I recently mentioned how much I have come to appreciate Randy Harris’ teachings, so much so that he has become a long-distance mentor. I recently came across something he said about hermeneutics (how to read the Bible) that I just found fascinating.
Of course, any hermeneutic that we Restoration folks talk about is going to be set against the ‘Command-Example-Necessary Inference’ model that we have adopted/created from our modern and Enlightenment era forefathers. Here are three hermeneutic principles I picked up from Harris. Some very interesting thinking.
1. Christocentricity – interpret all Scriptures through the Cross and the Resurrection. That’s seems kind of obvious, but not all that common. So when I come across a passage that requires some interpretation I read it in light of the cross and the resurrection. In other words, I might ask the question, what how does the C & R affect this text?
2. Scripture is not univocal – meaning when we deal with a set of texts concerning a topic, we naturally, perhaps even inherently place one in front of the other. Here’s an example. Check out these two texts from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (the first passage is 1 Cor 11:2-16; the second passage is 1 Cor 14:34-35).
2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man,[a] and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own[c] head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.
34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
Okay, so what do we do with these two texts from the same letter that Paul wrote? There’s no easy answer on this, regardless of what you’ve heard. We inherently place one of these texts in front of the other. If you come from a traditional CofC background then chapter 10 goes to the background. Well, let’s just be honest, it scares us so we ignore it altogether. But we do attempt to apply the chapter 14 text – sort of. That is, we do it as long as it conveniences us. Women aren’t to talk, at all. But it’s okay in Bible class, and during announcement time, etc. We compartmentalize our time together so that we don’t have to follow our own hermeneutic of strict, literal interpretation. But I digress.
The point that Harris makes with this hermeneutic (this is my example, not his) is that we inherently, and rightly so, place some texts “ahead” of others.
3. Scripture should be read eschatalogically. Eschaton is the greek word having to do with the end of time – when Jesus returns. So essentially, we ought to ask, what will this passage, issue, etc. look like once Jesus returns? What will it look like when the Kingdom is fully here? That ought to help us form our interpretation of it today. Harris admits that it’s challenging because we don’t always get a full picture on this. But his idea is that he wants to be “leaning into it.”
Whether you agree or not, these are certainly thought-provoking and bound to get your critical wheels spinning.