible is surely nothing to scorn, and it may just save us from mistaking our thoughts for God's thoughts.
Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation. With regard to the Bible, it asks how we get from text to life. This is our topic of conversation in the following pages.