Christian Theology in a Thumbnail: The Art of Hermeneutics (15)
Hermeneutics is the art of interpretation, in our case, interpretation of the Bible. We Christians are the artists charged with the task and privilege of painting a picture of the meaning and message of the Bible in our time and place.
As Christians we come to this task with five features that comprise our studio. First is ourselves. Who we are: our socio-economic setting, gender, ethnicity, biases, experiences, family backgrounds, education, politics, nation, etc. We must recognize all this and how it inclines us to see and interpret life. The second is we stand on the ground of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Outside the gospel our interpretation will start off in the wrong direction. The third is that we must love the truth (2 Thess.2:10) and passionately follow the Truth (Jn.14:6). Fourthly, is that we need each other. Community is the place where reading and interpreting the Bible most fruitfully takes place. Lastly, the scriptures function as “spectacles” (John Calvin) which help us see things as they really are. These form for Christians what philosophers call the “hermeneutic circle.” We stand on the ground of the gospel, wearing the spectacles of scripture, in the community of faith, passionately in love with Christ and his purposes, and from there we seek to look harder and go further in understanding and following the truth we discover.
We begin our painting by invoking the aid of the Holy Spirit. This is essential. We move to the text noting first, the Literary Forms & Historical Context (when, why, and how the passage was written in so far as these can be determined). Next we read our passage in the larger context of scripture as a whole (the six chapter story we considered earlier), trying to understand the parts in light of the whole of the story. The Christ Principle focuses in on the meaning of our passage. The Christian meaning of the Bible always runs through Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment and center of all scripture. Any meaning we try to paint of the Bible’s meaning must cohere, point to, or flow from him. The next step is the Rule of Love as described by Jesus as the love of God with all we have and are and the love of neighbor as ourselves. Thus our interpretation must lead to these two forms of love if they are truly Christian interpretations. The Rule of Faith, early Christian creedal forms like the Apostles’ Creed, give us a baseline from which to begin and check our progress in painting our picture of biblical hermeneutics. It may be that we will discover biblical truth along the way that may supplement or even correct this Rule of Faith. But we would never discover this without beginning from the Rule of Faith. Seeking God’s Way Now is a necessary element of each painting interpreting scripture. What does this passage require us to do today? The corollary of this is Openness to Reformation. Our artistic process will hopefully lead us to new insight or deeper comprehension. We must be open to this expansion or extension of insight if we hope to see truly and clearly what God wants us to see.
This brief overview is, I hope, enough to get us artists of interpretation going. Each would handsomely repay further study.