According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater
Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma
It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds
assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

Saturday, August 29, 2020

How To Read the Bible - A New Hermeneutic, Part 1

How To Read The Bible - A New Hermeneutic

What Works For Me
When Reading the Bible

by R.E. Slater
August 16, 2020

The Many Worlds of Hermeneutics

I originally wrote this piece as a single composition as I did not wish to have any of it read alone in its parts as each part is necessary for the other part. However, it is a long piece and so, with reservations, I have divided it up for the convenience of the reader. But for those who wish to read it as a whole I have left the original intact and titled parts 1-6. Thank you. - res

PART 1 - Literal, Historical, Grammatical, Contextual Bible Interpretation

Welcome to the World of Bible Study

I set out not too many years ago to find a way to interpret the bible by re-imagining a hermeneutic which might be helpful to readers in understanding God's revelation. Extra-biblical words I grew up  with such as creedal or doctrinal words like the infallibility of Scripture, or the inerrancy of Scripture, told me the bible could NOT be wrong in (i) its theology of God or in (ii) its epistemological apprehension about God.

For many years I explored exegetical words (cf. last Wikipedia article at the bottom of this post re "Biblical Studies") from the biblical text which might help discern how to read Scripture in its textual themes and traditions. And as I did I kept to the reformed tradition of literal, historical, grammatical, and contextual bible interpretation. This would also include keeping to the "internal and external consistency" of the text of the biblical passage. The following links will show just how popular these set of interpretive methods have been through church history: WikipediaBritannicaChristian Publishing HouseRedmoon Rapture's site; and
I realized quite quickly that by using the Reformed system to interpret the bible it would keep me within Protestantism's borderlands of beliefs which did not allow other "external" voices to be considered. It prescribes a "closed" hermeneutical tradition rather than an "open" interpretive system. There were certain voices I could listen to and other voices I could not. Science, for one, was a big, big problem. Its voice seemed to deny so much in the bible I was raised to believe (I'll say more about this later).
And what were the extra-biblical words which kept this closed hermeneutical tradition pointing inward on itself (or which created a "circular" borderland impervious to contradiction)? Yes, you guessed it, the infallibility and inerrancy of the bible.

Together, these systematic doctrinal words described the bible as God's revealed (special) revelation (as opposed to the general revelation of nature and humanity). That the bible (i) tells us of God and (ii) can be trusted in its telling of God. That the bible's words are infallible and inerrant. The bible will not mislead us nor will it deceive us. It may be trusted.

Wikipedia - Systematic theology is a discipline of Christian theology that formulates an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the doctrines of the Christian faith. It addresses issues such as what the Bible teaches about certain topics or what is true about God and his universe. It also builds on biblical disciplines, church history, as well as biblical and historical theology. Systematic theology shares its systematic tasks with other disciplines such as constructive theologydogmaticsethicsapologetics, and philosophy of religion.
With a methodological tradition that differs somewhat from biblical theology, systematic theology draws on the core sacred texts of Christianity, while simultaneously investigating the development of Christian doctrine over the course of history, particularly through philosophy, ethics, social sciences, and even natural sciences. Using biblical texts, it attempts to compare and relate all of scripture which led to the creation of a systematized statement on what the whole Bible says about particular issues.
Within Christianity, different traditions (both intellectual and ecclesial) approach systematic theology in different ways impacting a) the method employed to develop the system, b) the understanding of theology's task, c) the doctrines included in the system, and d) the order those doctrines appear. Even with such diversity, it is generally the case that systematic theologies begin with biblical revelation and conclude with eschatology.

Infallibility - What Is It?

Herein lies the problem... (i) "How is the bible infallible," and (ii) "How may it be trusted?" The first area speaks to the kind of theology one is expressing and believes in. The second area speaks to the area of knowledge, assurance, dependability of the Scriptures themselves. Which naturally leads to the question, "Whose theology of God should we be listening to?" And, "Whose epistemic expression of God gives to us the right foundation for credibility?" We might summarize it this way, (i) "How do we know, and (ii) How do we know we know?"

Wikipedia - Infallibility. Refers to the inability to be wrong. The term has significance in both theology and epistemology and its meaning and significance in both fields is the subject of continued debate.
[An important branch in the study of philosophy] is the study of epistemology. It is concerned with the question of what, if anything, humans can know. The answer to the issue of whether or not a human (in Catholic terms), or the bible (in Protestant terms), can be infallible depends on the philosophical school:
  • Infallibilists hold that knowledge requires absolute certainty, in the sense that if one knows that something is true, it is impossible that it could have turned out to be false.
  • Advocates of subjectivism claim that there is no objective reality or truth, and therefore anyone can be considered infallible, since whatever is within a person's consciousness is considered the real and the true.
  • Advocates of reason and rationality claim that one can gain certainty of knowledge, through a process of extreme refinement measures unlikely to be perfected enough for someone to assurably say "certainty of this knowledge is absolute", yet also assume by chance that one could land on the objective without the knowledge being confidently described as "universally certain", thus as a result, advocates tend to avoid this altogether and instead rely upon Occam's Razor as a suitable means for obtaining knowledge.

As you can see, infallibility is a word Christian's throw around a lot when describing the bible and sharing, or teaching, what it says. When a Christian speaks of their faith in God they would like to be able to claim veracity and certainty of their ancient faith. This faith is founded in the bible. It gives to both Jew and Christian their faith. It is meant to communicate to us who God is and what He is doing.

The Good and Bad of the Word Infallible

Herein lies the nub of the problem. It is here we get into the many kinds of religious beliefs, the plethora of denominational creeds and traditions, the differences between mainline and independent faith statements, pulpiteering dictims, doctrinal dogmas, sects, cults, and 'isms. So I share in my sympathy to the Christian of any age - whether new or old in their faith - in trying to discern how to read the bible and take away from it words of wisdom unto salvation.
Yet I think, perhaps the word infallibility takes us too far in our expectations. It was suppose to be a good, meaty doctrinal term expressing assurance of faith based upon the bible's teachings of God and salvation. But in the negative sense of it's usage, infallibility may lead one into misperception and unhelpfulness about the bible's teachings.
For example, "Are women equal with men or subservient to men?" (sic, equalitarianism or complimentarianism):
Complementarianism and egalitarianism are theological views on the relationship between men and women, especially in marriage and in ministry. Complementarianism stresses that although men and women are equal in personhood, they are created for different roles. Egalitarianism also agrees that men and women are equal in personhood but holds that there are no gender-based limitations on the roles of men and women.
When infallibility is used in this way by the teachings of a church, a church congregation, a denomination, or independent bible association, then such teachings may be spoken as de facto statements from God and the bible: "God's Word says it so I believe it and we teach it!" Yet, in so doing, such teaching may in fact both be wrong - and unhelpfully wrong - in living out God's Word.
As example, by misusing the infallibility the bible many false teachings are taught of God; false attitudes are taught towards the world; and false ideas given of worship and witness. This happens all the time when preachers or churches are considered "infallible" and their teachings are based "infallibly" upon God's "infallible" Word. Such dictums or dogmas do not allow themselves to be questioned when they fully should be questioned and held up to rebuttal.
Epistemology - How Do We Know What We know? And Why Do We Know It?

The word infallibility when used as an epistemological expression of belief states both consciously and unconsciously that the bible is never wrong. And yet it is. The bible is fallible in its narratives though one would like to say it is never wrong in its portrayal of God's salvation in the bible. But literary errors of ignorance or misunderstanding from transcriptionists of the bible shouldn't alarm us but provide a degree of assurance which testifies to the bible's ancient legacies and age.

The fallibility of the bible lies in the insistence that its documentaries and narratives are "infalliably accurate". Which isn't so. Like any ancient collection of oral histories the archaeologist and biblical historian will find errors in its collected manuscripts again-and-again. The kind of errors which later oral tellers of its stories, or later authors who collected its stories, would normally make being unacquainted with the history of the past generations of the ancients. You see this all the time in the reading of ancient Greek legends such as Homer's Illiad or Odysssey.
As a benign example, when the domestication of camels occurred challenges the story of Abraham in Genesis 12.16 as some contend the husbandry of camels occured in the United Monarchy period many centuries later (Camel Domestication History Challenges Biblical Narrative). Details like this occur all the time in the bible though the normal bible reader would not know the difference. Similarly with the later transcriber adding or removing details consciously or unconsciously from the world they knew around them.
So by describing the bible as infallible seems more like an epistemic oxymoron to me when trying to describe how we know what we know as a hard-and-fast rule asserting an authoritarian expression of certainty of the Christian's knowledge and trust over the bible. It in no way reflects upon God in the bible's fallible composition or transmission but does reflect how the process of transmission was very human in its capacity to make mistakes as well as the fallible knowledge of the ancient back then in describing the world around them.

Claiming Certainty Doesn't Make Certain

Epistemology is that branch of philosophy which speaks to absolute knowledge in the classical sense. And if used in the modernist's sense of doubt, one might examine how we might know a thing by analyzing the causes and foundations of our beliefs and misbeliefs.

You can see why I think of infallibility as an epistemic oxymoron. Infallibility claims a surety of knowledge - a knowledge which is era-specific and therefore temporal - where no such certainty of knowledge should be claimed if the Christian faith is to remain healthy. More so, we should always challenge why we know or believe something. The challenge itself proves healthy. As does doubt and uncertainty. God would not expect us to carry on in any other way. Nor would any good parent when teaching their children. Mere word alone oftentimes is never enough. Its part of our freewill agency to test and try the wisdom of our peers.

And so, if Christianity does not continually challenged itself towards apprehending God's Self, and His Revelation to us, faithful Christians will eventually lose themselves to internal religious error. Doubt and uncertainty are healthy exchanges in the spiritual aptitude of our souls....

Wikipedia - Hermeneutics is the theory and methodology of interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical textswisdom literature, and philosophical texts. Hermeneutics is more than interpretive principles or methods used when immediate comprehension fails and includes the art of understanding and communication.
Modern hermeneutics includes both verbal and non-verbal communication as well as semioticspresuppositions, and pre-understandings. Hermeneutics has been broadly applied in the humanities, especially in law, history and theology.
Hermeneutics was initially applied to the interpretation, or exegesis, of scripture, and has been later broadened to questions of general interpretation. The terms hermeneutics and exegesis are sometimes used interchangeably. Hermeneutics is a wider discipline which includes written, verbal, and non-verbal communication. Exegesis focuses primarily upon the word and grammar of texts.
  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Wikipedia - Exegesis (/ˌɛksɪˈdʒiːsɪs/; from the Greek ἐξήγησις from ἐξηγεῖσθαι, "to lead out") is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, particularly a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for work with the Bible; however, in modern usage biblical exegesis is used for greater specificity to distinguish it from any other broader critical text explanation.
Exegesis includes a wide range of critical disciplines: textual criticism is the investigation into the history and origins of the text, but exegesis may include the study of the historical and cultural backgrounds of the author, text, and original audience. Other analyses include classification of the type of literary genres presented in the text and analysis of grammatical and syntactical features in the text itself.

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