The following is an essay response I did for my hermeneutics class at Veritas Theological Seminary.
“A person’s view of the Bible and how they seek to understand it will ultimately and inevitably determine their doctrine and their practice.”
Do you agree or disagree? Explain your answer…
The short answer is, of COURSE one’s view of the Bible and methods for interpreting it will INEVITABLY lead towards or away from certain doctrines and practices, because as a general principle, one’s assumptions color one’s interpretation of data and affect their conclusions.
PRESUPPOSITIONS IN SCIENCE AND THE SCIENCE OF HERMENEUTICS
This principle is actually most often seen in the sciences, and the affects of a priori assumptions can be seen in the argument over, for example, evolution, old earth creation OEC), and young earth creation (YEC). Same data, different conclusions, mostly because primary assumptions are different.
(Interestingly, the difference between OEC and YEC perspectives also involves hermeneutics.)
Since hermeneutics is part science (and part art), this same general principle applies – assumptions affect interpretation.
ONE’S VIEW OF THE BIBLE
When we speak of “one’s view of the Bible,” what are we discussing? Primarily, we are speaking about it’s divine authorship, and with that, it’s intrinsic authority. While many principles of hermeneutics, such as contextualization, genre, and language usage may be applied to secular texts, *Biblical* hermeneutics also includes the ideas that result from the assumption of divine authorship.
If we view the Bible as divinely inspired, inerrant, and by extension, self-authorizing, this will affect profoundly how we approach the text, and what we get from it.
It will affect our DOCTRINE because it’s self-proclaimed authority elevates it to a place over the other spiritual authorities of the Christian life, namely tradition, experience, and reason (however, these lesser authorities do have a place in determining doctrine and practice, and has been well described in The Wesleyan Quadrangle – while Sola Scriptura is a good rallying cry when returning to pure doctrine, I think the phrase is a little misleading because in reality, we never determine doctrine or practice via Sola Scriptura – perhaps we should rather say Scriptura primoris (first or foremost).
It will affect our DOCTRINE and PRACTICE because with authority comes prescriptive and prohibitive commands and instruction. For example, when I read the works of Shakespeare, I don’t find any divine commands to follow, though I may find wisdom. But in scripture, it reveals commands from God that have consequences when I obey or disobey. If I fail to view the scriptures as divine and authoritative, it will certainly affect my practice.
HOW WE SEEK TO UNDERSTAND IT (HERMENEUTIC)
Even if we agree on our view of scripture as divine in authorship, authoritative, and inerrant, which dismisses the more liberal views of scripture as merely a work of man, solely metaphorical or legendary in nature, we must still agree on principles by which we seek to understand the revelation of God, or else risk arriving at differing doctrine and practice.
For example, if we fail to agree on Article VII of the Chicago statement, “the meaning expressed in each biblical text is single, definite and fixed,” (sole meaning), we could end up not only with differing opinions on what the text means, but how it is applied. At the extreme, we open the door to totally subjective or metaphorical application of passages that are neither.
As another example, if we disagree on Article VIII of the Chicago statement, “the Bible contains teachings and mandates which apply to all cultural and situational contexts and other mandates which the Bible itself shows apply only to particular situations,” we could end up in some extremely different places in both doctrine and practice. We might, for instance, require or women to wear head coverings, or demand execution of homosexuals.
However, even if we agree on this position, we will need some further principles by which we distinguish between universal an cultural mandates.
THE INEVITABILITY OF DOCTRINE AND PRACTICE RESULTING FROM HERMENEUTIC
If we agree on both the nature of the bible, and our hermeneutic principles, in theory, we should arrive via logic and illumination at the very same doctrines. And in large part, that follows. However, that is not always the case. Why?
The idea of illumination introduces a subjective element, which opens up the door to disagreements. But if we are all well-meaning, and agree on our presuppositions, and all have the same Holy Spirit for illumination, why would we ever come to varying doctrines or practice?
First, and most importantly, because we are sinful and in the PROCESS of being sanctified. “Now, we see through a glass darkly” – we see and comprehend Jesus imperfectly. We are people whose souls are in the process of being sanctified, so all of our intellectual, emotional and motivational efforts and experiences are imperfect, being impacted by the sin we are being sanctified from.
Second, we are limited in our intellectual capabilities, that is, we are not omniscient.
We are creatures, not the creator. This limitation is not a reason to not attempt to understand, but we must always remember that we are limited in what we can understand. We can not entirely fathom the infinite. Of course, the balancing principle is that we have the revelation of God and the illumination of the Holy Spirit to help us overcome our intellectual and spiritual limitations.
Third, because we have a tendency towards intellectualizing without God, and becoming Pharisaical. “The truth puffs up,” and when men lean too heavily on their own gifts and talents, they can make errors.
Fourth, we can create doctrines in our zeal for holiness, misunderstanding the keeping power of God.
The Pharisees, though often maligned, were at least very pious, and serious students of scripture. Yet, they created “doctrines of men” for just this reason. In their zeal for holiness, they created all kinds of doctrines which were a burden.
Fifth, if we are not careful, we can create doctrines in the areas where God is silent, or says very little. Theologian D.A. Carson mentions this, and warns:
The reason is not that God must say things more than once for them to be true or binding. The reason, rather, is that if something is said only once it is easily misunderstood or misapplied. When something is repeated on several occasions and in slightly different contexts, readers will enjoy a better grasp of what is meant and what is at stake.
That is why the famous “baptism for the dead” passage (1 Corinthians 15:29) is not unpacked at length and made a major plank in, say, the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Confession. Over forty interpretations of that passage have been offered in the history of the church. Mormons are quite sure what it means, of course, but the reason why they are sure is because they are reading it in the context of other books that they claim are inspired and authoritative.
In the end, it is somewhat obvious that our assumptions about the nature of the bible, and our principles for interpreting it will certainly bias us towards or away from various doctrines or practices. However, it is worthwhile to consider this question so that we are consciously aware of how our own
presuppositions and hermeneutic bias us towards or away from various
It is also worth noting that, due to the corrupting nature of sin, the subjective nature of illumination, and our limited abilities as creatures, even a consistent view of the bible and hermeneutic will not assure us of complete unanimity of doctrine and practice.
However, despite the imperfect nature of our ability to know and follow Jesus, a logical, consistent, and comprehensive hermeneutic can bring substantial agreement, filter out certain gross errors (and doctrinal errors have grave consequences), and assure us that we are being faithful in coming to a saving and sanctifying knowledge of Christ.