Hermeneutics and Biblical Interpretation – part five

Here’s the last method of interpretation that we’re going to look at.

Now keep in mind, there are many, many methods of interpretation being used today in the larger Christian community. Some are clearly better than others. Some have pretty big holes in them. While others look fairly solid in their logic. But there’s two specifics we need to point out and be aware of: first, all three of these methods that we are looking at are from folks in the Restoration heritage. Second, each of these is created by a human or possibly group. We’ll come back to this thought in the next post.

We’ve considered the Command/Example/Necessary Inference method and the Principle/Purpose/Precedent method. The third method we’re going to review is the Biblical/Non-Biblical/Anti-Biblical/Beneficial method. This method was offiered by Al Maxey in an article he published in New Wineskins magazine. Instead of paraphrasing his thought, I am going to quote a large excerpt that includes the main gist of what he was offering. Here is the link to the full article if you’re interested.

“BIBLICAL — It is my conviction that the Bible is a divine revelation of the nature of our Father; an inspired guide as to how to order our lives in accord with His will. Are there commands given by God in this revelation, this divine “storyline set in history” (as Rubel Shelly characterized it), that are to be obeyed by mankind? Absolutely! And willful disobedience can prove very costly. Few disciples, regardless of their hermeneutic, discount God’s clear commands.

But much of the guidance revealed from above through this written revelation speaks more to the hearts and minds of His devoted disciples. Rather than a legalistic “check list,” our God provides guiding principles which may be legitimately applied by reflective disciples in different ways given the circumstances of one’s immediate environment. For example, demonstrating a benevolent spirit might differ dramatically from New York to New Guinea, and yet either expression of benevolence would be acceptable to God. Thus, it is the principle that is clearly seen to be eternal, not the method of application.

The very first matter to be determined in the reflective approach is: Is this matter Biblical? What this simply signifies is — can this matter be found within the pages of the Bible? Does the Lord, at some point within the pages of Scripture, specifically address the issue, question, practice or doctrine? If He does — if the Lord has spoken — then all we need do is heed and obey. Thus, the first step in a responsible hermeneutic is to determine if God has spoken!

NON-BIBLICAL —- Not everything we face as disciples of Christ, however, can be found clearly addressed in the Bible. Indeed, some matters are never mentioned at all. These would fall into the realm of the “NON-Biblical.” This simply means they are not to be found anywhere in the Bible. It does NOT thereby suggest that they are wrong or sinful or “unauthorized” or forever forbidden (the “silence excludes” fallacy). It simply means the Bible is silent about them. This says nothing either for or against them. Such biblical absence neither prescribes nor proscribes the item in question. Thus, one can neither condemn nor condone something simply by virtue of its absence alone.

ANTI-BIBLICAL —- Just because something isn’t mentioned in the pages of the Bible does not necessarily mean it is acceptable to go ahead and do it. Nor may we forbid it on silence alone. When God’s inspired Word offers no specific statement on a matter, we must then begin seeking further clarification by asking some very pointed questions. This, again, is key to the reflective process. Does this action, attitude, issue or practice violate any known principles or inspired advice given to us in Scripture? Is there anything in God’s Word that would clearly point to the fact that this matter is “Anti-Biblical” in nature or focus? If there is, then it must be rejected as being in opposition to God’s will for our lives.

BENEFICIAL —- There are many things not mentioned in the Bible, however, that are also not opposed to biblical principles and teachings. If the Bible is silent on some matter, and it can’t be clearly shown to be in opposition to guiding biblical principles, does that mean we can then go ahead and do as we please with regard to such? No, not at all. The fact is, sometimes even good things can have a bad effect. Thus, in determining our actions and attitudes reflectively, we must ask yet another question of that which is “Non-Biblical” but not “Anti-Biblical” — would this practice or action be Beneficial to the cause of Christ and the Body of Christ? Will it help or hinder us in the fulfilling of our godly purpose in life? Is it beneficial or detrimental to the growth and edification of the congregation of believers?

The apostle Paul spoke of this very matter in Romans 14 when he urged us to examine (reflect upon) our actions, practices and motives carefully, and not allow a good thing to have a bad result. “Do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil” (vs. 16). Rather, we are to pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of the body of Christ, even if that means backing off of what may, in different circumstances, be good and acceptable (vs. 19-20). Paul demonstrated his use of this Reflective Principle when he wrote the saints in Corinth, “Everything is permissible, but not everything is helpful. Everything is permissible, but not everything builds up” (1 Corinthians 10:23). In a very similar statement (1 Corinthians 6:12), Paul adds that we must be careful lest we allow such matters to become masters over us, rather than being master over them. These matters are in our control, and thus we must exercise good judgment.”

As I have been writing these posts, I have also been sharing the bulk of this with my Church family during our Sunday evening study and worship time. The responses and results have been mixed. Because my Church family is so Biblically focused, grace-centered and loving they are always willing to hear from anyone. And even if they disagree with what you’re saying, they still love and support – very Christ-like people. That being said, a few of them have really been blown away by these thoughts. Blown away in a good sense. I’m really not sure why. But I can tell that light bulbs are really coming on. That’s nice to see. Others aren’t as quick to accept that there are other ways to interpret the Bible. Well, let me clarify. It’s not that they can’t accept other methods of interpretation. I think they are having trouble realizing that there is more than one way to interpret the Bible. Plus, it’s hard for them to see where another method of interpretation might lead. I don’t blame them. That’s a very uncomfortable place to be.

Once we accept that there isn’t one Biblical way to interpret the Bible, then we have to recognize that there are methods other than our own that might work just as well. And once we accept that, we have to be willing to accept the results of what that different method of interpretation might bring. That’s a very scary place to be. In the next post, we’ll try to summarize and wrap-up these thoughts by giving them a trial run on a practical and disputed issue.


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