Doctrinal Clarity on our BeliefsArthur Thangiah
On this day in 1517, the priest and scholar Martin Luther approaches the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it, containing the 95 revolutionary opinions that would begin the Protestant Reformation Movement, which also saw the Bible translat- ed into English and becoming available to the common man. However, with the availability of the Bible, over time, the Protestant groups have been fractured into thousands of churches largely because of doctrinal di erences with doctrinal non-clarity in many of the di erences. In order to be consistent with what the Scriptures mean, we need to study Hermeneutics, which is the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible.
2 Timothy 2:15 commands believers to be involved in hermeneutics: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Since the Bible teaches that God is not the author of confusion [1 Cor. 14:33], how can the many disagreements today between Christians and the proliferation of the cults be explained since all, or nearly all, claim to use the Bible as the basis of their doctrines? Nearly all false doctrines taught today by Chris- tians and cultists alike can be traced to the distortion of the meaning of Biblical words. The purpose of biblical herme- neutics is to help us to know how to properly interpret, understand, and apply the Bible.
Here are eight rules of Hermeneutics:
1. The rule of DEFINITION: The interpreter should conscientiously abide by the plain meaning of the words. This quite often may require using a Hebrew/English or Greek/English lexicon in order to make sure that the sense of the English translation is understood. A couple of good examples of this are the Greek words “allos” and “heteros”. Both are usually translated as “another” in English – yet “allos” literally means “another of the same type” and “heteros” means “another of a di erent type.”
2. The rule of USAGE: It must be remembered that the Old Testament was written originally by, to and for Jews. The words and idioms must have been intelligible to them. The majority of the New Testament likewise was written in a milieu of Greco-Roman (and to a lesser extent Jewish) culture and it is important to not impose our modern usage into our interpretation. It is not worth much to interpret a great many phrases and histories if one’s interpretations are shaded by pre-conceived notions and cultural biases, thereby rendering an inaccurate and ine ectual lesson.
3. The rule of CONTEXT: The meaning must be gathered from the context. Every word you read must be understood in the light of the words that come before and after it.
Many passages will not be understood at all, or understood incorrectly, without the help a orded by the context. A good example of this is the Mormon practice of using 1 Cor. 8:5b: “…for there be gods many and lords many…” as a “proof text” of their doctrine of polytheism. However, a simple reading of the whole verse in the context of the whole chapter (e.g. where Paul calls these gods “so-called”), plainly demonstrates that Paul is not teaching polytheism.
4. The rule of HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: The interpreter must have some awareness of the life and society of the times in which the Scripture was written. The spiritual principle will be timeless but often can’t be properly appreciated without some knowledge of the background. The interpreter must have in his mind what the writer had in his mind when he wrote.
5. The rule of LOGIC: Interpretation is merely logical reasoning. When interpreting Scripture, the use of reason is everywhere to be assumed. Does the interpretation make sense? The Bible was given to us in the form of human language and therefore appeals to human reason – it invites investigation. It is to be interpreted as we would any other volume: applying the laws of language and grammatical analysis.
6. The rule of PRECEDENT: We must not violate the known usage of a word and invent another for which there is no precedent. Just as a judge’s chief occupation is the study of previous cases, so must the interpreter use precedents in order to determine whether they really support an alleged doctrine.
7. The rule of UNITY: The parts of Scripture being interpreted must be construed with reference to the signi cance of the whole. An interpretation must be consistent with the rest of Scripture.
8. The rule of INFERENCE: An inference is a fact reasonably implied from another fact. It is a logical consequence. It derives a conclusion from a given fact or premise. It is the deduction of one proposition from another proposition. Satisfactory evidence means that amount of proof which would ordinarily satisfy an unprejudiced mind beyond a reasonable doubt.
When two interpretations are claimed for a Scripture, the construction most in agreement with all the facts of the case should be adopted. When all the facts of an interpretation are in agreement they sound together in harmony, like notes in a chord. Learning these eight rules and properly applying them will help keep any interpreter from making errors and will hopefully alleviate many of the disagreements unfortunately present in Christianity today.
While encouraging you to apply the above laws of hermeneutics, let me conclude with what Martin Luther said to be paramount. “The Holy Spirit is the simplest writer and advisor in all heaven and earth.”
Arthur Thangiah has been a part of the GMI team and has been overseeing the Tamil group of churches for the last 42 years. He served as CEO of Sahaara from 1995 to 2013 and continues to serve Sahaara as Chief Mentor Advisor.He also serves as a key facilitator in the Mumbai Transformation Network. He lives with his wife Blossom in Mumbai.