Skip to comments.The Reformers' Hermeneutic: Grammatical, Historical, and Christ-Centered
Posted on 07/06/2014 3:39:40 AM PDT by HarleyD
It is widely recognized that the formal principle underlying the Reformation was nothing other than sola scriptura: the reformers' diehard commitment to the other great solas was an effect arising from their desire to be guided by scriptures alone. The exegesis and interpretation of the bible was the one great means by which the war against Roman corruption was waged; which is almost the same thing as saying that the battle was basically a hermeneutical struggle. In light of these observations, one could say that the key event marking the beginning of the Reformation occurred, not in 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door in Wittenberg; but two years prior to that, when he rejected Origin's four-layered hermeneutic in favor of what he called the grammatical-historical sense. This one interpretive decision was the seed-idea from which would soon spring up all the fruits of the most massive recovery of doctrinal purity in the history of the Church. We would do well to learn from this: our ongoing struggle to be always reforming, always contending for the faith which was once delivered to the saints, is essentially a process of bringing every doctrine under the scrutiny of scripture. And in order to have the confidence that we are doing so legitimately, we must give much effort to being hermeneutically sound. Hermeneutics is the battlefield on which the war is won or lost.
If it is indeed the case that the recovery of a grammatical-historical hermeneutic was the formal principle underlying the Reformation, then we ought to be highly interested in what exactly Luther (and the other Reformers) intended by the expression. If Luther's hermeneutic was so effective in preserving the purity of the gospel in his day, then we may, with some reason, assume that it would benefit us in the gospel-battles of our day. Most, if not all, evangelicals today would certainly affirm that they are laboring with the grammatical-historical hermeneutic of the Reformation but do they mean by this term everything that Luther meant by it? In many cases, one would have to assume that they do not; because it is often the case that a basically un-Christian reading of much of the Old Testament in particular is supported by means of a literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic. For Luther, the grammatical-historical hermeneutic was simply the interpretation of scripture that drives home Christ. As he once expressed it, He who would read the Bible must simply take heed that he does not err, for the Scripture may permit itself to be stretched and led, but let no one lead it according to his own inclinations but let him lead it to its source, that is, the cross of Christ. Then he will surely strike the center. To read the scriptures with a grammatical-historical sense is nothing other than to read them with Christ at the center.
What exactly do I mean when I say that many evangelicals demonstrate basically un-Christian reading of much of the Old Testament? Simply put, I mean they employ a hermeneutic that does not have as its goal to trace every verse to its ultimate reference point: the cross of Christ. All of creation, history, and reality was designed for the purpose of the unveiling and glorification of the triune God, by means of the work of redemption accomplished by the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The bible is simply the book that tells us how to see Christ and his cross at the center of everything. It tells us who God is by showing us the person and work of Christ, who alone reveals the invisible God. If we do not intentionally ask ourselves, How may I see Christ more clearly by this passage, in our reading of every verse of scripture, then we are not operating under the guidance of Luther's grammatical-historical hermeneutic. If we would follow in the steps of the reformers, we must realize that a literal reading of scriptures does not mean a naturalistic reading. A naturalistic reading says that the full extent of meaning in the account of Moses' striking the rock is apprehended in understanding the historical event. The literal reading, in the Christ-centered sense of the Reformation, recognizes that this historical account is meaningless to us until we understand how the God of history was using it to reveal Christ to his people. The naturalistic reading of the Song of Solomon is content with the observation that it speaks of the marital-bliss of Solomon and his wife; the literal reading of the reformers recognizes that it has ultimately to do with the marital bliss between Christ and his bride, the Church. And so we could continue, citing example after example from the Old Testament.
But how was it that this shift came about in the commonly perceived meaning of the term "historical-grammatical sense" from the reformers' day to our own? In a word, the rise of academic liberalism. The reformers were contending for the truth in a society in which the supernatural world was as definitely accepted as the natural world. They had no need to demonstrate that the Bible was a spiritual book, given by God to teach us spiritual truths, that is, truths about Christ and the cross everyone accepted that much. They were contending instead with a hermeneutic that essentially allowed one to draw from any text whatever spiritual significance he liked â if he had the authority of the Church behind him. But the Enlightenment so radically changed the face of society, that it was soon thereafter no longer sufficient to speak of a "literal" hermeneutic: one also had to make clear that this literal hermeneutic had as its object a thoroughly spiritual and Christ-centered corpus of writings. The basic intent of the liberal theologians subsequent to the Enlightenment was to downplay the supernatural; hence, their reading of the scriptures emphasized the human authors and human historical settings entirely apart from the God who was governing all. And, although the thoroughgoing naturalism of the liberals was soundly defeated by many evangelical scholars, some of its emphases seem to have seeped into the very idea of a grammatical-historical hermeneutic, where they continue to exert a deadening influence on much of evangelical scholarship even today. Three specific ways in which, I would contend, the modern conception of a literal hermeneutic has been colored by the Enlightenment, are, first, the maximized emphasis on the human authors of scriptures (together with the corresponding de-emphasis of the divine author); second, the naturalizing of the hermeneutic, so that it intends to discover what a natural man, upon an acquaintance with the natural setting, would immediately understand about a text; and third, the resultant fragmentation of the bible, so that it reads less like one unified, coherent story about a promised Redeemer and how he actually came in human history and accomplished his work â and more like a handful of loosely related sacred documents, with various purposes, intentions, and themes.
Our task as modern reformers has much to do with the recovery of the Christ-centered element of the grammatical-historical hermeneutic. If we would let our sola scriptura lead us to solus christus, then we must be willing to battle against the modern corruption of one of the reformers' most precious legacies; a literal hermeneutic. To that end, I would submit the following six reasons why any hermeneutic which does not see Christ at the center of every verse of scripture does not do justice to the Reformed worldview.
1. A naturalistic hermeneutic effectively denies God's ultimate authorship of the bible, by giving practical precedence to human authorial intent.
2. A naturalistic hermeneutic undercuts the typological significance which often inheres in the one story that God is telling in the bible (see Galatians 4:21-31, for example).
3. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for Paul's assertion that a natural man cannot know the spiritual things which the Holy Spirit teaches in the bible; that is, the things about Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 2).
4. A naturalistic hermeneutic is at odds with the clear example of the New Testament authors and apostles as they interpret the Old Testament (cf. Peter's sermon in Acts 2, Paul's interpretations in Romans 4 and Galatians 4, James' citing of Amos 9 during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, the various Old Testament usages in Hebrews, etc.).
5. A naturalistic hermeneutic disallows a full-orbed operation of the analogy of faith principle of the Reformation, by its insistence that every text demands a reading "on its own terms".
6. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for everything to have its ultimate reference point in Christ, and is in direct opposition to Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:16-18, and Christ's own teachings in John 5:39, Luke 24:25-27.
This is a very fine presentation about the battlefield of hermeneutics. As a Lutheran pastor who has worked stateside and in Africa and India, I have used what this author writes of with Christ at the center and people see that we are in the Scriptures very clearly. When our Lord said, You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me...Jn. 5:39, they only had the Old Testament. Our Lord Jesus is at the heart and center of the Old Testament as well as the new. And on literal and figurative interpretation, we take the literal interpretation unless the context or other passages indicate it is figurative language. Scripture interprets Scripture. As the author points up, God is the author and this must not be undermined in any way.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Mat 6:18
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. John 16:12-13
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 1Tim 3:15
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Mat 28:18-20
Fortunately, we have Christs promise that heresies will never prevail against the Church. They will arise, endure sometimes for centuries, like Protestantism, but we can be confident in Christs promise that the Church will always teach the Truth.
And so it all centers around (as you would have us believe) the notion that the Roman Catholic Church is the only real church and all others are heresy. However the reality that stands out in the article posted is that the truth lies in centering on "Jesus Christ" rather than on something else such as in your case, the "Roman Catholic Church". In other words I look to Christ for the truth, not to a church ruled by men, many of whom over the centuries have been of decidedly questionalble morals and standards. I pray directly to "our Father Who art in heaven " as Jesus taught us to pray, rather than to saints designated by men, or to Mary who Jesus never deified. My life, my hopes, my faith all center around "Jesus Christ " not a "church ".
I am saying this not to start a battle over Catholic vs Protestant ....... But to point out what the article made so clear, that we get to the truth when Biblical interpretation is centered in Christ Himself and what He did on the Cross.
This is largely a straw man argument. Because it is filled with partial inaccuracies, it would take too long to go through each point. Surely those on the Reformation side can do better scholarship - I’ve seen better. Perhaps you could post something better to discuss?
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“Fortunately, we have Christs promise that heresies will never prevail against the Church. “
Since this article is about biblical study, I suggest you study the verse you posted, which does not say what you claim.
Jesus in every passage in the OT? That’s forcing it. Much of the OT is specific to that moment in the past.
Does the OT anticipate Christ throughout? Yes. But we’re imposing our presuppositions when we try to see Jesus in the story of Samson and Delilah, for instance.
1) Where did Jesus give instructions that the Christian faith should be based exclusively on a book?
2) Other than the specific command to John to pen the Revelation, where did Jesus tell His apostles to write anything down and compile it into an authoritative book?
3) Where in the New Testament do the apostles tell future generations that the Christian faith will be based solely on a book?
4) Where in the Bible do we find an inspired and infallible list of books that should belong in the Bible? Where did the table of contents come from?
5) Where is the concept of Trinity explained?
6) Where is the concept of Sola Scriptura explained?
Just for starters.
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 1Tim 3:15
So which Church is described in Scripture as the foundation of Truth? The one you started last week? The one one started 1,500 years after Christ died? Or the one that has existed for 2,000 years?
That is your opinion. Scripture is infalliable. I take Scripture to mean what it says. I believe "This is my Body" means "This is my Body" You are the one who needs to 'interpret' Scripture to support your man-made beliefs. You change the clear words of Scripture to say "This REPRESENTS my Body" By what authority can you change the words of Scripture?
Hmm, another thing we agree on.
I have to seriously question the motives and accuracy of someone that does not sign his/ her name to an article like this.
Further you start from a false premise and expect to end up with a true conclusion:The exegesis and interpretation of the bible was the one great means by which the war against Roman corruption was waged; which is almost the same thing as saying that the battle was basically a hermeneutical struggle. In light of these observations, one could say that the key event marking the beginning of the Reformation occurred, not in 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door in Wittenberg; but two years prior to that, when he rejected Origin's four-layered hermeneutic in favor of what he called the grammatical-historical sense. This one interpretive decision was the seed-idea from which would soon spring up all the fruits of the most massive recovery of doctrinal purity in the history of the Church.
Some have argued that Luther was more about eisegesis than exegesis.
Christ at the center of EVERY verse in the Bible. Okay I will play; Here is a couple picked at random, show me "Christ at the Center" of each of them.
1Chronicles 27:2 Over the first course for the first month was Jashobeam the son of Zabdiel: and in his course were twenty and four thousand.
1Ch 27:3 He was of the children of Perez, the chief of all the captains of the host for the first month.
Numbers 2:2 The children of Israel shall encamp every man by his own standard, with the ensigns of their fathers' houses: over against the tent of meeting shall they encamp round about.
Judges 16:1 And Samson went to Gaza, and saw there a harlot, and went in unto her.
Please show me Christ at the Center" of each of these.
The ability to trace one's church back to the first church through apostolic succession is an argument used by a number of different churches to assert that their church is the one true church. The Roman Catholic Church makes this claim. The Greek Orthodox Church makes this claim. Some Protestant denominations make this claim. Some of the Christian cults make this claim. How do we know which church is correct? The biblical answer is it does not matter!
The first church, its growth, doctrine, and practices, were recorded for us in the New Testament. Jesus, as well as His apostles, foretold that false teachers would arise, and indeed it is apparent from some of the New Testament epistles that these apostles had to fight against false teachers early on. Having a pedigree of apostolic succession or being able to trace a church's roots back to the "first church" is nowhere in Scripture given as a test for being the true church. What is given is repeated comparisons between what false teachers teach and what the first church taught, as recorded in Scripture. Whether a church is the "true church" or not is determined by comparing its teachings and practices to that of the New Testament church, as recorded in Scripture.
For instance, in Acts 20:17-38, the Apostle Paul talks to the church leaders in Ephesus. In that passage, he tells them that false teachers will not only come among them but will come FROM them (vv. 29-30). Paul does not set forth the teaching that they were to follow the "first" organized church as a safeguard for the truth. Rather, he commits them to the safekeeping of "God and to the word of His grace" (v. 32). Thus, truth could be determined by depending upon God and "the word of His grace" (i.e., Scripture, see John 10:35).
No, it really does matter. Yours is a man-made answer to deal with your man-made church.
Look at Scripture - How do you make sense of the following?
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Mat 81:15-18
So where is the church? Where do you take your concerns? This makes no sense whatsoever without the visible Church Christ established with teaching authority, and the power to loose and bind.
Think about it. Would Christ establish his Church to teach the way, the truth and allow thousands of interpretation as to what is the truth? If the Church doesnt teach the Truth, Christ is a liar. If He would allow multiple versions of Truth, hed be an idiot. I dont believe He is either.
Jesus said He was building a "A" Church, not a multiplicity of churches, Yeah it does matter.
So what leads you to believe that the RC church is still the true church? The definition of " the church" is the body of believers that believes God's Word (the Bible) to be the truth . You say that you believe Gods Word and I have no reason to think that is not so, I believe that same Word to be true. We are both members of the body of Christ, the Church.
What does not matter is petty arguments over it. They will not change the fact that the "Church" is all of the body of believers in Jesus Christ and Gods Word on the subject. You can point out all the arguments you want about the details, and I and other true Christians will say to you that we agree with anything that is stated in the scriptures, the Bible, but have a good reason to doubt that which is not stated in the Bible, as explained in my previous post.
Article summation: Every scripture verse in some way points to Christ. Veer from that perspective will lead one into err.
I'm puzzled and curious at why you believe that is an inaccurate statement.
The story of Samson is primarily a human illustration to us of God's redemption grace not unlike the wandering prodigal son. Though Samson squandered his gifts, in the end he "came to his senses" and came back to do God's will in a might way. Delilah, like Balaam, failed in trying to thwart God's plan. The parables that Christ often gave, in many cases can be found in living examples in the Old Testament. And they all point to Him.
BTW-This is only a tip of Christ working in Samson's life. These illustrations are often like an onion in which one can peel layer upon layer.