by Rev. Kenneth K. Miller
The last two hundred years have been years of discovery for the human race. God has caused the earth and the heavens to yield up many of their secrets to man. In the realm of Biblical studies, there have been discoveries of ancient cities, countries, and entire civilizations hitherto unknown, and we have much light on the times and places in which the heroes of the faith lived. Fantastic quantities of written material have also come to the fore. Whereas it was once thought that New Testament Greek was a special language of the Holy Ghost, never spoken by real people, it is now plainly known that the New Testament was written in the language of the people, the language spoken all over the Roman Empire. Likewise the Hebrew of the Old Testament, while it is not a universal language, was known and spoken for many centuries. Both language followed certain rules of grammar and syntax, and words had definite meanings. Since so much information is now available, one would normally think that we know more about the Bible now than we ever did before. Yet that is not the case. It is just in this age -when we have more information than we can even keep up with, that the “hermeneutical problem” looms large. Why should this be?
There is a problem in hermeneutics today for precisely the same reason that there are problems in morals: there has been a revolution in religion. Every aspect of faith and life has been affected by the worldwide flight from the Bible. Just as there is a "new morality" today, which has no use for abiding standards and norms, so there is also a "new hermeneutic", which really has no use for the Bible as a standard and norm. Hermeneutics is defined in the dictionary as "the science of interpretation and explanation." It consists of a set of rules or principles for eliciting the meaning of words. So if we hear of a "new hermeneutics" we would naturally think of some new rules that have been discovered or at least accepted. We might think, too, that new information has compelled Bible students to revise some of the old rules. Is this the case? Some people think so. We do not. We believe that the principles of interpretation are unchangeable and this for several reasons. The first and most important reason is:
1. The principles of Biblical hermeneutics are taken from the Bible itself. If "we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual," then it is quite certain that we must also find only such meanings as the Holy Ghost has placed into the words.
A. The Holy Spirit's meaning can only be derived from His words; and the rules for studying His words must come from His words themselves. We do not have the right to use different rules than He himself employs. Where, for example, the word of God tells us that the words "I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob" (Mt. 22:32; Exod. 3:6) teach the resurrection of the dead, then we do not have the right to declare that an illegitimate interpretation of the Old Testament passage. Since it is His book, He, and only He, can tell us what it means. A grammatical rule or the definition of a word, if taken from secular usage rather than from the Word of God can never give us a sure and definite meaning, but only a possible one, which therefore has no binding force. The most basic and fundamental rule of hermeneutics, then, is that "the Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel." Triglot, 467. And this itself comes straight from the Word of God "Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." Gal. 1:8.
B. A second rule is the well-known principle: There is but one literal sense (sensus literalis unus est). This is not a mere deduction or assumption, but a Scriptural truth. Solomon says, 'He that hateth dissembleth with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him." Prov. 26:24. To dissemble is to disguise, to speak something foreign to one's thought, to say one thing while thinking another. This is something God would certainly never do, nor permit his disciples to do. So He commands that deacons must be grave, "not doubletongued." 1 Tim. 3:8. Yet again, the Lord threatens to cut off those who speak with "flattering lips and with a double heart." Psalm 12:2. Is it then possible that he should say one thing, but have in mind something completely different? Could there be a senus plenior, a fuller-meaning of a passage, not found in the words themselves? Hardly. The words of the Lord are most apt, fitting ("a word fitly spoken." Prov. 25:11, Cf Ps 119:127) and apropos. They are "pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." Psalm 12:6. Sometimes, it is true, we wish the Lord would speak a little more plainly, and we can think of ways in which He might better have expressed His thoughts. With regard to infant Baptism, for example, 1 have sometimes wished He would have said in so many words: Bring your children to be baptized. But when we thus think, we are expressing our own sinful impatience and laziness. The Holy Spirit has stated everything most clearly to make us wise unto salvation and to thoroughly furnish us unto all good works.
C. A third fundamental principle is the doctrine of -the clarity of Scripture. We can never assume that the message of the Bible is too obscure to be discovered, or that perhaps we have all along been misunderstanding the Word of God. So long as we continue in the Word of God itself, then we know the truth and are His disciples. John 8:31f. There is no doubt that some passages or portions of Scripture are obscure and difficult. To say otherwise would be to contradict the Word of God itself, for St. Peter says that in St. Paul's epistles "are some things hard to be understood." 2 Peter 3:16. But at the same time we must insist that Scripture is its own key to the Scriptures. Solomon, for example, introduces his inspired book of Proverbs by telling us that they are useful for just this purpose: "to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion...to understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings." Prov. 1:4,6. lf I may, 1 should like to call upon Luther to speak here at some length. In The Bondage of the Will he writes about obscurity in Scripture thus:
Satan has used these unsubstantial spectres to scare men off reading the sacred text, and to destroy all sense of its value, so as to ensure that his own brand of poisonous philosophy reigns supreme in the church. I certainly grant that many passages in the Scriptures are obscure and hard to elucidate, but tha t is due, not to the exalted nature of their subject, but to our own linguistic and grammatical ignorance; and it does not in any way prevent our knowing all the contents of Scripture. For what solemn truth can the Scriptures still be concealing, now that the seals are broken, the stone rolled away from the door of the tomb, and that greatest of all mysteries brought to light -that Christ, God's Son, became man, that God is Three in One, that Christ suffered for us, and will reign forever? And are not these things known, and sung in our streets? Take Christ from the Scriptures -and what more will you find in them? You see, then, that the entire content of the Scriptures has now been brought to light, even though some passages which contain unknown words remain obscure. Thus it is unintelligent, and ungodly too, when you know that the contents of Scripture are as clear as can be, to pronounce them obscure on account of these few obscure words. lf words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another. What God has so plainly declared to the world is in some parts of Scripture stated in plain words, while in other parts it still lies hidden under obscure words. But when something stands in broad daylight, and a mass of evidence for it is in broad daylight also, it does not matter whether there is any evidence for it in the dark. Who will maintain that the town fountain does not stand in the light because the people down some alley cannot see it, while everyone in the square can see it? There is nothing, then, in your remark about the Corcyrian cavern; matters are not so in the Scriptures. The profoundest mysteries of the Supreme Majesty are no more hidden away, but are now brought out of doors and displayed to public view. Christ has opened our understanding, that we might understand the Scriptures, and the Gospel is preached to every creature. "Their sound is gone out into all lands'' Ps. 19:4. "All things that are written, for our instruction." Rom. 15:4. Again, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for instruction." 2 Tim. 3:16. Come forward, then, you, and all the Sophists with you, and cite a single mystery which is still obscure in the Scripture.
So, too, the examples of obscurity which you allege in that rather sarcastic passage are quite irrelevant the distinction of persons in the Godhead, the union of the Divine and human natures of Christ, and the unpardonable sin. "Here," you say, "are problems which have never been solved." lf you mean this of the enquiries which the Sophists pursue when they discuss these subjects, what has the inoffensive Scripture done to you, that you should blame such criminal misuse of it on to its own purity? Scripture makes the straightforward affirmation that the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the unpardonable sin are facts. There is nothing obscure or ambiguous about that. You imagine that the Scripture tells us how they are what they are; but it does not, nor need we know.... In a word: The perspicuity of Scripture is twofold, just as there is a double lack of light. The first is external, and relates to the ministry of the Word; the second concerns the knowledge of the heart. lf you speak of internal perspicuity, the truth is that nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the Scriptures. All men have their hearts darkened, so that, even when they can discuss and quote all that is in Scripture, they do not understand or really know any of it. They do not believe in God, nor do they believe that they are God's creatures, nor anything else -as Ps. 13 puts it, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." Ps. 14:1. The Spirit is needed for the understanding of all Scripture and every part of Scripture. lf, on the other hand, you speak of external perspicuity, the position is that nothing whatsoever is left obscure or ambiguous, but all that is in the Scripture is through the Word brought forth into the clearest light and proclaimed to the whole world. (Packer and Johnston, Martin Luther on The Bondage of the Will, A New Translation; Revell, 1957, pp. 71-74).
D. Therefore, if some part of the Scripture is "hard to be understood," the cause is our own lack of learning and instability, as the Apostle says; and the way to overcome obscurity is by going back to the basics, to learn them thoroughly and become stable and grounded in them, to forsake our own reason, and then to return to the passage with God's own light. So, then, a fourth 12rinci12le is established from the Bible itself, viz., the obscure passages must he interpreted in the light of the clear -Friedrich Schleiermacher, a father of modern liberalism, because he is opposed to dogmatics and dogmatic formulation altogether, here objects, that no passage on a given subject is really clear until every passage dealing with it is expounded and clarified. He says "the doctrine as a whole cannot rightly be expounded until every passage is clarified." (1) In reply we might mention that the weak Christians are told that they require milk rather than the meat they should be ready for; they must return again to the first principles. Heb. 5:11-13.
Before we leave this subject of the clarity of Scripture, it should be mentioned that the argument has been brought forward that the Bible is indeed clear in itself, but we, being weak, sinful, human beings, who are always prone to err, cannot understand that clear book; it is too far above us. It is true that to err is human, and we must agree that many have seriously erred in understanding the Bible. But the Bible itself teaches that its meaning is hidden only "to them that are lost, ... which believe not." 2 Cor. 4:3-4. And in a more positive manner it says, "the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. ... the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes." Psalm 19:7-8. Where there is faith, then, which itself is a product of the Word of God, there the Bible is never an obscure book, even though some passages may remain hidden for a time.
E. Another example of the sola Scriptura principle in hermeneutics relates to the -interpretation of parables. The rule here is three-fold: 1) seek the historical occasion and purpose of the parable, 2) study carefully the various features of the story, 3) arrange everything under the actual point of comparison suggested by the scope, and do not let individual traits distract your attention from the main point." (Wenger, Hermeneutics notes, Springfield, Illinois; mimeo). This is after the example of our Lord Himself, who interpreted some of His own parables such as the parable of the Sower. Terry correctly observed in this case as follows:
Jesus gives special significance to the sower, the field, the good seed, the tares, the enemy, the harvest, and the reapers; also the final burning of the tares and the garnering of the wheat. But we should observe that he does not attach a meaning to the men who slept, nor to the sleeping, nor to the springing up of the blades of wheat, and their yielding fruit, nor to the servants of the householder and the questions they asked. These are but incidental parts of the parable, and necessary to a happy filling up of its narrative. An attempt to show a special meaning in them would tend to obscure and confuse the main lessons. So, if we would know how to interpret all parables, we should notice what our Lord omitted as well as what he emphasized in these expositions which are given us as models; and we should not be anxious to find a hidden meaning in every word and allusion. (Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, 2nd Edition, 1911, p. 196).
This is not only supported by the example of Jesus, but by what He says about His parables as well. The disciples asked Him, "Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." Matt. 13:10f. The parables were not intended to be concise allegories where everything stood for something else, but plain expositions of important truths about the kingdom of God. The main point of the parable is the important element; where the details of its telling serve this, they should be expounded, but if they are purely incidental, they should not be allowed to get in the way of the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven."
F. Let us take another example. We all know that the Bible contains anthropomorphisms: God is spoken of as though He had human characteristics. There are two schools of thought here. One says that these are merely a figure of speech used to indicate some attribute of God. The other says that they must be taken literally, and we must think of the authors of the Bible as primitive people who actually thought of their God as having arms, eyes, ears, and the like -in a manner similar to the Greeks with their gods. Which is right? The Bible decides. In 1 Chron. 32 we find Hezekiah, threatened by Sennacharib with his hosts, assuring the Jews thus: "With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles." It is not arbitrarily that we call these expressions anthropomorphisms at all. Scripture itself requires us to take them as such.
G. Still another example lies readily at hand in the law of context. One must always interpret a text in conformity with its context. To do otherwise would be to make God contradict Himself and to lie, when in fact "God cannot lie". Titus 1:2. So Paul in Gal. 3 takes note of the historical context of the promise to Abraham and notes that it was given 430 years before the law, and thus must be independent of any legal conditions. A common example is mentioned in our Lutheran confessions. In the story of the wheat and the tares, some interpreters, seeking to support the idea of the church as a visible corporation, understand the field to be the church. Jesus tells us a few verses afterwards, however, that the field is the world. Their interpretation is therefore wrong. It cannot be derived from the text, because it does not conform to the context, nor to the scope or purpose of the context in which it is found, in this case the parable and the others which surround it.
There are two prominent abuses of this principle today. The first is that the text is forbidden to say anything more than the context. This abuse we find especially prevalent in connection with the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. When we expound Genesis 3:15, we are told we must not make it say anything about a savior, since this is foreign to the context, which is a context of cursing and of earthly events like snakes and childbirth. We are not to read in anything more. We hear the same sort of comment about Isaiah 7:14, "a virgin shall conceive and bear a son." But our Lord never said that "the flow of the context shall not pass away;" He said, "My words shall not pass away." We are to examine the words carefully to see what they say. Thus it is a violation of the law of contextuality whenever anyone insists that a particular book of the Bible was written only to, say, the Corinthians and Greeks, and to no one else; and therefore any regulations or promises therein do not apply to us today. We are not merely onlookers, witnessing what the sacred writer wrote to someone else. We are parties with them, though not in all things, and are often addressed along with them, just as Paul begins 1 Corinthians by addressing himself not only to "the church of God which is a Corinth," but also to "all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s." So also when we read the words "tell it unto the church" in Matthew 18, we cannot simply survey the context briefly, notice that this was spoken before the churches had come into being, and conclude that the meaning "local congregation" cannot be intended. Regardless of what the context may contain, Jesus meant nothing else but the local congregation. It makes no difference at all if His disciples knew of no such institution as yet; nor that He had not been discussing that subject; He mentioned it now, and they knew of it now, because now Jesus had spoken of it. And in the Genesis narrative, it makes no difference that the Messiah had not yet been mentioned, nor anything about Him. He was mentioned now in the Protevangel. The text is able to say more than the context contains.
Conversely, it is an abuse to make the text restrict the scope of the context so as to forbid the chapter to say anything more than the verse. This happens when a verse is quoted out of context, an activity also condemned by Scripture. When the devil quoted the 91st Psalm in his effort to tempt Christ to sin, he quoted only those verses that dealt with the protection angels give; but he intentionally left out any reference to the kind of people covered by the promise. The very next verses say, "Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will 1 deliver him." His quotation, had it been accepted as correct, would have been transformed into a Psalm which encourages carnal security. It is vital that a passage and its context be in harmony; but the context often adds something more. Thus when Solomon is mentioned in 1 Chron. 17:11-14, this does not exclude mention of Jesus, the greater Son of David.
H. I. Finally, the principle that we must distinguish properly when reading Scripture, is also a Biblical principle. Again we quote Solomon, who wrote "to give subtility to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion," Prov. 1:4. Paul likewise commands that we all "speak the same thing," and that we "be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." 1 Cor.
1:16. This unity is not restricted only to unity of doctrine and loyalty, but demands also agreement in terms, categories, and manner of speech. Only a babble can result if one speaks of justification when referring to works, and another is speaking of sanctification. Not only will they never come to agreement, but they will never discover the meaning of a passage. When reading God's Word, we need to compare spiritual things with spiritual: we need to adapt our thoughts to those of the Holy Ghost, rather than expecting Him to meet our terms. And if we are going to study the Word of God carefully, we can do nothing else but meet Him on His own terms.
II. The principles of Biblical hermeneutics are based on the universal usages of language, and therefore are unchangeable. This principle itself is also a Scriptural one, and is not merely presumed or taken from "common sense." Walther remarks, "In Deut. 30:11-14 Moses reminds the Children of Israel that God's commandment was given them in the language which was in their mouth and heart, that is, which was used by them and so was known and intelligible to them." (True Visible Church, translated by J. T. Mueller, p. 70). Again the prophet Isaiah was commanded: "Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen." (8:1) God's revelation has been given in human language, and it can therefore be expected to follow the normal rules of language. lf it did not, it would remain unclear and hidden rather than revealed; but He says, "I have not spoken in secret from the beginning." Isaiah
It is a rule that we must leave the decision solely to the original text. Luther: … it is a far different matter to be a simple preacher of the faith than to be an interpreter of Scripture or, as St. Paul calls him, a prophet. A simple preacher by (extant) interpretations has so many clear passages and texts that he can know Christ, lead a godly life, and preach to others. But to interpret Scripture, and that independently, and to fight against the erring misinterpreters of Scripture, for that he is too weak. That cannot be done without the languages. But there must be in Christendom such prophets as study and interpret Scripture and are capable of controversies; to lead a holy life and teach rightly does not suffice. Hence the languages are directly and by all means necessary in Christendom just as are the prophets and the interpreters, though it is not necessary and need not be that every Christian or minister be such a prophet, as St. Paul declares 1 Cor. 12:8, 9; Eph. 4:11 (Ibid., p. 69).
We do not base doctrines or even the interpretation of verses or words on any translation such as the KJV or the Septuagint (LXX). These may be helpful to us as guides for showing us how others understood a passage. But since the translations sometimes err, we must be wary in using them. We can never be dogmatic, insisting that a passage means so and so because the LXX so translates. We must stay with the original text itself. This the Bible itself often does. Within the Old Testament, we find the decree of Cyrus given in its original language, Aramaic. Matthew quotes for us from the Old Testament (1:22f): "Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." In this passage, by the way, we notice that the sacred writer interprets the word Emmanuel according to its etymology, noting the parts from which it is compounded. In Hebrews 7:2 we find another example. Here Melchizedek is explained as "first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace."
In studying the original text we observe the rules of grammar noting the forms of words and their place in the sentence, their syntax. So Paul distinguishes between the singular and plural, saying, "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." Gal. 3:16.
In the sacred text we also take note of rhetorical usages and devices. There are figures of speech, irony, metonymy rhetorical questions, concessions, climaxes, riddles, and metaphors and.-the like, just as we Und in other skillfully written literature. So we should not be surprised to find also hyperbole, where something is magnified beyond reality for effect. When Gideon saw the enemy host, they were "lying in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and as to their camels, no number, like the sand which is upon the shore of the sea for multitude." Judg. 7:12. And David speaks of Saul and Jonathan as having been swifter than eagles and stronger than lions. Another example is Psalm 6:6: "All night 1 make my bed to swim; and my tears 1 dissolve my couch." Cf. John 21:25 also.
It should not surprise us to find symbolism either. In the Book of Revelation we often encounter symbolical names (Babylon), numbers, colors, and precious stones and metals. We are not forsaking the literal sense of Scripture when we take these as symbols, but are following the literal sense. In the first verse of the book it is announced that "the things which must come to pass shortly" were about to be presented in a symbolical manner, in the form of signs: "he sent and signified by his angel unto his servant John. (Rev. 1:1.
III. The principles of hermeneutics are furthermore unchangeable because false interpretations are not based on the generally-accepted rules, but stem from unscriptural doctrines or presuppositions. Genesis 1-3 are sometimes understood to be symbolic of the fall of every man; but this interpretation comes only when it is already presumed that the chapters cannot be true in what they actually say. A false doctrine about Scripture itself is the foundation for such an interpretation. Likewise, when the Reformed understand the words of Institution to mean that the bread 'and wine represent the body and blood of Christ, it is not because there is any rule of grammar or rhetoric that demands or even allows this meaning (though they appeal endlessly to them), but simply because they begin with the understanding that finite elements like bread and wine cannot possibly contain the infinite Christ, whose body is somewhere in heaven anyway, and not on earth at all.
Krister Stendahl, writing on the called and the elect (Matt. 22:14), so mixes justification and sanctification, that he falsely interprets the entire parable of the marriage of the king's son, where the necessity of the wedding garment (the righteousness of Christ which is received through faith) is stressed. His conclusion is: "Of course, the term 'righteousness' gains a new and profounder meaning in the New Testament, which modifies its meaning in the Old. But the change is not from active righteousness to imputed righteousness, but from lower to higher, and so the principle of good works persists as a crucial teaching of Matthew's Gospel. For in the Church a life of higher righteousness is lived, and only one who participates in that way of life can belong to the elect." (Anton Fridrichsen, The Root of the Vine, p. 80)
It often happens, too, that a false interpretation is given in the interest of false doctrine, as a support for it. Barrett, for example, commenting on John 10:30, "I and my Father are one," remarks: "John is thinking in terms of revelation not of cosmological theory (Bultmann, 295). His meaning turns upon the belief that the actions and words of Jesus were veritably the actions and words of God, who thus uniquely confronted men in his incarnate Son. This unity is often expressed in moral terms …” Jesus is not speaking here of revelation at all. Barrett says what he does because he does not accept the true deity of Christ. In his theological introduction he says: "For John, Jesus' sonship does indeed involve a metaphysical relationship with the Father. ... But these notions are always qualified by the thought of a fundamentally moral relationship, in which the Son is obedient to the Father." (C. K. Barret, Commentary on John, p. 60).
IV. Many other false interpretations stem from mistaken isagogics. All the specific rules may be followed to the letter, but the resulting interpretation may be all wrong because the passage is seen to come from an altogether different situation. The Bible of the modernists, the RSV, provides a ready example in its arrangement of the third chapter of John. Quotation marks close off the 15th verse, indicating that Jesus spoke thus far; the famous 16th verse is not in quotation marks, and in fact begins a completely new paragraph, indicating that these are the editorial comment of the Evangelist. Since a break was made here at such an unnatural place, beginning a paragraph with a word like "for," we must ask why this was done. The only justification for it is that the writer of the Gospel must have taught the deity of Christ, while Jesus Himself did not share that opinion. And this view in turn must rest on the assumption that John the disciple is not the author of this book, but someone else wrote at a later time, after doctrines had had sufficient time to "develop" and congeal, after the church had pondered Jesus and His work.
Another example appears with reference to Psalm 69, a Messianic Psalm. One commentator, Kirkpatrick, does not agree with the heading of the Psalm which attributes it to David; he supposes that Jeremiah is the author. He also cannot agree that it is about Christ, so he makes of it simply a "plaintive cry for help." He says, "Yet the Psalm is not prediction but description, and much of it is plainly not applicable to Christ. The confession of sin in v. 5, and the imprecations of vengeance (vv. 22ff), are wholly unsuited to the meek and sinless Jesus. It is prophetic only inasmuch as the experience of each suffering servant of God who endured reproach and persecution for God's sake under the old covenant was in some measure a type and foreshadowing of the experience of the true and perfect Servant of the Lord. Even the details of their lives were shaped so as to correspond to details in the life of Christ …” Very well! This sounds sensible enough; let us see what he can do with the Psalm. In verse 4 we read, "Then I restored that which 1 took not away," He does not explain this as a reference to the Savior's bearing the guilt of others, 2 Cor. 5:21, but instead says, "He (Jeremiah, the supposed author) was accused of being an extortioner and oppressor of the poor who must be made to disgorge his ill-gotten gains." But he does not refer us to any passage where we find Jeremiah so accused or treated. This is because there is no such passage. This verse does not fit Jeremiah in any way; it fits only Christ. A little further on in the Psalm is the famous verse: "They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." (v. 21) Again, there is nothing in the life of Jeremiah where such a thing happened. So Kirkpatrick must comment: "The language is plainly metaphorical: ep. Jer. 8:14; 9:15; 23:15." That's very interesting: the Lord so carefully shaped the details of Jeremiah's life that now a metaphor must be used to make them correspond to the details of Christ's life; something that did not actually happen is used as a type and figure of something that did happen. This is a strange sort of typology indeed. And it springs from mistaken isagogics.
V. The unchangeable nature of the principles of hermeneutics is shown also by the practice of the “new hermeneutics.” The advocates of this new wave in Biblical studies do not really challenge the principles of the "old hermeneutics" at all -they simply ignore them. Their practice is to discover some religious ("devotional," "inspirational") value and to apply it without bothering to expound the text itself. According to The New Hermeneutic, the second volume of NEW FRONTIERS IN THEOLOGY, Robinson and Cobb, editors, the meaning of the word "hermeneutics" is now extended to include all of experience. It is no longer the texts that are to be proclaimed, but God's Word in its entirety (p. 106). What is this? Ebeling explains: "The text by means of the sermon becomes a hermeneutical aid in the understanding of present experience Where that radically, there true word is uttered, and that in fact means God's Word." (109) The purpose of the new program is not to help us to understand the words of-God (cf. Deut. 6:6), but to understand life and all that goes with it. -Flie truth ot God encounters us in the concreteness of our historic situation. But the hermeneutic of this situation demands that we see the intentionality in all formulations." (161) This sort of doubletalk stems from the ideas of Friedrich Schleiermacher, who diverted interest from the words of God to the psychology of communication. Like the other philosophers of his time, such as Kant, he was interested mainly in what is going on in the minds of the parties concerned. Since such things are too mysterious, he had to conclude that the words of the Bible are but a very imperfect expression of the Word of God. There must be a more direct intuitive way to communicate. But alas! there is not. The best you can do is to gather as much information as possible about the Biblical writer's life, times, and words, and then try to put yourself in his shoes. Just as Schleiermacher in his dogmatizing elevated the pious selfconsciousness of the believer to the throne in theology, so also his followers have done the same in the new hermeneutics. Ebeling (p. 110) puts it in so many words: "The hermeneutical principle is man as conscience."
To such a school of thought, there can be little interest in dipping deeply into the text to know it well. The text is just a husk that happens to come with the kernel of truth within (154). Historical criticism needs to be used on it, it is said, because that "exposes the Word of God as a fully human word by exposing the human situation into which it is received as radically human. This procedure may be termed 'unmasking'." (185) Or it may also be termed "de-mythologizing." i.e., declaring all the words to be an old-fashioned way of saying something and then trying to say the same thing (it is hoped) in more up-to-date language. The old-fashioned ideas are those such as miracles, Deity, atonement, justifications, faith, heaven and hell. These are not matters that need to be treated by the science of hermeneutics. They are matters of doctrine, which are either believed or not, on the basis of the Bible's clear teaching.
Both the theory and the practice, then, of the “new hermeneutics” really serve to prove that there can be no such thing as a new hermeneutics-The Bible is never going to interpret itself any differently than it has in the past. The principles of Biblical hermeneutics will stand as long as the world does, unchanged.
(1) His actual words are: "Das Gemeinsame ist auch nicht eher richtig aufzustellen bis alle Stellen erklaert sind, und der schwankende Gegensatz von klaren und dunklen laesst sich darauf zurueckfuehren dass urspruenglich nur Eine klar ist." (Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hermeneutik, nach den Handschriften neu hrsg., und eingeleitet von Heinz Kimmerle Heidelberg, 1959, page 102.)