A Personal Hermeneutic

How you read the Bible matters.

This is what the study of Hermeneutics is all about, the theories of interpretation and application of a text, usually referring to how we approach God’s Word. There’s an excellent article on Theopedia that explains what is meant by hermeneutics: but I’ll give a brief summary here:

A sound Biblical hermeneutic considers the the context of the passage, the genre and literary devices of the passage, and the situation of the author and the intended audience of the passage in order to understand the meaning and application of the text. In other words, a good hermeneutic seeks to draw out the meaning of the text and apply it to our lives today, rather than read our lives today into the text and see how it fits.

Still, having an “originalist hermeneutic,” or an exegetical approach to the Scriptures, does not keep one from also reading with a very personal view. Reading exegetically does not keep me from inserting myself into the story. 

For example, when Paul addresses saints or the Church, I can read that as being addressed to me as well. I may not share in their exact experience, but the word still applies to my life. When the Scriptures describe the struggle of the faithful in this life, I can see comparisons to the struggles that the faithful still face today, and draw from the same well of hope that has comforted God’s people through the generations.

Today, this Personal Hermeneutic hit a little close to home. M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Plan, which I’ve mentioned often in previous blogs, brought me back to Genesis with the start of the New Year, and this morning I came to the reading of Genesis 6. Here we read of the increasing corruption of the human condition, culminating in the damning passage of Genesis 6:5:

“The Lord say that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5 ESV).

Wow. Such a judgement on the wickedness of the heart of humanity, it was only evil, all the time.  Ever affection, every plan, every thought, every hope of every person was self-centered, self-indulgent, self-promoting, and self-seeking. Nothing was directed toward God. None (except for Noah) sought His ways or sought His face.

It’s easy to see the connection to Paul’s review of the state of humanity in Romans 1:29-32:

“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:29–32 ESV).

And it’s easy to see how this applies to our age today. We look around us and we see this in our culture, in the media and entertainment, and even preached within many churches that have abandoned the gospel in order to gain the praise of the world.

But the point of the personal hermeneutic is how I read myself into this story. Where do I fit? By nature, I’m not Noah, nor one of his children. I’d be one of those scoffers, mocking him for building a boat when there wasn’t any rain. I know my heart, and apart from the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, it’s intentions are always evil all the time. I know that I am, by nature, like those in Romans 1:29-32.

My personal hermeneutic does not allow me to be the hero, the one righteous out of all the others. Instead, it brings me back to the reality of my own heart. I stand, like all the rest of humanity, as a sinner before a righteous and holy God, in desperate need of salvation. This hermeneutic is humbling, crushing…

But this personal hermeneutic is also life-giving. This view allows me to see that when Jesus says He came to save sinners, I know he came for me. I can read myself as Gomer, the bride who has been redeemed, never to stray again; the church purified and adorned, waiting for the day of the Bridegroom’s arrival. I see how Jesus took the flood of God’s wrath reserved for me, so that, because I am in Him by faith, I am safe and secure from all harm.

Every day I read the Bible, I don’t just read of some old story from long ago. I read of the wondrous, ongoing  working of our eternal God in our gracious Savior Jesus Christ. I see how God has worked, and continues to work, to bring about His good will for His own glory and for our benefit. 

I pray you find yourself in God’s word today, too.

A Call to Prayer

It has been my custom over the past few years during the week of Thanksgiving to post one of the Presidential Decrees of Thanksgiving in order to be reminded of our blessings as a nation, and of our constant need to turn to God in praise and thanksgiving.

This year, as we approach Thanksgiving in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I know many of us will have to celebrate differently than we have in the past. Many families cannot come together because of travel restrictions and concerns for spreading the virus. Some live in places where gatherings or more than 2 households are prohibited. Even if you celebrate in a normal fashion, there is a cloud hanging over our heads that is unavoidable.

This year I thought I’d take a slightly different approach at Thanksgiving, and post a Presidential call for Prayer. COVID isn’t the first pandemic to hit our nation. Recently, we’ve seen the H5N1 (Avian Flu) and H1N1 Flu viruses. In 1918 there was the Spanish Flu.

But even before that, in the 1830-40’s, the world was gripped with a Cholera Pandemic. Originating in polluted water sources in India, Cholera moved through Africa, Asia, and Europe, before finally coming to the US. In Russia alone, cholera killed over one million people, including the famous composer, Tchaikovsky. Over 20 years, more than 200,000 Americans died of Cholera.

On July 3, 1849, President Zachary Taylor proclaimed a National Day of Fasting and Prayer, writing:

At a season when the providence of God has manifested itself in the visitation of a fearful pestilence which is spreading itself throughout the land, it is fitting that a people whose reliance has ever been in His protection should humble themselves before His throne, and, while acknowledging past transgressions, ask a continuance of Divine mercy.

It is therefore earnestly recommended that the first Friday in August be observed throughout the United States as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer. All business will be suspended in the various branches of the public service on that day; and it is recommended to persons of all religious denominations to abstain as far as practicable from secular occupation and to assemble in their respective places of public worship, to acknowledge the Infinite Goodness which has watched over our existence as a nation, and so long crowned us with manifold blessings, and to implore the Almighty, in His own good time to stay the destroying hand which is now lifted up against us.

(Source: Benjamin Franklin Morris, Christian Life And Character Of The Civil Institutions Of The United States, from Internet Archive)

As we gather this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, may we recall before God all for which we have to be grateful. We praise God for His providential care, for the blessings that He has bestowed upon His creation, the mercies of God which are new every morning, and the love that He has lavished upon those He has redeemed in Christ Jesus. May we speak of His glory, His grace, His wisdom, and His faithfulness toward us. And may we humbly, reverently, and passionately plea for God’s hand to stay the destruction of this virus which is now upon us.