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A great question was posed several years ago that deals with an underlying concept that is important to grasp: Is dispensationalism a theological framework or a hermeneutical approach?

I personally did not upvote the current top answer (but I did not downvote it, either), but I did upvote the next highest answer. That answer makes a key statement that I think is crucial to understand:

Theology affects hermeneutics, but is not itself a hermeneutic.

It is important not to confuse theology with hermeneutics, although they are certainly interrelated.

At times, it seems that answers use questions as opportunities to attempt to prove or defend religious theological dogma or doctrine, rather than merely answering from a perspective where hermeneutics informed from such beliefs are assumed (and stated). These are biases we all bring to texts when interpreting them, and in many ways the goal of hermeneutics is to become aware of and acknowledge such biases.

A comment I made on a recent question gave me the opportunity to reflect on this and clarify it:

"Inerrancy" is a theological position that is a stated hermeneutic in some interpretive traditions. But this site is not about apologetics defending theological doctrines. Answers could certainly declare and use a hermeneutical approach that includes this presupposition (i.e., a belief in inerrancy) when answering the question, but an answer should not be solely about proving or defending a modern theological position that forms the basis for such a hermeneutic. That would be for Christianity, not for this site. It's important to understand this distinction.

At this site we start from the text and then work up from there. Apologetics starts from some shared idea and then seeks to defend beliefs using the text (depending on one's epistemological assumptions, but let's not get too crazy)—but this is not the same as starting from the text (particularly when such ideas are anachronistic to the original historical setting of the text).

Example

So for instance, if a question asks about what appears to be a contradiction or other internal consistency in a specific text, then there could be a variety of answers:

  1. An answer that has a hermeneutic that assumes inerrancy would demonstrate why this is not a contradiction and offer an explanation to harmonize or otherwise explain it. This hermeneutic likely does not even need to be stated in this case.

  2. An answer that does not presuppose inerrancy and perhaps takes a historical-critical approach might explain that the question shows a discrepancy that was introduced by a later redactor and cite/demonstrate evidence for multiple authors or later scribal glosses, etc.

In both cases, the hermeneutic was an assumption brought to the answer (which is inevitable), and in both cases there really isn't even a need to state the hermeneutic because it is relatively obvious or irrelevant1 based on the answer (there are times when a hermeneutic should be explicitly stated (such as when additional texts are brought into play and the connection is theological rather than historical/linguistic/literary), but in this case it's fairly evident based on the answers themselves).

In a way, the OP for #1 has offered an apologetic, just not explicitly (since the focus remained on answering the question about the text, this is not an issue). However, there would be an issue if the OP made a statement as follows:

Because God's Word is inerrant, this is not a contradiction.

This is theology, not hermeneutics (and it fails the "show your work" requirement). The basis for this statement is a theological belief, not evidence from the text itself (through the lens of such a hermeneutic, including historical, literary, and linguistic evidence). But the same OP could simply state, "This is not a contradiction because [logic/reasoning that harmonizes the text]." There was no need to involve theology, even though it informs an underlying hermeneutic (i.e., inerrancy).

But this works both ways. The OP in #2 also cannot say:

Because the biblical texts are riddled with errors and inconsistencies, this must be a contradiction.

This is equally unacceptable. The basis for this statement is an a priori belief, not evidence from the text itself (and it also fails the "show your work" requirement). But this same OP could very well say, "These texts contradict one another because [logic/reasoning explaining contradiction]."

If you don't want the latter, don't do the former. They are equally problematic (but the former is more prevalent here).

By all means, answer questions and interpret texts in line with your hermeneutic presuppositions while showing your work.2 State those presuppositions when they are not apparent. But don't use answers as an explicit means of defending the underlying theological beliefs that form the basis for such hermeneutics. The point of your answer should be to answer the question that was asked (which is often to interpret the text)—not to use the text as a pretense for defending your a priori theological positions or other ideas. This is not necessary to answer questions and is off topic here (this also tends to gravitate towards prescriptive language rather than descriptive).

A hermeneutic is a lens through which one answers the question about a text. It is not the answer itself nor the justification of the answer.

I want to submit this thinking to the community. What say ye?


1 Concerning relevancy, it is not always true that those who harmonize the text believe in inerrancy. There are times when the text may appear contradictory but not be, and both inerrantists and historical-critical scholars would agree.

2 Although note that not all hermeneutic approaches are received equally on this site where it is difficult to adequately show work (e.g., sensus plenior).

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  • Is this an apologetic plead for site neutrality ? ;-) – Lucian Aug 10 '17 at 23:12
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While I understand the point of your post here is to encourage not to get off topic, there are two statements you make above that one who does believe in inerrancy (such as I) might have issues with (because I partly do have issues with the first one at least).

The first is:

(particularly when such ideas are anachronistic to the original historical setting of the text)

For one who believes in inerrancy, that concept is not "anachronistic to the original historical setting of the text." That is because: (1) God has always existed; (2) God inspired the authors of the text; (3) That inspiration is part of the original historical setting of the text.

The second is:

But don't use answers as an explicit means of defending the underlying theological beliefs that form the basis for such hermeneutics

While in most cases I would agree that defending inerrancy is not needed from one approaching on that viewpoint, that is really my opinion. I could just as easily see some who believe in inerrancy as believing that such a defense is part of showing their work. Of course, this would get really old after a while. But depending upon the context of the question, can we deny a person from trying to show their work in their reasoning to that level, so long as they do end up answering the question?

That's my initial reactions to your post for discussion here.

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  • Hey! I'm glad you interacted, especially since I agree largely with your post and started this post off with a link to your answer! I was not targeting inerrancy when referencing anachronisms, but can see your concern. I was more so targeting ideas such as the Trinity, which is not expressed in any developed way directly in any specific text (assuming that the Johannine Comma is an interpolation in 1 John). – Dan Aug 1 '17 at 0:58
  • Concerning the second issue, if they answer the question that is the main thing. A little garnish on a related issue/belief could be tolerable, in line with this post (I'd copy and paste that whole post in here but will just link instead). – Dan Aug 1 '17 at 1:00
  • But please note this from my post: "In a way, the OP for #1 has offered an apologetic, just not explicitly (since the focus remained on answering the question about the text, this is not an issue)." That is an important point. An apologetic can still occur so long as it is answering the question. The issue is when the hermeneutic becomes the purpose for answering or the answer itself rather than a lens through which the answer is given. In those cases, I'd refer folks to #6 in this post. – Dan Aug 1 '17 at 1:07
  • @Dan I agree that if the question is not about a hermeneutic/hermeneutic principle itself (which is a valid type of question for the site), then the primary focus of an answer should be to answer the question. Of course, because inerrancy relates to some hermeneutics, I believe the topic should be allowed for questioning on the site. But then I have long advocated that one cannot disconnect theology from hermeneutics (however much this site tries to keep a separation). – ScottS Aug 1 '17 at 2:05
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    Like inerrancy, I can as easily argue that if God is Trinity (and I believe He is), then that aspect of His nature is truth, and that truth bears on the entire record of Scripture. So Trinity is also not anachronistic from a historical context perspective. One person's "anachronism" is another person's historical contextual truth, all depending upon one's hermeneutics. – ScottS Aug 1 '17 at 2:06
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    Agreed re: questions about hermeneutics themselves (definitely on topic, such as the first question I linked to in my post). We disagree on the Trinity as an anachronism in the biblical texts (but I've aired my presuppositions on such things before ad nauseum :P). – Dan Aug 1 '17 at 2:20
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Theology: Sometimes / Apologetics: No

Exegesis and hermeneutics result in theology. To that end some types of theology are on topic, while others are not. This means that for the any theology discussed should always closely relate to a text. There will be many times where theology and hermeneutics intersect. There will also be many times where they diverge and our response must be on a case-by-case basis.

This question presents an interesting example. The OP reads:

How does the 100 year differences in ages of Noah's descendants in the Masoretic text vs. Septuagint text effect Jesus' ability to be the Messiah?

This question arises from some very interesting texually based issues:

Now, while it is possible that someone might provide a poor answer to the question, instead giving a sermon on inerrancy, the OP never uses this term and leaves the question open-ended. Furthermore, this does not mean the question should be closed. Instead poor answers should be downvoted. The question itself isn't inherently bad, even if it is possible the answers might be.

Even in the case that the OP included the hypothetical objectionable content, I would argue the question should remain open in most cases. Generally speaking (though there are some unsalvagable questions) a question can simply be edited to cover the heart and meat of the user's question while still allowing for answers from all perspectives. Instead of torpedoing the user's question, the focus should be on education - helping and teaching the user to ask better questions.

For answers that go off topic, we have a mechanism for dealing with that.

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    Would you not say, however, that the point of the question is not asking anything about a text, but is rather asking something about the implications of texts on the nature/character/person/role of Jesus? That seems to move much further from hermeneutics and into theology, since the meaning of the text is not what is being sought. – ScottS Aug 1 '17 at 19:06
  • I think to get that question moved more toward hermeneutics, it would need to be framed more as a historical context question about how the two versions (MT/LXX) play into interpreting the Gospel's genealogies with respect to their role of supporting the Messiahship. – ScottS Aug 1 '17 at 19:06
  • "how the two versions (MT/LXX) play into interpreting the Gospel's genealogies with respect to their role of supporting the Messiahship." Isn't this exactly what the question asks now? With regard to a historical context question, I doubt the authors were aware that the MT and LXX differed. I think this question is asking more about the genealogies in the NT, not the OT. Surely that can be answered using a number of hermeneutics? – James Shewey Aug 1 '17 at 20:01
  • @ScottS - forgot to tag you to let you know I replied. – James Shewey Aug 1 '17 at 20:24
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    Well, you added the statement about the gospel genealogies in an edit. So definitely the original question did not ask anything "about the genealogies in the NT," but even as edited, the question posed is still not actually asking directly about interpretation, but the "effect [on] Jesus' ability to be the Messiah." That's exactly what was stated as the question (and only originally referring to the OT genealogies). Many times it is all how in a question is framed that makes a huge difference for acceptance on BH.SE or not. – ScottS Aug 1 '17 at 20:31
  • Now technically it would be anachronistic to refer to the Hebrew text of the time as the MT, rather than simply the Hebrew text, but most would agree both variants existed then. So a way to frame it might be: With respect to a person of that time understanding the text of the NT genealogies, if one was approaching it with the Hebrew version and another with the LXX version as a basis, would they differ in their understanding of Jesus as the Messiah as the Gospel writers were arguing for? – ScottS Aug 1 '17 at 20:31
  • @ScottS - "you added the statement about the gospel genealogies in an edit." - Yes - I am pretty sure that was the idea behind the original question - otherwise it is simply a nonsensical question or clearly a "stump the chump" question targeted at inerrancy. – James Shewey Aug 1 '17 at 21:21
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    I think this post summarizes how to approach theology on this site quite well: "... religious, theological/doctrinal ... aspects need to be handled as facets of the biblical texts studied by participants of BH.SE in historical, linguistic, and literary terms, and not as aspects of personal conviction, or the belief and praxis of historic and contemporary faith communities...." – Dan Aug 2 '17 at 16:34
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    Also, all citation of meta posts (including my own) should be taken with this guidance in mind. – Dan Aug 2 '17 at 16:38

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