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.

Open Your Eyes

“… they beheld God, and ate and drank.”
(Exodus 24:11)

It is no secret that I love the Scriptures, and that I encourage everyone I can to read the Scriptures as often as possible.  If you want to know God, if you want to be reminded of his love for you, of you want to know how to live a life that is pleasing to God, if you want to know why everything else in this world is so messed up: look to the Word of God.  As 2 Timothy 3:16–17 teaches us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  There is nothing you need to know in this life or for the life to come that cannot be found in God’s Word.

I encourage my friends to use Bible reading plans as 1) a means of discipline, daily coming to the Word, and 2) a plan to take in the whole counsel of Scripture.  I am reading through M’Cheyne’s reading plan right now, but there are countless other quality reading plans out there, take your pick.

The problem with reading plans, however, is that sometimes you read the passage just to get it read, and then move on, without letting it really sink in.  We come to Scripture sometimes acting like the Cat in Dr. Seuss’ I Can Read With My Eyes Shut; but, as the Cat says, “if you read with your eyes shut, you’re likely to find that the place where you’re going is far, far behind.”

Take for example my reading this morning.  In M’Cheyne’s plan, I was scheduled to read from Exodus 24.  Now in that chapter God tells Moses to come up the mountain and to bring Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and the 70 elders of Israel to meet with God.  Obeying the Lord, these elders ascend the mountain and we are told that when they went up, “they saw the God of Israel.  There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.  And he did not lay his and on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank” (Ex. 24:9-11).

What!?!  Wait a minute, did I just read that?  I must have read this passage a hundred times before, but I’ve never seen that before.  They saw God, they beheld him, and ate and drank!!!

Now, there’s a lot more to the chapter, but I haven’t gotten there yet. I don’t know if I will today.  My reading plan isn’t important enough that I should just gloss over something so monumental.  They beheld God and ate and drank.  It’s very hard to express in writing just how verklempt I am over this.  They beheld God and ate and drank.

See, normally, that doesn’t happen.  Later in Exodus, Moses asks to see the face of God, to which God replies, no man may see the face of God and live (Ex 33:20).  Manoah and his wife, after their encounter with the angel of the Lord, are pretty sure they are going to die because they have seen the face of God (Judg. 13:22).  Isaiah, when he sees the Lord seated upon the throne in glory, cries out, “I’m a goner,” knowing his sinfulness cannot stand in the presence of God (Isa 6:1-5).

But what we read here in Exodus is that God called these men up the mountain, they saw God, and they were not killed, but were instead, fed a meal… they ate and drank.  Does anybody else hear the 23rd Psalm here, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, my cup overflows.”  Immediately my mind jumped to the story of the Emmaus Road, the two disciples, leaving Jerusalem depressed and discouraged because of the crucifixion, encountering the resurrected Jesus along the way, who taught them from Scripture everything concerning himself (Luke 24:27), and how after he blessed the meal their eyes were open.  Even now I think about our worship services, how in the reading and proclamation of the Word of God we see God and hear his voice, and still he gathers us around the table to feed us in his presence.

This one little line from one verse in Exodus has completely wasted me for the day.  I don’t know that I will recover.  I don’t know that I want to.

So what should I do next, check my email?  Really?

Honestly, some people get more out of reading the New York Times than they do from reading the Bible.  They may read an article in the paper and that’s all they talk about the whole day, while they are hard pressed to remember what they read that morning, or even 5 minutes ago, from Scripture.

Friends, when you are reading God’s Word you need to allow it time to penetrate and permeate your life.  Don’t just “buzz the tower;” read it, hear it, meditate upon it.  Pray that God’s Spirit will give you ears to hear the Word of God, to see the grace of Christ.  Let us not be like the Pharisees of old who searched the Scriptures thinking that in them they would find eternal life, but never realizing that all of Scriptures were, in fact, pointing to Christ (John 5:39).

We need to read with our eyes open, and our hearts prepared for impact.