Hermeneutics and Biblical Interpretation – part three

Here’s part three on hermeneutics and biblical interpretation.

Keep in mind as you read this that I’m writing as someone who has grown up in the fundamentalist branch of the Churches of Christ. My experiences and exposure to this has influenced me deeply in terms of my presuppositions and assumptions. Likewise, I am writing primarily to those who are a part of the heritage of the Stone-Campbell movement, particularly the Churches of Christ. If you don’t fit into that category, please keep reading. I’m sure that there is something valuable here for you as well.

That having been said, if you have any exposure to the Churches of Christ, then I would venture to say that you have been exposed to one particular method of biblical interpretation. And although you may not be aware of it, it has been ingrained into you. I speak from experience. Coincidentally, I have become convinced that those who taught me to evaluate and discern the Holy Scriptures are no more aware of their methods than I was. So what’s the method? It’s called Inductive. Wikipedia actually has a pretty good definition and sums up the idea well: “Inductive reasoning, also known as induction or inductive logic, is a kind of reasoning that constructs or evaluates inductive arguments. It is commonly construed as a form of reasoning that makes generalizations based on individual instances.” So for example, a person using this approach would take two or maybe three verses and then assimilate those specific verses and then come up with a general statement or conclusion. Here’s how it usually works with musical instruments. First, I would refer to the main scriptures used in the discussion: Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:15, 26. After reading these specific scriptures I would notice that the common features of these is that the act of singing is repeated and the use of musical instruments is omitted. Therefore, I would make a general conclusion from these specific scriptures that musical instruments is not taught in the New Testament. When we strip away all the rhetoric and rabbit trails, this is the main thrust of the argument against musical instruments.

It’s interesting (at least it is to me) to understand or at least be aware of how we came to adopt this method of interpretation. It goes back to the Enlightenment (Age of Reason), during 16th-17thcenturies; which really served to birth modern intellectualism. Francis Bacon (1561-1626)  was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and probably a few other things not mentioned. But for our purposes, above all else, he was the pioneer of the scientific method. You know, the one you used in 5th and 6th grade when you had to do those science projects. He was also thrown in jail for ten years by the Church for his writings. The Inductive Method stems largely from the Baconian way of thinking.

Getting back to the Restoration Movement: The Campbell’s (Thomas and Alexander) did not have much of an appreciation for the emotionalism that was coming out of the revival type camp meetings (i.e.Cane Ridge, KY in 1801) that Barton Stone was leading. While that Cane Ridge meeting was, for all practical purposes, the beginning of the Restoration Movement it was also instrumental in growing the Pentecostal movement. There were simply a lot of emotional displays. This didn’t sit well with the more reasoned and dispassionate Campbells. They were more inclined towards the logical approach that the Inductive of Reasoning method provided.

The result of this, which is still highly influential today, is the hermeneutical approach of “Command, Example, Necessary Inference (CENI).” This logical and reasoning process was developed and promoted by Thomas Campbell in his Declaration and Address (1809) and quickly adopted by those in the Restoration Movement. According to Campbell, in order to provide authority on an issue there had to a Command from Jesus or an inspired writer, an example given in the text or a situation within the text that required a necessary inference to be made. So back to the musical instruments issue. Since there is no command to use instruments, nor any example of instruments being used (by the Church) or any point at which an inference towards the use of instruments is necessary then they are by default not scriptural. This is precisely the method, whether knowingly or not, that Preachers throughout the Churches of Christ employ today.

This method is reasonable and has proved useful and reliable for over 200 years. However, there are flaws in its’ practicality. First, it leaves little room for the the historical and cultural implications that invariably arise when studying the Bible. Second and most importantly, this is an uninspired and man-made effort towards understanding the Bible. In other words, a fallible man developed an approach to understand an infallible text. See the breakdown there? While I have used this method intentionally for sometime, it is arrogant to assume that there are no other methods of interpretation available. Which unfortunately some have concluded – that this method of interpretation is The Biblical Method of interpretation and the only method which honors and satisfies God. How can anything man-made be confidently promoted as having exclusive rights to honoring God?

Check back tomorrow when we’ll consider two different methods of interpretation.

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