Posted in clarity, humble, perspicuity, scripture, The Hermeneutics of Humility

Sayings and mottos that sound pious but aren’t. #3 "I’m too humble to think that I could ever know what the Bible really means"

Part 1: “Let Go and Let God
Part 2: “I don’t use commentaries because they’re men’s wisdom. I only use God’s Word when I study.”
Part 4: #4: Pray Big Because We Have a Big God
Part 5: He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good

Some sayings sound legitimate on their surface. They sound pious. They sound biblical. Like this one: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. Only problem is, that one isn’t in the bible. At all.

It is sometimes hard to tell what truly is Christian and what merely sounds Christian. Charles Spurgeon wisely said, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.” So what sayings are right, and what sayings are almost right (AKA ‘wrong’)? Let’s look at the following sayings which have become such cliches.
Some of these mottoes are:

  1. “Let go and let God”
  2. “I don’t use commentaries because they’re men’s wisdom. I only use God’s Word when I study.”
  3. “We can’t know for certain what the bible means, I’m not that smart”
  4. “Pray big because we have a big God.”
  5. “He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good”
#3, The Hermeneutics of Humility.

Mike Ratliffe said, “Hermeneutic of Humility” is a way of looking at our faith and interpreting the very Word of God through a filter that sees certainty as a product of pride and uncertainty as a virtue. … These people contend that to be certain divides people while uncertainty creates an environment of unity.

However the mantra that doctrine divides is a misconception. True doctrine does divide, and that is a good thing, because that is what it is supposed to do. But first let’s define hermeneutics.

CARM defines Hermeneutics as “The science of interpretation. Theologically, and biblically, speaking it is the means by which a person examines the Bible to determine what it means.”

The hermeneutics of humility says that anyone saying for sure what the bible means is being proud and displaying arrogance. Ultimately, it is a subtle denial of the truth.

There’s a new hermeneutics, a new science of interpretation called the Hermeneutics of Humility, and this is serious to the people who espoused this and their Hermeneutics of Humility say, “I’m too humble to think that I could ever know what the Bible really means and so I can only offer my opinion and I certainly can’t say that this is in fact the truth.” (source)

Now, while it is good to be humble (that’s why this saying is a subtle trick), let’s look at the difference between personal humility and interpretive humility. In personal humility, Romans 12:3 says,

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

In other words do not exalt yourself, but think soberly and judge rightly.

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.” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Do we suppose that sober judgment and rightly handling the truth means that we can never know what it means? As Paul would say, “What a ghastly thought!” Denying that the bible can be clear is denying the work of the Holy Spirit, who makes it clear. (John 14:25-26).

Yet the issue is a delicate one. Professor of religion and philosophy Winfried Corduan said, [link is to a .pdf]

…the Bible is the inspired Word of God. And Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit to lead us into truth (John 14:26; 16:13). The Christian interpreter ought never to proceed without relying in both mind and spirit on God’s gracious gift of illumination. Nonetheless, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer (undeniable though it is) does not provide a short cut through the hermeneutical process. The obvious counter-example to any such presumption is found in the fact that Christians who are equally committed to the discovery of truth disagree with each other. But the Holy Spirit does not teach different truths to such believers. Apparently it is possible to (at least claim to) rely on the Holy Spirit alone and not arrive at truth. Consequently it is best to say something along the line that the Holy Spirit’s work of disclosure is not entirely divorced from the human task of interpretation.”

It is why we strike a balance between personal humility and interpretive humility in the learning process, and boldness and confidence in proclaiming what we have learned.
The doctrine of the clarity (or perspicuity) of Scripture (that the central message of the Bible is clear and understandable, and that the Bible itself can be properly interpreted in a normal, literal sense) has been a cornerstone of evangelical belief ever since the Reformation. ~John MacArthur
The reason why these sayings resonate is because they sound almost right. There is a grain of truth to the fact that we need to demonstrate humility when we approach the scriptures. It is an interpretive humility we need to possess.

In Kevin J. Vanhoozen’s book,”Is there a meaning in this text?” he writes,

God is a speaking God. The Father is the one who, in the words of the creeds, est locutus per prophetas. [spoken through the prophets]. Most of what God does, creating, commanding, warning, communicating, promising, forgiving, informing, comforting, etc., is accomplished by speech acts. Moreover, God’s speech agency is the epitome of clarity and efficacy.”

Pride rears its head in people exhibiting a lack of interpretive humility when we believe we have got the meaning right before we have made the appropriate effort to recover it, as Vanhoozen explains. In other words rightly divide and make a sober judgment and with the aid of the Holy Spirit we will know what God is saying to us as far as our assigned faith will take it. Clearly and definitively. Because what good is unknowable truth?

Illumination: Wiki Commons

Ultimately as Vanhoozen says, “Humility must be balanced by conviction. The uncommitted interpretation is not worth hearing.

What a person adhering to a hermeneutic of humility is really saying is that:

–I am too lazy to put in the effort to really understand God’s written word,
–If we can’t know for sure what the bible means, then I don’t have to follow its commands,
–Look at me, I’m so humble I won’t even try to figure out what God is saying,
–God spoke but not clearly enough to understand it. He is a God of confusion.

Ask the Spirit to aid you in remaining personally humble, and seek His aid in being interpretively humble. Then, when the Spirit illuminates a truth to you, proclaim it boldly and certainly! The bible never says that bold faith is arrogance.

–In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:12)

–Proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:31)

Scripture itself at tests its own perspicuity, but not to the point that it can not be misunderstood or is in every point equally simple and clear. The doctrine does not rule out the need for interpretation, explanation, and exposition of the Bible by qualified leaders. The doctrine does mean that Scripture is clear enough for the simplest person, deep enough for highly qualified readers, clear in its essential matters, obscure in some places to people because of their sinfulness, understandable through ordinary means… Professor Larry Pettigrew, The Master’s Seminary

Sir Gawaine the Son of Lot, King of Orkney,
by Howard Pyle (1903)


Further reading

Definition: The Clarity of Scripture

Ordinary Essay: The Clarity of Scripture

Seminary level paper: The Perspicuity Of Scripture (.pdf)

Posted in The Hermeneutics of Humility

The Hermeneutics of Humility: Part 3

The Hermeneutics of Humility part 1, here
The Hermeneutics of Humility part 2, here

I have been exploring the Hermeneutics of Humility. Hermeneutics simply means the science of bible interpretation. This false doctrine is when people say “I’m fallible, and I’ve been wrong before in my interpretations of the bible, and gee, look at how many other people are wrong in their interpretations, and I’m just too humble to say that I think I know the bible. So I won’t say I do.”

Now, there is a difference between conceit in knowledge, and humility in certitude. The Pharisees were conceited. Romans 12:16b tells us “be not wise in your own conceits”. This means do not be puffed up with an opinion of your own wisdom. If you have gained wisdom from the Spirit then say it is from the Spirit. Do not be conceited, thinking it is your own special braininess that gained you a deeper understanding. 2 Corinthians 12 and Galatians 5 are examples of what happens when people become conceited outside of the Spirit. Paul is the example of confidence in the certainty of doctrinal Gospel. Stephen, too. We will not be arrogant in our deeper understandings if we remember Peter’s wise words: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,” (2 Peter 1:20). The definition of prophecy in how Peter used it is “prophesying; the gift of communicating and enforcing revealed truth.” We MUST communicate revealed truth, we also MUST refer to the Spirit in His work as the One who revealed it.

There are lots of people running around who say that they have gained a special insight from the Spirit but it is frankly a wacky interpretation. If you are in the Spirit, He will give you discernment when people say these things. Have full confidence in Him!

Let’s look at James again.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:2-8)

I am going to use the metaphor of the sea and on that sea, boats. James said that the double minded who ask for wisdom not in faith, are like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. Any old schmo can get on a boat and get on the water. Some are in dinghies, some are in sailboats, some are in motor boats, some are in canoes, some are in bass boats. But any person can get on a craft and go out onto the water. But when the when the wind comes up and a storm starts, the doubters are driven here and there. They can see the lighthouse, and safety, but they are being driven in a direction they do not want to go.

There is one craft that is on the sea, aiming for the lighthouse and the safety of the home berth, but they have an advantage. They are on a submarine, and they can sink below the tossed waters of the storm and they can chug along in placidity. The tossing of those above do not affect the submarine nor those on it. All is quiet.

Now, I said that any old schmo can gt on any old boat and dip their toe in the waters of Christianity. If they do not apply themselves to the truths revealed within the Word, they will be tossed. They are on the surface, and the surface is always rougher when the wind kicks up. But not any old schmo can get on a sub. That requires special training. All US Navy sailors go through training. But you have to work really hard and spend a long time to attain the credentials for submarine sailor. “Basic shore-based training teaches submariners fundamental skills before they are assigned to the submarine, but each crew member continues to learn and gain more expertise after they are assigned aboard the submarine. As sailors gain operational experience, they receive advanced training.”

Too many Christians today are kitchen table theologians. As we read this comment on bad hermeneutics: “Today’s evangelicals aren’t known for being profound, sober-minded, or consistent; instead they’ve developed a reputation for being superficial, trivial, doctrinally erratic, and theologically naïve…. Those who take God’s Word seriously spend many hours in study. Coming out of diligent study are lessons, sermons, articles, and books that are deep, weighty, sober, doctrinally coherent, and theologically consistent.”

When I get into a conversation with a Christian about, say, the rapture, and they say something ignorant like John Darby invented that doctrine, I share the bible verses and show how I came to the conclusions I did, my basis. If they refute that out of hand, I know they are speaking from the flesh because they dismissed the Word out of hand. My job is then concluded. I’d shared the verses in love and civility. I stood up for the Word. Alternately, if the person says, ‘I never saw those verses before, let me read them and try to see what you’re saying,’ I know they are speaking from the Spirit, because we both have pointed to the bible verses and not ourselves. Not our intellect. Not our opinion. The bible. I know that person wants ears to hear and eyes to see. The conversation may continue if they so desire, because they have a seeking heart and so do I. It works in reverse with me, too. I listen to others, I seek the word, pray, study, ponder and then the Spirit will lead me into either a deeper truth or show me where the Word refutes what the person claims.

Paul advised Christians not to be ignorant of four things. It means don’t be without knowledge:
Don’t be ignorant about God’s plan for Israel (Romans 11:25). 
Don’t be ignorant about spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1). 
Don’t be ignorant about suffering and trials in the Christian life (2 Corinthians 1:8). 
Don’t be ignorant about the rapture and the second coming of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

And what are we fighting most about these days! These very things, which too many are ignorant of, being tossed by every which wind. They tire so they say, ‘I’m too humble to know for sure. I’ll just rely on the essentials.’ I would like to know just ONE THING in the bible that Jesus didn’t die for?! What is one thing that is not essential to know and defend on His shed blood?! He fulfilled the Law, so that is the Old Testament. He delivered the Gospel once for all, so that is the New Testament. There is not one comma, not one jot nor tittle in the bible that is not essential to defend.

In no case it is wise or advisable to argue out of ego. But neither do I let things go. I do “fight.” We are called to so so when necessary. “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Tim 6:12.) Speaking the truth will evoke reactions but that is no cause to cease doing it. Paul confronted Peter. Stephen confronted the Pharisees. Paul and Euodia and Syntyche contended.

I had to do just that recently. A personage of some influence and stature in the community, the former local newspaper publisher, has an opinion column weekly. As Publisher Emeritus, he knows that words have influence. In last week’s opinion piece, he said that Genesis account of creation is co-existent with evolution. I was sadly disappointed to read this. Initially I did not want to confront that error because I am flesh like everyone else. But the times call for courage and emboldenment. The Spirit would not let go. So finally I sent a rebuttal letter. I was thankful the editor published it. As usual, there were lots of craven comments in the online comment box. The Spirit had me make two replies to those, to clarify and to answer a question, then I discerned that that was enough. No need to perpetuate the point. I had my say, or rather, the Spirit did. The rest is up to Him. I have full confidence that His words will find some good ground and bear fruit. It is all for the glory of God. Saying we are too humble to know besmirches His name, does not glorify it. We should be humbled when He reveals His intelligence to us. We should be humbled when we speak His words and they find good ground. But we should never be “too humble” to be bold and declare His glory as clear, perfect, and interpretable!

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” (Philippians 1:9-10)

Some Resources:
What is biblical hermeneutics? (Got Questions?)
Proper Biblical Interpretation (John MacArthur)
The Ultimate Hermeneutic, by Art Azurdia (mp3)
How does one determine the authority behind “proper” biblical interpretation? (