Relativistic Hermeneutics

May 2005

What is "Relativistic Hermeneutics" ? - The word "Relativistic" is borrowed from Einstein. Imagine waiting in a train to embark on your journey. There is a train next to you also ready to depart. Now you see the train next to you moving, apparently starting toward its destination, you think. However, as the last car passes you realize it was not the train next to you that was moving, but yours! But it could be said that the other train was moving relative to your train, but not to the ground. The ground was your frame of reference for movement. The ground is not always the desired frame of reference, though. If we talk about the solar system, we can say the ground is moving relative to the frame of reference of the sun. We have a tendency to assume the ground is the appropriate frame of reference for movement, but it is not always so. But we are not going to talk about movement, but about hermeneutics.

What is "Hermeneutics" ? I know this brilliant scholar by the name of George Murphy, who is always talking about some dead white theologian whom he thinks is important. One day, I had to ask, "So, who is this fellow Herman Nuddicks that you keep mentioning?" Hermeneutics, I was told, was the art of scriptural interpretation. I'm left wondering  - why it is called an art, when so many people disagree on what the scripture says?

Seriously now, the topic of Relativistic Hermeneutics has tremendous consequences. The failure to interpret scripture in its proper perspective has led to a multitude of errors, some lasting centuries and enduring even to this day. Errors such as:

The scripture must be understood in its ancient context. The way the ancients received the Words, the thoughts that the Words evoked in their minds, most certainly differed from how the Words affect us in our modern scientific perspective.

There is a very common error that many Bible readers make. This is how it goes: 1) First they come to an understanding that the Bible is the Word of God. 2) Then they ask "What is God saying to me today?" -Now, here is the problem. The reader has to realize that God's Word is not only for him/her in the here and now, but also for MILLIONS of other people. And some of these people lived THOUSANDS of years ago. As you can imagine, words can mean very different things to very different people. God's Word should not be construed as God speaking to us now, but rather as a translation of a historical record of God speaking to the ancients, providentially preserved for us to witness.

Not only is it essential to consider how the ancients received the text, the scripture may also contain meanings unknown to the ancients! So not only can we be unaware of a meaning in scripture that would only be known to the ancients, a meaning may exist which we are privy to, yet the ancients would have been unaware. The perfect example of this would be the promise to Abraham, in which he was told by God that all nations would be blessed on account of his seed. (Genesis chapter 12 verse 3). So now we can ask: "Are all nations blessed on account of the Jewish people?" (The interpretation of the pre-Christ ancients). Hardly! But are all nations blessed on account of Christ? Well, yes! But no one knew this until Paul pointed it out in Galatians chapter three and four!