Thursday, June 6, 2013

Biblical Interpretation, what is your hermeneutical methodology and why?

What are my determining factors when it comes to objectivity in interpretation?

First, I recognize how my stage of truth is defined, and also realize how such factors contribute, hamper, and influence my interpretation. Everyone has factors that can limit or impair judgments, some fail to recognize or admit this. If someone has a proven better way, I would be open to change my thoughts on this.

I recognize the following (STEER from Wesleyan’ quadrilateral) not necessarily in this order:

  1. Scripture (view of inspiration, i.e., verbal plenary)
  2. Tradition
  3. Experience
  4. Emotion
  5. Reason

I also utilize sources outside the Bible, lexicons, commentaries, creeds, and various statements of faith. I use these historical statements of faith to test/validate my views to see if they correspond, and to what varying degree (if any), the certainty I hold them. I don’t view creeds as inspired or equivalent to scripture. There are a few other methodologies (not mentioned here) I use to aid in my self-analysis to see if I am considering all points and if I am reaching a faulty conclusion. While not fool-proof it certainly is a good starting point.

So that is where I differ from some Christian’s, I view the creedal statements as orthodoxy and compare my interpretation to those concerning the core beliefs. To what would non-orthodox compare their beliefs to? How would they consider themselves correct? What would be their process for determining the correct interpretation?

When I look into churches to attend, the first thing I look at of course is their core beliefs and values for obvious reasons.

So, why do I support the historical grammatical method?

By way of comparison, the historical grammatical method would be against a reader response interpretation. This mechanism would be more repeatable and reproducible than a mere reader response. In essence, the reader response is “what does it mean to you” (an informal response and methodology), which disregards the historical content, historic culture, any literary forms. So basically, one would skip all those non-systematic qualifiers and homiletically base their own conclusion upon their immediate understanding without any other regards or concern to the original audience or intent.

I wouldn’t confuse the historical grammatical method with the reader response as the reader response lacks a methodology and a way to validate systematically. They are both very different in that one looks to authorial intent and the latter the clear disregard for the authorial intent. Also a reader response uses the concept of solo scriptura (scripture only, not to be confused with sola scriptura) to which I whole-heartedly disagree with.

Utilizing a reader response methodology, the interpreter is left without any means by which the conclusions of the interpreter may be tested. But using a historical grammatical method one could validate, test, and affirm verifying:

  1. Grammatical, syntactical aspects
  2. Historical background
  3. Literary genre, structure, literary forms
  4. Theological considerations
  5. Contextualization of scriptures

This methodology also involves asking of questions, then determining if a homiletically based principle is warranted for the Christian today. Also, the interpretation of the passage along with the determining of the meaning defines the term hermeneutics; a reader response may not be able to determine using by a mere response without a more critical analysis (interpretation only). I agree with Milton S. Terry that when one neglects these aspects/principles tends to drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture.

I also believe that the historical grammatical method discourages against a mere proof texting approach. While proof-texting isn’t totally incorrect (if used carefully), the problem is when the texts are isolated from the context of the theme of the chapter or paragraph. I see this many times when someone suggests possible contradictions, or does not take account for contextualization (view of all possible passages that could apply).

The proof text method often neglects the historical setting and type of literary genre. The proof text approach tends to be more allegorical in nature which can lead to an incorrect view, especially when the literary form does not warrant the allegorical interpretation. This is where different views of eschatology occur as well.

My view would agree somewhat with a historical-critical method (HCM) however, this method (HCM) could leave out any application for today (to the other extreme).

Lastly, the historical-critical method is the primary method of interpretation for scholars in the major branches of Christianity. I do not use this as a stand alone reason as I have explained above.