Hermeneutics of Humility

bible tablet

God is worth His word being studied well. In fact, the words of God are immanently crucial for believers and unbelievers alike. Of course arriving at the meaning of those words is a daunting task; nonetheless, it is a task we must engage in. In contemplating this serious endeavor, the gravity should lead to what might be called a hermeneutic of humility. Several applicable considerations can help in cultivating such a posture.

Context Context Pretext

Assigning meaning in the 21st century to the sacred text written millennia ago is not to be taken lightly. There are cultural, linguistic, historical, philosophical, spiritual, and personal barriers that must be considered. In other words, understanding the text in light of its original language, culture, and historical setting and then applying that in today’s is hard work. Too often pastors and theologians give lip service to the chief hermeneutical principal of taking a passage in context only to make the context fit within their own pretext of theological or philosophical bias. Take a breath. Everybody brings presuppositional baggage as they seek to read and interpret scripture. So, acknowledge it, take an interpretive step back, and engage thoughtfully.

Theology, History, and oh yeah…the Spirit

Theology and church history are useful, but the Spirit is necessary. Before theological systems and the history that developed with the passage of time, believers had the oral heritage of scripture along with inspired circulating letters/works as well as the power of the indwelling Spirit. Often today the role of the spirit in understanding and interpreting the text is relegated to merely agreeing with those in your own circle. Being dependent on and conscious of the Spirit is not mysticism, but neither is it merely compliance to “walk the denominational line.”

Celebrity Pastors are not Interpretive Mediators

Protestants tout the priesthood of all believers only to establish interpretive intermediaries in the form of prominent pastors. This isn’t a railing against the God-ordained role or leadership of the pastor, but it is a call for all believers to hold the meaning of scripture as it is over the meaning of scripture as it is explained by mortal men. Sermons, blogs, commentaries, study Bibles, and books from honorable pastors are all helpful tools, but they are not the final authority on biblical interpretation.

The Elephant in the Process

Biblical inerrancy, infallibility, and sufficiency are a part of the evangelical checklist. Add to that a call for exposition and faithfulness to the text. But we ourselves are the elephant in the process. We are more prone to herald what D.A. Carson says scripture is saying than to wrestle all night for the blessing of the honeycomb to our souls. We tend to blindly approach the text with our denominational slant without even a thought that perhaps…just perhaps…we are wrong. The result is an arrogant posture that a John Mellencamp song captures.

Handing out verses of scripture like we wrote it down ourselves

This is not a call to be timid in proclaiming the authority of scripture, but to realize that we are not that authority. Actually, a posture of humility rather than arrogance better represents a healthy respect for the word of God. Being aware of the degree that context and the role of the Spirit are neglected while the perspective of a favorite pastor and our own biases take the lead can help us develop humility. That humility actually cultivates an interpretive posture where spiritual people can understand and communicate spiritual things to others who are spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).

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