Hermenuetuics...the art and science of Biblical interpretation.
There has been much hubbub recently in my very young church denomination of the issue of how to interpret scripture. The many of the founder of this denomination were not formally educated in theology. This is not inherehntly a bad thing. Many a great Bible truth has been revealed by the simple Bible student. How is this possible without formal training?
It is possible because of 2 things: a) the Bible students. The prayerful commitment to copious time spent in the Word of God, and b) the Holy Spirit. Even without formal training, someone who is committed to prayerfully spending copious amounts of time reading the word of God can and often will come away with the general tone and direction of the author. they will see parallels, symbolism, type and antitype, as well as allegory appropriately without knowing what is happening to them. This is due to the presence of the Holy Spirit, whose job it is to "...teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." (John 14:26) Thus, the Holy Spirit is able to take the untrained and give them tremendous insight, wisdom, knowledge and understanding, to the praise and glory of God.
This is not, however, to be taken as a divine sanction to lack of education, scholarship, or simplistic methodology. It is a manifestation of God supporting those after his own heart, as he did David. Technically speaking, Saul was the trained warrior, head and shoulders above al his people, and it is he who was the most logical, trained, and well-equiped man in all Israel to kill Goliath. It was not his skill, training, or size that God rejected. It was his heart. Saul's disobedience to God showed his heart was not toward God, so God would not use his skill, which was trained and equiped for war. God resisted the pride of Saul, instead gave His grace to the humble David and his rudimentary sling and stone. David's methodology was not primary to the war on the field, but secondary. The effectiveness of David against Goliath had more to do with God's grace than David ability, and yet David's ability showed that he was an expert with his tools. God prefers to use the commited, and empower their equipment, rather than use the fully equipped who are not committed.
Having said that, there is still the issue of proper hermenuetics. God's condescension to work with the rudimentary is no divine sanction for unimprovement. Just because God keeps my car from breaking down does not mean I don't need a new and better car. So I wish to address a method called prooftext. Prooftext methodology uses texts as proof of a theological position. Here is the classic case in point:
Mat 27:5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
Luk 10:37 ...Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
Joh 13:27 ...Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.
We have just prooftexted our way in to a Jesus sanctioned theology of suicide. You may say, "this is ridiculous!" You would be correct, and while not coming to such hyperbolic conclusions, such a method is used all the time to defend a theology, instead of allowing the Bible to contextually inform our theolgy. Where does this methodology come from?
Biblical Reason for Prooftext
The passage of scripture used to defend this methodology can be found in Isaiah 28. The chapter opens up with a condemnation against the "drunkards of Ephraim" who, having become a fading flow overcome with wine are to be trodden under foot (verses 1,3). Both priest and prophet have erred in judgment and vision through drunkenness, their tables are covered with filth and vomit (verses 7,8). God himself is to sit glorious, beautifuly, strong, and mighty in judgment, executing judgment with hail, storm, and flood against the earth and wicked Ephraim (verse 2,5). Here is where prooftext comes in:
Isa 28:9-13 "(9) Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. (10) For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: (11) For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. (12) To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. (13) But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken."
There is a need described in verse 9, and the results in verse 12. This is a parallelism. So the question "to whom shall he teach knowledge and understanding" is answered in verse the same verse, "the weaned". the result off the conversation is in verse 12. Here we see God teaching the people, "...this is the rest...", and the peoples response of not hearing, of ignoring.
Verses 10, 11,and 13 are the text used to defend and support prooftext. Look at them carefully. Verse 10 and 11 state that the precept, upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little approach to teaching a stammerinng (foreign, buffoonery) lips and a unknown (to hinder, strange) tongue. This cannot be the methodology God is using to teach knowledge and understanding to his erring people. Why would God sue such a methodology?
Verse 13 parallels verses 10-11. It begins with a "But", and but negates the thing preceding it. The thing preceding is the clear word of God offering Ephraim rest and refreshing in verse 12, which the people would not hear. Verse 13 says "but", parallels verse 10 verbatim, and the parallels verse 11 thematically. The stammering lips and foreign tongue of verse 11 are for the purpose of causing those who would not hear to "go, fall back, be broken, snared, and taken" in verse 13. Prooftext contextually- precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little- is not designed to convert, but to confuse. It is written as judgment from the Lord for a drunken and rebellious people (verses 1-8). Contextually, since the priests and prophets are drunk, and since the word of the Lord comes through them, then it this the broken lips and stammering tongue are God speaking through these fallen leaders, who are speaking while under the intoxicating influence of alcohol. To "go, and fall back, broken snared and taken" is not so much the result of God personally confusing the people and leading them into this situation, but rather their rebelliousness leads them to such a situation.
There are 2 things I want us to notice additionally. The first is the movement of the prooftext- here a little there a little. It is very mobile. Methodologically it tends to bounce around the Bible to find its point. In the bouncing around, it does give enough substance from any one location it moves to, hence the word "little" is used. You get a little something here, and little something there, but nothing in its entirety. Such methodlogy does not empower people to do for themselves, but rather makes them dependent upon the leader, and reguritators of his rhetoric. This method does not teach people how to think, but what to think. The second is the emphasis of prooftext- precept upon precept (rule, commandment), line upon line (measuring cord). Notice that this methodolgy is dependent upon rules, and measuring based on rules...legalism. This makes the presenter of the rules the interpreater of the rules, as well as the applier and enforcer of the rulers. How does God speak to the people? "To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear." God comes offering rest and refreshment to those who have just been weaned. God's method is direct, restful and stable...not much movement. How do fallen leaders speak to people? They speak to them through rules, measure them by these rules, and bounce around in the Bible and their rules with instability. Through such methods, god's people know no rest spiritually, emotioally, etc.
God's Method- Context
Isa 28:16-17 "(16) Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. (17) Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place."
God's method is to stabilize his people. So he lays a precious corner stone, and foundation stone tried and true. God then lays his judgment and rightousness to make sure it lines up with the stone. The purpose of the stone is to securely anchor God's people in righteousness, and to ensure God's judgement is fair and impartial. All else not line up with and by the stone is seen as unstable, lies, to washed away in judgment. When we are line up with the stone we need not make haste (here a little, there a little), as that methology is used deceptively by drunken leaders to ensure their position and confuse the population. The question we must now ask is this: What is the stone?
The answer to this is found in Isaiah as well.
Isa 8:13-15 "(13) Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. (14) And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (15) And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.
The connections from Isaiah 28 to Isaiah 8 allows this to not be prooftext, but context: same author, same wording, same imagery. There is the imagery of the stone laid in Zion paralleled with stone of stumbling for Jerusalem. The stone's presence is Isaiah 18 is to protect God's people and bring them into alignment with judgment, while in Isaiah 8 the stones presence is the initiation of judgment against the wicked. The phrase "...go/stumble, fall (back), and be broken, and be snared and and be taken" is used in both texts. Thus, we see that for Isaiah, the stone of chapter 28 is the stone of chapter 8, who is the Lord himself. God is our cornerstone, our place of promise, of rest, and refreshment. We need not run to and fro when we are aligned with God. We need not fear judgment, when we are aligned with God. We have assurance of righteousness when we are aligned with God.
However, to be more specific, Isaiah 28 says God lays in Zion a tried and true, precious, foundational corner stone. These are very specific criterion. Does the Bible get any more specifc, contextually, when identifying the cornerstone?
Jesus: A Case for Contextual Intertextuality
David is first to speak of the stone being rejected in a psalm praising God for being his salvation:
Psa 118:22-23 The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD'S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.
Jesus quotes David in these Matthew, Mark, and Luke passages, equating the stone of David to the son murdered in His vineyard parable. Jesus is eluding to himself as the the son rejected, and therefore the stone.
Mat 21:42-44 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
Mar 12:10-11 And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
Luk 20:17-18 And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
Do you notice the second half of the Matthew and Luke passages? There are references to being broken and ground to powder. Jesus in these passages is eluding to Isaiah 28, where those who are wicked go, stumble, fall back, are broken, snared and taken. He is also referring to the the washing away of lies and the wicked in the flood, when he described them being ground to powder.
Act 4:10-12 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
Peter is very clear on who he thinks the stone is. He declares that the crucified and risen Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders, and has become the head of the corner. This direct quote from David, which is elaborated on by Isaiah, is used by Peter to make his claim that salvation comes through none other than Jesus Christ. Interestingly, for David evil is coming from without (the nations), while for Isaiah evil is coming from within Zion (the drunken, lying priests and prophets). In both cases, God himself is the precious foundational stone, the salvation of those who trust by faith, and the judgment of those who are wicked gentiles, or drunken leadership Judas' teaching and measuring people based on rules, witth no foundational substance.
I have tried to show prooftext in the light-of the verses used to support it. I have tried to show the significance of context in understanding scripture. I have tried to demonstrate the correct contextual use of parallel scriptures suppporting each other. Using multiple text is not evil. Much truth can come from the use and understanding of allegory, symbolism, type and antitype, and allusion. These must be declared to be what they are, and used appropriately.
Prooftext for prooftext sake, however, is biblically unfounded as a methodology for teaching God's people. It's stated purpose in Isaiah 28 is to decieve and ensare people by extensive, partial, movement through the text with no foundation, as well as measuring people by rules.
God's contextual method is designed to get people focused on Jesus, the tried and true, precious, foundational cornerstone of our salvation. We are aligned with, measure by, and judge according to him. Our connection to him brings rest, and refreshment, and we need not haste, running to and from in uncertainty or confusion.