Tag Archive | Biblical Hermeneutics

Noah’s Ark and the Bible’s Narrative Arc

Noah's Ark

“…the whole earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Gen. 6:11b-12).

The story of Noah and his ark has always been a difficult story. Knowing the context of the story is helpful though.

So, what was going on before God destroys the world with a flood?

Well, just a few chapters earlier we see that God made an incredibly good and beautiful creation (see e.g. Gen. 1:31). We see God made people–all people–with dignity and worth (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-2). We see God gave people good things to do (Gen.1:28).

But, we also see, humans didn’t listen. We see that in the Fall of humanity (Gen. 3), the first murder (Gen. 4:8), and the growing corruption and violence (Gen. 6:5). In Genesis, we go from God and good creation to growing corruption very quickly (that’s also representational of my own tendency).

It was not God who “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” That’s what humans had already done. Humans damaged and defiled the very thing that would have brought them endless delight. Humans turn from fresh fulfilling water to putrid puddles.

But, that’s not it. Humans also hate. They hate humans that were made with the dignity of God. They hate and they hurt. They abuse and injure. And even kill.

Before God destroyed the world in the flood, humans destroyed the world with their sin. In God’s act of destruction, He was actually bringing a type of deliverance. He could have, and in a sense considered, destroying the world completely (Gen. 6:6-7).[1]

Yet, God worked through Noah, a mediator (Gen. 6:8ff)[2], as He does, to bring salvation through judgment.[3] God provided a type of rescue when wrath was deserved.

Ultimately we know, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, took the wrath of God and the violence of the world on Himself. When we understand the whole context of the story of Noah’s ark, we see it is not God at fault. He is not the guilty party for the destruction of the world.

Instead, we see we are at fault. We carry out atrocities. We turn from God, where alone there is life, to trifles and trivialities. We hate humans, who have eternal value and being, and love things that perish in a moment.

When the story of Noah’s ark is understood in context, from the perspective of the whole of redemptive history, we see how amazing it is that the LORD is both just and the justifier of the one who trusts in Jesus alone for rescue (see Rom. 3:25-26).

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The Importance of Correct Hermeneutics

If we don’t understand things in their proper context there will be grave results. Let’s look at a few verses as an example and apply a skewed hermeneutical approach and see what the result is.

John 3:16 says, “God sent His Son” and we see that Jesus as God’s son is confirmed in other Scriptures. Take for example Romans 8:32. Or Hebrews 5:8 tells us that although Jesus “was a son, He learned obedience.” Luke 2:42 says that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

So, it could be argued that Jesus, as God’s Son, was created and had to learn. After all, doesn’t “son” mean “son”?! Isn’t that the clear reading of the text? If the Bible says that Jesus is a “son” and “the firstborn of all creation” does that mean that Jesus is not eternal? Does it mean that He is a created being?

If we just look at the word “son” and extrapolate its meaning without understanding the context and the sense in which the author is using the word we can make very dangerous and false conclusions. Is Jesus a son in the sense of being a created being? No! That is the Arian heresy. We must understand what the author meant and we must use clear texts to help us interpret the less clear. A bad hermeneutical approach will lead to all sorts of false and destructive doctrines.

When looking at any doctrine it is important to understand a number of things. When looking at the sonship of Jesus for example, it is important to know the Old Testament and cultural importance of sonship. It is also important that other Scriptures are factored in. For example, John 1:1-14 and Colossians 1:15-17 show us that Jesus is not created but instead Creator.

So, “the obscure passage must yield to the clear passage. That is, on a given doctrine we should take our primary guidance from those passages which are clear rather from those which are obscure.”[1] Charles Hodge said in his Systematic Theology that

“If the Scriptures be what they claim to be, the word of God, they are the work of one mind, and that mind divine. From this it follows that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. God cannot teach in one place anything which is inconsistent with what He teaches in another. Hence Scripture must explain Scripture. If a passage admits of different interpretations, that only can be the true one which agrees with what the Bible teaches elsewhere on the same subject.”[2]

Here are some important affirmations for biblical hermeneutics: 

  1. We should affirm the unity, harmony, and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter.[3]
  2. We should affirm that any preunderstandings which the interpreter brings to Scripture should be in harmony with scriptural teaching and subject to correction by it.[4]
  3. We should affirm that our personal zeal and experiences should never be elevated above Scripture (see Rom. 10:2-3).
  4. We should affirm that texts of Scripture must be interpreted in context (both the immediate and broad context).
  5. We should affirm that we must only base normative theological doctrine on clear didactic passages that deal with a particular doctrine explicitly. So, we should affirm that we must never use implicit teaching to contradict explicit teaching.

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[1] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 37.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Introduction, Chapter VI, The Protestant Rule of Faith.

[3] See “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics,” Article XVII.

[4] See Ibid., Article XIX.

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