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Gospel Gazette Online
Vol.  10  No. 12 December 2008  Page 1                    powered by FreeFind

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Editorial

Biblical Hermeneutics:
The Impotence of a Defective Hermeneutic

By Louis Rushmore, Editor

Louis RushmoreThe word “impotent” means, “not potent: lacking in power, strength, or vigor: helpless” (Merriam-Webster's). There is nothing and no circumstance more sadly impotent than a defective biblical hermeneutic. This is so because failure to properly understand and correctly apply God’s Word to one’s life probably will affect one’s earthly pilgrimage adversely and definitely will affect one’s eternity adversely. Only a proper biblical hermeneutic can adequately order one’s life on earth and adequately prepare one for eternity. We cannot overstate the importance of ascertaining correctly the biblical hermeneutic, since we do not get another-go-around-in-another-life to do a better job next time handling aright the Holy Word of God (Hebrews 9:27).

The impotence of a defective hermeneutic can be demonstrated in a number of ways. For instance, Christians who surrender the biblical hermeneutic, which includes apostolic or divinely approved example and warranted inference from divine implication, could not establish and operate the church of Christ, which they inherited from those who have gone before them. In addition, they could neither name it nor could they organize its worship. Such a one could not identify the church as belonging to Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18; Romans 16:16) without inferring or deducing that this information is applicable to Christians today. Such a one could not organize a scriptural, autonomous congregation with elders and deacons (Titus 1:5). Such a one could not discern the type of worship that God requires toward Him, or even when God expects Christians to worship Him (Acts 20:7; Ephesians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 14:15). Some Christians (including elders and preachers), who are on record verbally and in print as holding exclusively to biblical commands or direct statements, have already jettisoned in theory the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper and a cappella music in Christian worship. In time, when key persons (in some cases, older family members) pass away, they will practice their cowardly, convictionless Christianity, based on a defective hermeneutic. Others with reckless courage presently press for these departures from New Testament Christianity. In any case, the impotence of a defective biblical hermeneutic cannot reproduce the Lord’s church today (or tomorrow)!

The impotence of a defective hermeneutic can be seen by to what it not only reduces divinely given, biblical instruction, but by what it does to the vehicle of communication in general. For instance, the assertion that Bible authority relates only to commands or direct statements is false because it erroneously supposes that approved examples and implications from which one must make inferences are not part of human communication. Yet, the same mechanisms for communication between people are the same mechanisms of communication between God and mankind, only some people are reluctant to acknowledge the application of God’s communication (the Bible) to them. “There is no essential difference between the study of the Scriptures and the study of any other subject, respecting the mental outlay necessary to success” (Dungan 16). “…the child learns…from his parent’s (sic) commands, their example…by necessary inference…” (Kearley 57). “The ability to learn this way [necessary inference] is basically called common sense” (Kearley 58). “There has been no new hermeneutics in the worlds since God endowed Adam and Eve with the ability to communicate and understand communication. Genuine hermeneutics and hermeneutical principles are inborn in the human brain” (Kearley 58). Regarding “authority,” Kearley noted correctly, “The process is the same everywhere” (Kearley 58). “…clearly, in the normal realm of human activity, authority is established by: 1. commands… 2. examples… 3. necessary inferences…” (Kearley 60). “Logic, family activities, the history of nations, and law and the study of businesses and every institution prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that authority for human behavior is established by commands, examples, or judgments and necessary inferences” (Kearley 72).

The young child who pleads with a parent for or against something will often go to great lengths, including citing the example of or the implied approval of an action based on what Mommy and Daddy do. The following, ill-advised, parental instruction never did anything for me in my childhood, and it is generally ineffective: “Don’t do as I do, but do as I say!” The expression grants that example and implication are universally recognized as effective avenues of communication and the basis of authority as well.

In truth, there are three avenues of interpretation, including biblical interpretation, by which truth (including divine truth) can be known. Note the following: (1) Biblical Examples for Commands or Direct Statements, (2) Biblical Example for Apostolic or Approved Example, and (3) Biblical Example for Implication and Inference.

Biblical Examples for Commands or
Direct Statements (Mark 16:15;
1 Cor. 16:1-2).

Purportedly, opponents of approved examples and divine implications in the Bible believe that commands or direct statements (i.e., in the New Testament) alone constitute applicable religious instruction. Nevertheless, divine implications and corresponding (necessary) inferences must be employed to deduce: (1) that the New Testament rather than instructions to Adam and Eve or Noah or Moses, etc. are applicable today, and (2) that some New Testament commands, but not all New Testament commands, are applicable today (e.g., “thy kingdom come,” Matthew 6:10). Even direct commands carry their own implications from which we are obligated to make warranted (necessary) inferences. For instance, our Lord’s command to “Go ye into all the world” (Mark 16:15) implies a means by which to go, and because no certain way of going is specified, it is implied and we must infer that any way of going (that doesn’t violate some other New Testament instruction) is satisfactory to accomplish the command. Therefore, one could “go” by car, bus, train, plane, animal, bicycle, walking, etc. However, one could not steal a car or stowaway with God’s approval.

Biblical Example for Apostolic
or Approved Example (Acts 20:7).

“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (NKJV). “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (NIV) (1 Cor. 11:1 emphasis added). Robertson observes of 1 Corinthians 11:1: “The preacher is a leader and is bound to set an example or pattern tupos (NT:5179) for others (Titus 2:7)” (emphasis added). Thayer gives as one of his definitions for “imitate” or “example” (tupos), “an example.” “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (NKJV emphasis added). “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (NIV) (Phil. 3:17). See also 2 Thessalonians 3:9. The New Testament (through an inspired writer, the apostle Paul) commands the observance and application of examples! “Religious truth may be gathered from approved precedent.—We learn from the authorized conduct of the children of God. …no one can be religiously wrong while he is scripturally right” (Dungan 95).

Biblical Example for Implication and Inference.

“Inference may be used legitimately in the ascertaining of facts, and also in the conclusion reached from them. …Abraham went down from Canaan into Egypt; when he came out from that country Lot returned with him. Though it is not said that Lot went into Egypt with him, we infer it” (Dungan 91). “Truth may reach beyond empirical observation” (Flatt 68). “…that which is taught implicitly is just as binding as that which is taught explicitly” (Warren, “Logic” 64).

The Bible, the same as every other form of fruitful communication, relies upon the three possible mechanisms to accomplish that transferring of information: commands or direct statements, approved examples and implications from which warranted inferences must be drawn. There is no new hermeneutic wherein approved examples and implications (and corresponding inferences) are ineffective. Rather than a new hermeneutic or a commands and direct statements only biblical interpretation, this platform more uniformly fogs, disguises and ultimately dismisses (rejects) legitimate divine revelation that most certainly is applicable in our day. The agenda and result of this new hermeneutic is to reduce the inspired, Holy Writ to merely love letters from God, which by their nature bear no authority and have no effective application (no prohibitions, anything essentially goes, according to one’s preferences). A so-called new hermeneutic that dismisses apostolic example and implications from which correct inferences must be made is an impotent, defective hermeneutic, providing no effective instruction from God in this life and promising no satisfactory eternity in the life to come.

Works Cited

Dungan, D.R. Hermeneutics. Delight: Gospel Light, n.d.

Flatt, Bill. “The Function of Presuppositions and Attitudes in Biblical Interpretation.” Biblical Interpretation: Principles and Practice. F. Furman Kearley and others eds. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986.

Kearley, F. Furman. “Establishing Biblical Authority: The Function of Command, Example, and Inference.” Biblical Interpretation: An Ancient Book Speaks to a Modern World. Duane Warden, ed. Parkersburg: Ohio Valley College, 1992: 56-72.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. CD-ROM. Seattle: Logos Research Systems, 1996.

Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville: Broadman, 1985. CD-ROM. Seattle:  Biblesoft & Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, 1997.

Thayer, Joseph. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon. CD-ROM. Austin: WordSearch, 2005.

Warren, Thomas B. Logic and the Bible. Jonesboro: National Christian P., 1984.

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