zaterdag 22 juni 2013


Thoughts on hermeneutics

Traditionally Christian hermeneutics has consisted of historical-grammatical analysis with the aim of understanding the meaning of the text as the original authors intended to communicate. This, however, is not sufficient for us to truly understand Holy Scripture. In order to explain what I mean let us for the sake of argument suppose that the Bible consisted of one brief letter from God to humankind which has been delivered through a prophet. In the letter God tells us “My child, I am your heavenly Father, I love you and I have been looking for you. Please come home and you will enjoy my love and care forever”.  Using historical-grammatical analysis it is clear that the message is meant to express Gods love, concern and His desire that all humans enjoy his loving presence forever. However, no matter how accurate the historical-grammatical analysis is conducted, someone who has had a sexually abusive and manipulative father will not understand the message of the text the same way as someone who had a caring and loving father. No matter how well developed our interpretive skills are, we can never run away from the fact that we wear lenses through which we view the text and understand its message. These lenses may be cultural, religious or social, but most often they are deeply personal. If in such a situation we question the accuracy of someone’s interpretation, it will feel to them as if we are questioning their very identity. And yet, the lazy persons relativistic escape ‘’everyone is free to interpret the Bible the way he or she sees fit” is not the solution.  In fact it could be every cruel because it never challenges the harmful beliefs one may have about God, self, others and how we ought to live. Even if we concur that no-one’s interpretation of Holy Scripture is a 100% accurate, the solution is not to then accept every interpretation as equally valid. To go back to the example of the letter. For those who know God as a loving Father it is obvious that there is no sinister motive in His invitation letter.  Their interpretation is more accurate than the person who because of a painful past views the letter with suspicion, fear, insecurity.  The only way to help such a person to come to realise that the other interpretation is better is to get to know the author of the letter.  However, before he or she may even want to get know the author, he or she will need to observe how the lives of other people are positively affected by their interaction with the author.  It is only those who have an intimate knowledge of the Father who better understand what the author of Holy Scripture intends to communicate. They may not see clearly, they may see as in a dim mirror (1 Cor. 13:12), but seeing they do.

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