Friday, September 26, 2014

WSPK 8: Summary of Hermeneutics

For what it's worth, here are the points I've tried to make these past days, with a couple added on.

In Ken's perfect world:
  • The pastor is the local expert on the original meaning of the Bible.
  • But the pastor realizes that God uses the Bible far more to transform than to inform.
  • The pastor is humble in relation to what the text meant originally, confident in preaching the love of God and neighbor, open to the Spirit's speaking through the word, and a facilitator of the congregation's transformation as it listens for the Spirit through the word.
Original Meaning
1. In terms of the original meaning of the Bible, I would like a pastor to consider,

First, some basic hermeneutics:
  • The words of the Bible in themselves, like all words, are susceptible to multiple interpretations.
  • Meaning is always understood locally (i.e., in the mind of the interpreter).
  • We are always unaware to some extent of how much of "us" is in our reading of the Bible. 
  • My default interpretations of the words are not timeless, universal meanings. Rather, my default interpretations of their words are a function of the way words are used in my time and place, and the meanings I see are largely if not entirely a function of my modern worldview.
  • There is usually some degree of difference between the default way the words of the Bible strike us and the way they would have struck the original audiences.
  • There are meanings the words of the Bible had that do not correspond to any words in English or concepts in our world.
Next, some basic features of context:
  • The first meanings of the books of the Bible was a function of the way words were used at the times and places when those books were written, and those meanings were largely if not entirely a function of their ancient worldviews.
  • Every single word of the Bible was cultural. That is to say, it took on meaning within the historical-cultural matrix in which it was written, just as every word we say has meaning in our own historical-cultural framework.
  • The books of the Bible say they were written to ancient Israelites, Thessalonians, Corinthians, etc. That means their first meanings were meanings that made sense to these ancient people in the way they used words at their times and their places.
  • In that sense, to read the Bible literally is pretty much to read it as someone else's mail.
  • The Bible was not one book originally. It was dozens of books written over many centuries in at least three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek).
  • They were originally written to audiences at different times and places. That is to say, the "yous" in the Bible were, in the first place, no one alive today. "YOU shall have no other gods before me" was first spoken to ancient Israelites (Exod. 20:3) who lived over 3000 years ago. 
  • For the most part, therefore, each book of the Bible was originally a stand-alone book. For the most part, they were first written to be read separately, not as a collection.
Some conclusions that apply to the "literal" meaning of the biblical texts:
  • We should not simply apply biblical instruction in its specifics blindly to today. It is essential that we know why that instruction was given in the first place, which had everything to do with the context in which that instruction was given.
  • Doing the specifics of what the biblical authors instructed may not have the same meaning that they had. "Doing what they did isn't always doing what they did," especially if doing it in our context doesn't have the same significance today that it had in their context.
  • Since the ideas of the Bible were "incarnated" in the worldview categories of their ancient contexts, they have to be organized from the standpoint of a Christian metanarrative. The Bible provides the content of that metanarrative, the Spirit speaking through the Christians of the centuries have bequeathed us with the organizing principles.
  • We need to be somewhat tentative when it comes to the details of the original meaning and focus mostly on the broader themes and trajectories of Scripture.
Extending the Meaning
2. Here are some techniques that the Christians of the centuries have legitimately and illegitimately used over the centuries to extend the literal meaning of the biblical texts:
  • Biblical scholarship is essential to an informational approach to the minutia of the original meaning of the Bible, but it is neither essential nor intrinsically capable of reading the Bible as Scripture.
  • When we read the Bible as Christian Scripture, we often "extend" the literal meaning so that it speaks to us today.
  • We often put individual stories that were self-contained into an overarching metanarrative starting with the pre-existent Trinity and extending beyond the eschaton.
  • We often generalize or even univeralize words that originally had a limited scope.
  • We often substitute our context for their context. We become the y-o-u. This process sometimes works when it is guided by spiritual common sense but at other times it can result in the idiosyncratic and anachronistic.
  • Sometimes we redefine the words in ways that fit with our spiritual common sense.
  • Sometimes we knowingly or unknowingly deselect passages that do not fit with our spiritual common sense.
In terms of the sacramental function of the Bible:
  • There is an existential difference when we read the Bible as Scripture. I do not read these books as mere artifacts of history. These are my books. These books tell the story of my family. These are not curious stories of other peoples from other places. These are the stories of my people. They are stories that provide a framework for identifying who I am.
  • I read these books from a perspective of faith. If I am reading these books as Christian Scripture, then I read them from a Christian faith perspective. In philosophical terms, I place the content of these texts into a Christian "metanarrative." 
  • This perspective provides the rules by which the original meaning of these texts can be expanded.
  • When I read them as Scripture, I see them as mediating God's authority over me in some way.
  • We are open to the Spirit speaking to individuals and communities through the words, but recognize that the community and the Church must test the spirits.
  • We are always secure to preach the rule of faith and the law of love. The rule of faith is the consensus of common Christianity. The law of love is submission to God and the love of all.
  • We let God change us through the text.

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