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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Philosophy and Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics and Epistemology
If the church has learned anything over the past two thousand years we have certainly learned that the interpretation of Scripture is no small task. There have been bitter quarrels, factions, divisions, and even countless killings – all in the name of a certain approach to interpreting Scripture. And yet the interpretation of Scripture is central to the Church of Christ and always must be.
One of the problems, I believe, is that we have approached the interpretation of Scripture with a sort of naïve optimism. We viewed the Scripture as a matter of method (to borrow Gadamer’s phrase), and we have failed to recognize that there are a myriad of other complex factors that interact with each other and make the interpretation of the Bible difficult. In his book Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology William Abraham calls this “exegetical optimism.” The point he makes, that I would echo here, is that in the past the church has failed to recognize the philosophical roots of biblical interpretation.
This paper is an attempt to recognize (as many already are recognizing) the need to dig deep in our philosophical roots to examine what presuppositions we have that our driving our biblical interpretation. In the process, then, we will all exercise a little more grace and humility as we approach our own interpretation and the interpretations of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In the following brief sentences, I wish to discuss the relationship that epistemology has to biblical interpretation and how a rejection of the epistemology of the past will lead us to a more accurate and appropriate hermeneutic. I hope to accomplish this by briefly defining the epistemological internalism of the past several hundred years or so that has been foundational to the modernist philosophical thought process. I will then show how the nature of internalism has molded the way biblical interpreters have approached hermeneutics and how this is not tenable or even desirable in light of current philosophical and hermeneutical developments. In the last part of the paper I would like to begin to wrestle with the consequences of abandoning some of the internalist’s presuppositions and evaluate how this will affect our view of biblical interpretation.
I would also like to pose a few suggestions for viewing hermeneutics if internalism is no longer acceptable. Specifically, my suggestion is that hermeneutics is more a matter of what happens to us and is not restricted to our own interpretive efforts. Some of the results may be a bit unsettling and uncertain, but I believe that they put us on the path to a more faithful and realistic biblical interpretation. I believe that this also allows the Christian to recognize and incorporate, in a more real way, the divine element and the illumination of the Holy Spirit as an integral part of the hermeneutical process.
Leave comments here.


ktismatics said...

Nicely written -- as is the truth paper. I'm afraid that either I'm not grasping the core of the argument or I disagree. The internalist approach says that if you do your duty -- follow the prescribed method to the letter -- you'll arrive at the truth. It seems to me there's a difference between the validity of the method and the rigor/appropriateness with which the method is applied. Mechanistically following a praxis works best when the outcome is already known and predictable: typing a document, cooking something from a recipe, etc. If you don't know how it's going to turn out, then you need to rely on a kind of meta-praxis: knowing which of several competing rules prevails in particular circumstances, when to bend the rules, etc. Cooking without recipe requires a different kind of praxis: not pure guesswork but rather more finesse based on ranges of experiences, balance of acid and salt, varying temperature's impact on texture, etc. I think the duty-bound exegete is the cookbook cook rather than the chef, the journeyman and not the master, the technician rather than the scientist. Less duty, more creativity and judgment, bring about desirable results. A master exegete, I think, is adept at wielding these higher-level methods.

With respect to the truths of Scripture imposing themselves on you from outside yoursef, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, one question predominates: How do you know it's the Holy Spirit illuminating you? Aristotle claimed to be enlightened by virtue. What criteria did he offer? None: he had virtue, he knew it, everyone else knew it; if anyone understood matters differently they didn't have it. It might not devolve to pure subjectivity if you have a reliable "method" of discerning the Holy Spirit's "voice." Otherwise you're in the realm of intersubjective validation and the interpretive community.

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