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Nov

08

2010

A Simple Reading of the Bible?

I recently listened through the messages from the 2009 "People Growth" conference, and they were fantastic. Much to be challenged about and to put into practice.

However, Philip Jenson at one point began to talk in "Biblical Theology of Ministry 2: All God's People as Prophets and Disciple-Makers" around 50:54 about interpretation, which I found rather unhelpful and harmful.  He said (among other things):

Hermeneutics is a load of nonsense . . . a silly subject . . . it's meaningless and stupid.

Never interpret the Bible. . . . The Bible is the interpretation. 

You don't interpret literature, you read literature.

Now, I appreciate much of what I heard from Jenson, and I appreciate much of what I see coming out of Matthias Media, and have a whole lot to learn from him, but I think this way of speaking is naive and harmful. I think it will lead to frustration in those trying to understand the Bible to simply be told "just read it".

He is right to avoid an overly scholastic approach, and I think he is reacting against false ideas of interpretation today which exalt the role of the interpretor as having something to add to the text, and he rightly places the focus on comprehension and obedience, but I think the way he talks about it discourages precise and careful study altogether.  (At another point, he dismissed commentaries as just scholars talking to each other.)

The question I would like to ask is, Whose reading, then, is the right one? To what, then, do we appeal when my reading of the text and yours are different. Are there not principles governing our "reading" of the text? Is all scholarship, then, in vain? Changing out the word "interpret" for "read" avoids the heart of issue.

He chooses 1Co 15 as the example text. "'Christ Jesus died' is the fact, and 'for our sins' is the interpretation." That is a simple enough passage. How about Hebrews 6? How shall we go about discerning which reading is right? Pretending that we don't have any preunderstandings approaching the text and saying "just read it" doesn't make our reading any more accurate nor our job any easier. Being aware of our biases, and having principles to guide our reading is a matter of wisdom.

I love what he had to say about people growth and gospel growth, but I don't like what he had to say about hermeneutics and interpretation. I am all  for a focus on obedience, and for the avoidance of an overly scholastic focus in interpretation. I am definitely against current postmodern trends in hermeneutics. But the way he has tried to do this, I think, encourages individualism in interpretation and discourages rigorous study. I am all for focusing on what the text simply says--but I think it is unhelpful to pretend this is always simple.

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Matt Hauck (郝柏昇)

A once enemy now son, forgiven and freed by Jesus' blood, adopted and called by grace for glory.   (more...)

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