Monday, March 14, 2011

The Absence of Hermeneutics

Everyone who reads the Bible interprets what he/she reads. Each version of the Bible, even the King James Version, is guilty of some interpretation. Take for example Acts 13:48b- καὶ ἐπίστευσαν ὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον. (Literal translation- “and whoever believed were appointed to life eternal.”) Trouble is, not one version “interprets the verse the way I did! All the versions show the residue of Calvinism in their “interpretations.” All versions I consulted read like the RSV- “and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” You see the difference? I am not a Calvinist, so I interpret it differently. I believe one first believes and then is ordained to eternal life; Calvinists would opt for one being first ordained to eternal life and then one believes.
Interpretation is shaped by what one believes
But at times the process of interpretation, or the principles, rules or laws of interpretation (called hermeneutics) border on pure stupidity. Sorry, parents! I know you are trying to keep your children from using the “stupid” word, but bear with me.
Take 1 Corinthians 15:29: “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” Now please don’t chuckle at this, but this is true. Based on this one verse, the Mormons construct a very, very elaborate theology and very, very thorough genealogical search system so that they can ensure that all possible dead relatives can be baptized for. One verse, totally, radically, and absolutely taken out of context and given a meaning never intended by Paul is ordained as a linchpin teaching of that cult.
But such is the nature of bad hermeneutics.
There is another cult that uses the cut-and-paste method of hermeneutics to support what they wish to believe. Take for example their teaching that says God intends for us to live to the age of 120 years old. One verse in the entire Bible says that “the days of man shall be 120 years” (Genesis 6:3). Well, it pure heresy. And it’s not at all consistent with the Scriptures. Noah lived to be 950 years old (Genesis 9:29). Hey, why stop at 120! Why don’t these “health believers” take Genesis 9:29 as one of their verses to support the teaching that God wills us to live a long life? Genesis 11 gives quite a list of people. Of the entire list, Nahor died the youngest, at a modest age of 138 years. The others lived well past 200 years and many even over 400 years.
So what’s with the 120 years? Well, I imagine that’s what the leader of the church teaches, and cult leaders demand conformity, and so to question the leader is not in keeping with church protocol.
The point is that taking any verse out of context and building a teaching out of that is sheer heresy.
Take Isaiah 57:19 as another example. The paper I was given listing 101 verses (most taken out of context and the rest misinterpreted) that supports the teaching that God WILL heal me of cancer has these 4 words from Isaiah 57:19: “I will heal you.”  Nobody is sick in the chapter. Nobody is dying of cancer in Isaiah 57! Isaiah is a book addressing the spiritual bankruptcy, or spiritual disease of Israel- there is nothing about a physical illness! Isaiah 40-66 is all about spiritual healing of Israel-not about curing cancer, migraines or bed-wetting!
Do not make the Bible say what it doesn’t!
Here, let me demonstrate the opposite side of the coin. Using the same hermeneutics that the “health and wealth cult” does, I will show you a perfectly logical interpretation, using health and wealth cult hermeneutics, of Job 5:7 that teaches that man is destined for trouble. The health and wealth cult talks a lot about one’s destiny. And they pick and choose verses out of context and misinterpret verses to support their view. Now watch this. Using the same logic they do, I take Job 5:7 and say that the Bible teaches that “man is born for trouble.” I am using exactly, precisely the same hermeneutical principles as does the health and wealth cult. They cannot throw stones at my logic, since by so doing they are stoning themselves.
I am not angry at the health and wealth cult followers; I am here to defend the truth of Scripture. I love the Word of God, I love Jesus Christ, and I will defend the truth till my dying day.
 And it starts somewhere very, very near to good hermeneutics.

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