Interpreting Creation, Part 5: Hermeneutical Principles Continued
This principle maintains that God purposely inspired the Bible to communicate relevant content and instruction to all generations of humanity
For the last several weeks, I’ve been outlining Reasons To Believe’s apologetics methods and hermeneutical principles.
In part 1, I reviewed the different apologetics methods Christian leaders use and explained why I believe all these methods need to be fully integrated in apologetics and evangelism ministries. In part 2, I described four different classes of models used for dealing with science-faith issues and explained which one we employ at Reasons To Believe (RTB) and why. In part 3, I reviewed the origin, history, and impact of the biblical testing method. I also elucidated how our RTB scholar team uses this method to build our testable biblical creation model.
In part 4, I described six hermeneutical (interpretive) principles we use at RTB to deal with science-faith issues. I will end this series with another 10 principles (numbered 7–16) that guide RTB’s interpretations of both Scripture and science.
7. Double-duty Hermeneutic. This interpretative principle challenges the presumption that Bible prophecies are limited to a single fulfillment event or that a particular rebuke, exhortation, or address is intended for just one person or group. For example, when Isaiah prophesies that “the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,”1 he was actually predicting two different births. Likewise, the Bible leaves open the possibility that the prophecies Jesus uttered in the Olivet Discourse2 could be fulfilled at two different epochs.
Yet, the double-duty hermeneutic does not leave Bible-readers guessing whether or not a passage has one or more intended fulfillments or applications. A careful study of the passage’s context provides clues. In the Isaiah passage, the child mentioned is given two identities; one son is referred to as an ordinary human being, the other is assigned titles reserved for God alone.3 Likewise, the Olivet Discourse begins with Jesus’ disciples asking him two very different questions.4 Jesus’ one answer addresses both questions but in a manner that could be fulfilled two different ways at two different times.
In the same way God can use any rebuke, exhortation, or address to communicate to different people in different ways at different times. Thus, in reading any such text it is appropriate for Bible-readers to ask, “God, are you speaking here to me, too?”
8. All-Generations Hermeneutic. This principle maintains that God purposely inspired the Bible to communicate relevant content and instruction to all generations of humanity. This does not imply that God communicates the same messages to all generations. Rather, God inspires Scripture in such a way that messages specific to each generation are imparted faithfully.
9. Progressive Hermeneutic. Implied in the all-generations hermeneutic is the principle of progressive revelation. Each successive generation can expect to glean more content and understanding from a particular Bible text. Peter, in his first epistle, points out that even the Old Testament prophets did not understand everything the Holy Spirit inspired them to record. Peter writes, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”5
The multi-purpose (see part 4), all-generations, and progressive hermeneutics imply human investigators can always discover, learn, understand, and apply something more in their study of Scripture. The Bible’s inexhaustible content sets it apart from all other written books. The same interpretive principle applies to the “book” of nature. No matter how much research scholars pour into studying each of God’s two books there is always more to learn.
10. All-People-Groups Hermeneutic. This principle is based on the belief that God designed the Bible and nature to communicate His intended messages to every human being regardless of era, geography, race, ethnicity, or occupation. Consequently, any interpretation of the Bible that would make it impossible or extremely difficult for a particular people group to respond positively to its messages is likely incorrect.
This hermeneutic presumes, of course, that the particular group is not in universal rebellion against God’s authority over their lives. Rather, individuals within any group who are truly seeking God will be able to receive the Bible’s messages when properly interpreted. Correct interpretations will not be inherently repugnant to anyone seeking God’s truth. Nor will correct interpretations exclude entire people groups from for salvation or positions of leadership and teaching within church ministry.
11. Evangelistic Hermeneutic. A primary purpose of both the Bible and the record of nature is bringing people from all language groups, backgrounds, ethnicities, social standings, and education levels to faith in Jesus Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior. Therefore, if a particular interpretation of either the Bible or the natural realm fails to have a significant evangelistic impact on one or more segments of society, that interpretation is probably false.
An extension of the evangelistic hermeneutic states that when comparing the validity of competing interpretations, the one with a dramatically greater evangelistic impact is likely the most correct. The critical proviso here is that the greater impact not be due to compromise or weakening of the gospel message or diminishing of the Bible’s moral standards.
12. Humility Hermeneutic. Humility brings us closer to God; pride drives us away. An interpretation of Scripture or nature that engenders human pride rather than humility, is likely incorrect. Conversely, interpretations that reinforce our need to continue learning are more likely to be right.
13. Transcendent-Immanent Hermeneutic. The biblical God’s simultaneous and continuous transcendence and immanence distinguishes Him from deities of other religions. God’s transcendence means that no aspect of creation constrains or encumbers Him. He is free to operate to any extent or degree He pleases. God’s immanence means that He exists and operates in the most detailed and intimate manner imaginable within the entire scope of His created realms. As Jeremiah writes, God fills the entirety of heaven and earth.6
Interpretations of both Scripture and nature’s record, therefore, need to fully take into account God’s transcendence and immanence. For example, creation theology interpretations that portray God as distant and relatively uninvolved in His creation should be suspect. Likewise, interpretations that view God as always comprehendible in the context of length, width, height, and time should also be suspect.
14. Life-Handbook Hermeneutic. We are constantly being prepared for our God-intended purposes on Earth. These purposes include providing for the well being of others, maintaining the planet’s resources for the benefit of all life, developing successful relationships with God, family members, and others, and helping to fulfill the Great Commission.7 However, we are also being trained for our future lives and careers in the new creation (Revelation 21–22). Correct interpretations of the Bible and nature will be those that motivate and prepare people for the life training God wants them to gain.
15. Curiosity Hermeneutic. No species of life is as intensely curious as the human species. God purposely designed humans to be curious about everything and willing to make sacrifices to satisfy their curiosity. This built-in curiosity drives most people to maintain the necessary learning quest to gain the knowledge and training they need to fulfill their God-assigned roles.
The best interpretations will be those that more intensely stimulate curiosity. The study of God’s two books should motivate us all the more to continue the pursuit of truth and deeper understanding.
16. Research Hermeneutic. This interpretative principle is a corollary of the previous one. The better interpretations of God’s two books will be those that most successfully and efficiently deliver productive theological and scientific research results.
This five-part series on RTB’s apologetics methods and hermeneutical principles does not cover all the methods and principles we employ. However, as far as I know, it does address and explain those methods and principles about which Christians inside and outside the RTB constituency have expressed questions and concerns. Hopefully, this series satisfies those queries and apprehensions. Hopefully, too, it will help people new to RTB and our website, www.reasons.org, understand our perspective and treatment of the books of Scripture and nature.
- Isaiah 7:14.
- Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21.
- Isaiah 7:3–8:22.
- Matthew 24:3.
- 1 Peter 1:12.
- Jeremiah 23:24.
- Matthew 28:18–20.