Monday, September 28, 2015

Orthodox Hermeneutics

In the book of Revelation, Jesus dictated letters to seven churches that existed at that time. Scholars have marveled at the order these churches were addressed because the characteristics of these churches mirror church history. Thus it is instructive to take a good look at the letter to the Laodicean church because it describes the state of Christendom in the time leading up to the end of the Church Age. Since the Laodicean error is the spirit of the Age, it would be to our advantage to really understand it so as not to contribute to it. We may be in the Laodicean church but we don't have to be Laodicean believers.

The letter to the church at Laodicea is found in Revelation 3:14-22. Jesus rebuked the church for their being lukewarm toward Him and thinking they were wealthy due to their worldly things when in fact they were very poor spiritually. Jesus admonishes the church to purchase from Him true spiritual wealth that only comes from growing in our relationship with Him along with "white garments" which represent righteous acts per Revelation 19:8 and "eye salve" so that we may see the truth with the help of the Holy Spirit per 1 Corinthians 2:14.

Clues as to the root cause of the Laodicean lukewarm-ness can be found in other passages about the final phase of the Church Age. The error of the Laodicean Church is represented by 1 Timothy 3:1-5, "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money... having a form of godliness but denying its power" (NKJV). The end of the Church Age will be characterized by the practice of religion but being on fire in a relationship with the Creator will be lacking. The remedy for this that the Apostle Paul goes on to tell Timothy about is the need to follow true doctrine: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (1 Timothy 3:16-17).

Thus, the Apostle Paul says that not correctly recognizing the authority of Scripture will be a problem in the last days. He reinforces this issue in 1 Timothy 4:3-4, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables."  Bad doctrine from misinterpreting Scripture is what contributes to people being lukewarm toward Jesus. Truth resonates with people but falsehoods to support a personal agenda does not. The more people get the idea that the Bible is just a collection of sayings to support the latest wind of doctrine, the more they will ignore it and the God who inspired it.

The alternative to seeing the Bible as being inspired by God is to see it as being the story of man's search for God. People who deny the supernatural inspiration of God's Word expect the Bible to be subject to errors and contradictions since it was written by flawed men. So when they force Scripture to support their pet ideology, they ignore the contradictions pointed out to them because such discrepancies are to be expected if the Bible was authored by flawed men. But if the Bible is truly God's Word, there will be no contradictions in Scripture, only gaps in our understanding.

There is a plethora of doctrinal errors that people fall into if they don't see Scripture as being inspired by God. Some of these include salvation by works, the idea that once born again a person can lose their salvation, and the view that all people will go to heaven regardless their relationship to the Lord. Playing fast and loose with what Scripture actually says has lead to a proliferation of denominations that have divided over disputable matters and also cults that promote fundamental heresies. Among the errors that the Laodicean church has embraced in this end-phase of the Church Age is related to beginning things and end things, theistic evolution and amillennialism.

Theistic evolution is nothing more than a compromise with an anti-Christ worldview that sows doubt about the veracity of God's Word. If God really did use an evolutionary process, why didn't He make that more clear in His Word rather than force us to just accept contradictions in order to fit the human theory of evolution into Scripture? If we can't trust the Bible to be true then we end up having to trust in human authority as the final arbiter of what is true, a very dangerous practice. Indeed, the Lord warned us about this in Luke 16:31: "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead."

We are told in 2 Peter 3:3 that the end times would be characterized by scoffing about the return of Jesus. Such scoffing is growing in the church due to the the pervasiveness of of amillennialism. It is interesting to note that those who adopt this superficial, lazy approach to eschatology generally also embrace theistic evolution. The false doctrine of amillennialism effectively says Jesus will not return until He comes back to usher in the Eternal State. But proponents of this view don't believe the Eternal State will be any time soon because if it took Jesus millions of years from the beginning of creation to come the first time then it could be millions of years before He returns. This means amillennialists generally have no sense of urgency to get on with what God is calling us to do, hence their lukewarm-ness.

The practice of doubting God's Word began early in history. "Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). This was the tactic Satan used to tempt Eve in the Garden and this tried-and-true approach is still being used today. The Enemy of God takes advantage of our human propensity to apply our own meaning to what God has clearly told us.

We can trust that the Bible is true because of the nature of God: He is Almighty enough to have accurately given mankind His Word and preserved it through time even using His flawed subjects. We can also trust the Bible is true because of the love of God: He has provided us a way that we can know Him and know what is of Him and what is not. And there is plenty of evidence that the Bible really is from God in its fulfilled prophecy; only God can declare the end from the beginning per Isaiah 46:10.

Given that we can trust the Bible to really be God's Word, we should interpret it then using a proper orthodox exegesis. Hermeneutics is the theory and methodology of text interpretation. The terms "hermeneutics" and "exegesis" are sometimes used interchangeably. While hermeneutics includes written, verbal, and nonverbal communication, the term exegesis focuses on just the text. The word exegesis means “to lead out of” and that means the interpreter is led to make conclusions by what the text actually says.

There is another approach to interpreting Scripture known as eisegesis which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. Eisegesis means “to lead into” and results in the interpreter injecting his own ideas into the text effectively making it mean whatever he wants. Obviously, all the bad doctrines of our age come from eisegesis. We are commanded in 2 Timothy 2:15 to use exegetical methods: “Present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” An honest student of the Bible will be an exegete, allowing the text to speak for itself.

Among the ways people eisegete Scripture to make it support their favored ideology is to ignore its textual and historical context. They also ignore its literal meaning and instead apply some spiritual truth to it. This practice of spiritualization forces a text to mean something that it does not say and is the most common form of eisegesis.

The best approach to avoid eisegesis is to apply a consistent literal exegesis. This means seeing the text in a normal or plain sense first along with applying the ordinary meaning of words that are used. Yes, there is symbolism in Scripture that is typical of any good literature but it is generally easily recognized by the context and often even explained by the text itself. The Golden Rule of interpretation is this: when the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense or you'll end up with nonsense.

There is good news in the orthodox hermeneutics of literal interpretation: we can allow Scripture to interpret itself. We don't need to see the Bible as some mystical code book requiring a special decoding ring to figure out. Neither do we need some scholarly intermediary to tell us what the Bible really says. We can allow God to speak directly to us through the plan sense meaning of the Bible. Having this perspective is powerful medicine against the Laodicean spirit of lukewarm-ness because it will energize our personal Bible study and help us grow closer to the Lord.

The great error of our Age is not believing the Bible is in-errantly God's Word. But we don't have to be sucked into this dangerous doctrine. The more we appreciate the Bible as being inspired by God by studying it to know the Truth, the closer we'll grow to our Savior. And this is getting increasingly important as deception and other birth pangs of the Tribulation get more frequent and intense.