The Library Basement
Reading under ground

In search of a "true" hermeneutic

The Supreme Court nominations highlight various judicial philosophies. On the one hand, there are the textualists who are seeking the original meaning of the text and the intent of its authors. On the other hand, there are those who subscribe to the concept of a "living constitution" and who affirm flexible, changing meaning. The conservative textualists are particularly likely to assert that their philosophy is the only true and proper one, though liberals may assert that for themselves as well. There's just one problem: the constitution itself affirms neither.

As a matter of fact, the constitution does not give any criteria for judicial rulings. There is no "how to decide cases" clause in the constitution. We who seek to interpret the Bible face the same dilemma. The Bible lacks a "how to read the Bible" section. It lacks a clear pronouncement that "thou shalt use the literal/grammatica/historical method in interpreting scripture." The various systems of interpretation for the scriptures run a similar gamut to American legal theory. On the one side you have strict literalism, and you can go right over to subjective hermeneutics, with the various "spiritual" interpretations (including allegory) in there as well. Each side can argue about which approach is best, but none can authoritatively demonstrate that there is only one permissible hermeneutic. In addition to the issue of hermeneutics is the issue of rhetoric. Is it proper for a preacher to use a passage out of context in illustrating a godly point, or must all refernces to scripture be contextually grounded? The use of the Old Testament in the New is an important topic for parsing these questions, and I will soon have a post up about it.