Not All Love is Love, But This Love Is

“Love is love.” That slogan has popped up countless times in our nation’s dialogue in recent days. It’s part of an effort to shape the hearts and minds of Americans on social issues. It’s simple, succinct, and catchy. It has some appeal, especially to people who value “love” as a supreme good, a sentiment that trumps all other considerations. The problem is it’s just not true.

Our society is confused about love, and this slogan does nothing to minimize this confusion. What exactly does it mean to say “love is love”? On its face it is a statement of identity, equating two things, e.g., a car is an automobile. So it might mean that all loves are the same. I love my wife. I also love pizza. If “love is love” then I would be saying that my relationship to my wife is identical to my relationship to pizza. I may not be the most romantic person in the world, but even I could guess that my wife would not be pleased if I told her, “You know that I love you because I act, think, and feel toward you in the same way that I do toward pizza.” (I haven’t seen that sentiment portrayed in a Hallmark card either!) My love for my wife may have a few similarities with my love for pizza, but they are nowhere close to identical. One love is not like the other.

Most of us recognize that the slogan is not trying to communicate that all loves are identical—even if it is what it says. It’s at least narrowed down to people. Love for different people is ultimately the same. But even here there are distinctions in loves. I love my friends, but I do not love them exactly like I love my sons. And my love for my sons is different from my love for my wife.

Most people seem to be using the phrase to refer to a kind of love that is sexual in nature. The phrase is stating that no kind of sexual love is any different from another. People are wrong to view some sexual love as inappropriate, for who are we to say one kind is better than another? “Love is love.”

But almost all the people trumpeting this slogan do not really believe it. Some people love their siblings sexually. Is that love identical to other loves? Suppose a man sexually loves his wife and he sexually loves his mistress. Should his wife say “who am I to condemn him, because ‘love is love’”? Some 40 year old men sexually love 12 year old boys. Is that love the same as every other? Love is love?

You may be upset that I would mention some of the above examples. “Those are not the same thing, and it’s wrong to compare them.” But if they are not the same thing, and it is not legitimate to compare them, then not all love is love. “But those examples are not examples of love.” In making that objection, you have done exactly what our slogan “love is love” is telling us we cannot do. You have made a judgment about a sexual love that says it does not belong in the same category as others. You have said “this love is not love.” The moment you begin to limit love in some way—by saying it needs to be non-incestuous, or between only two people, or only between consenting adults—you have set up a definition by which we are now forced to determine that some loves are love and others are not.

So who gets to decide what loves are in bounds and what loves are not? I certainly would not claim to be a proper judge for these matters. Who could have the wisdom, compassion, knowledge, and insight to distinguish legitimate loves from illegitimate ones? Only God can do that.

What is love? The Bible consistently points to God’s love for humans as the supreme example of love (e.g., 1 Jn 4:10). One particularly relevant passage is in Ephesians 5:25-27.

 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Here, Paul holds up Christ’s love for the church as the greatest example of the kind of love husbands are to have for their wives. I’d like to highlight one aspect of that love: true love is a holy love. Christ died for the church to make her holy.

Any love that wants to make a valid claim to be love must be holy. If a love does not move the other person toward holiness it is not love. So a young man who pressures a young lady to sleep with him before they are married does not really love her. He may say that he does, and both of them may think that he does, but he is ultimately more concerned for his own gratification than he is for her well-being. The man who loves his wife and mistress may think he really loves them both, but he actually loves neither. True love will never violate God’s standards. No matter how much someone thinks they love a person, if they are helping them down a path contrary to what is holy they do not really love them.

Why does all of this matter? What business is it of anyone’s to care about anyone else’s love? First, as I already noted, almost everyone cares to some degree, or we would be working to abolish laws against pedophilia. But it also matters because true love is far better than any false loves.

Suppose you had a friend who told you he found some great steak that he wants to enjoy. He takes you behind some restaurant and pulls some rancid, rotting hunk of meat out of the dumpster. You tell him, “Don’t eat that! Let’s go inside the restaurant and get some real steak.” He replies sharply, “Who are you to tell me what steak to eat. Steak is steak!” Would you say, “Well, it’s not hurting me for him to eat that meat, so I shouldn’t say anything”? Wouldn’t you want to see your friend give up the supposed steak that very well could poison him and instead experience the satisfaction and nourishment of a nice, well-cooked steak?

In reality, we have all gone after the rotten piece of steak. We have acted as if bad things were good things and good things were ultimate things. Our loves are twisted, and we have run down a path that leads to our own destruction. God has graciously warned us, but we have all rejected His warnings. Because we have pursued our own wrong desires, we are incurably sick, spiritually dead, and hopelessly lost.

But God really loves us. He came to us when we were completely unlovable and gave of Himself to save us. He sucked the poison into Himself and offered us real nourishment in its place. He died for what we did so that we might live for Him. He calls us to turn from our path of destruction and trust in Him for life.

God loves us enough that He wants what is really best for us. He knows which loves are real and which are counterfeit. He does not want us to settle for something that seems like love when it is really not. His love moves us to holiness, where we find eternal pleasure in Him. There is no greater joy and satisfaction than knowing and experiencing His love, and loving others in the way He has called us to love. How do we know which love is love? God’s love is love!

Posted in Current Issues, Practical Theology | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Whatever Happened to Literal Hermeneutics? (Part 5)

Having laid out in the previous several posts what I believe may be commended as “received laws of language,” I would like to close this series with a practical look at a pair of difficult passages that stretch the limits of the discussion: Matthew’s use of fulfillment language in 2:15 and 16–18 in citing Hosea 11:1 and Jeremiah 31:15, respectively. Note the following:

Hosea 11:1—When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son (cf. Exod 4:22–23). Matthew 2:15—[Joseph stayed in Egypt] until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Jeremiah 31:15—This is what the LORD says [of the exiled Israelite community]: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” Matthew 2:16–18—Herod…gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under…. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”


The tension in both instances is that Matthew appeals to descriptive, historical texts (which ordinarily cannot be “fulfilled”) and appears to assign them a predictive function that does not manifest clearly in the original rendering. Below are four approaches that exegetes have used in their analysis of Matthew’s Gospel. Note that I am not offering a comprehensive list of all possible solutions to the tension here raised, but rather four approaches to the tension:

  • The first approach is to read both texts literally and conclude that Matthew is a careless researcher guilty of making egregious citation errors. This is what I’ll call the modernist approach.
  • A second approach reads both texts charitably but concludes that the two OT texts in view are not to be seen as literal genres. That is, they are not instances of historie but geschichte, and for this reason are legitimate subjects of etiological manipulation/resignification as the ecclesiastical community develops over time. This is what I will call, for simplicity’s sake, the postmodern approach (though it technically predates postmodernism as a system).
  • A third approach avoids the specter of biblical errancy in the preceding options by proposing a new hermeneutical approach: it reads the OT text according to a unique model that is not and cannot be used with any other piece of literature. Specifically, while adherents admit that the two OT passages are instances of accurate, normal, rearward-looking history, they propose that God is using Matthew to progressively divulge a metanarrative imbedded into the OT, known originally and completely only to the divine author, that connects two OT events (exodus and exile) organically with the Bible’s grand Christological or redemptive plot. In this way the reader is now able to fully appreciate these OT texts, thus “fulfilling” or exhausting their divinely-intended meaning. Later revelation is always the definitive court of appeal for interpreting earlier texts, and “literal” OT readings held prior to the arrival of the NT are sometimes flat, incomplete, or even wrong, and can therefore “fall away.” This is my attempt to faithfully represent the typological approach.

Disclaimer: The range of typological approaches circulating today makes it impossible for me to offer a description that satisfies all who self-identify with the model, but I make the attempt anyway, with entirely charitable intent. I apologize to all who take umbrage with my description and welcome correctives.

  • A fourth approach attempts to salvage inerrancy not by proposing a new hermeneutical approach, but by suggesting one or more exegetical solutions. For instance, I would argue (with Dyer, Toussaint, and others) that the Greek term πληρόω (to fulfill) has a semantic range broader than that carried by the modern English term “fulfill,” and can reference not only completed prophecy, but also something as mundane as an analogy made after the fact. While this approach denies us the tingle of intrigue and inscrutability that the previous approach offers, its strength is the tacit priority it places on the ordinary laws of language. It assumes that OT meaning is plain-in-itself and (as is the case with every “normal” use of language) that its own local context is the definitive court of appeal for interpretation. It does not deny that a grand biblical metanarrative exists, but affirms instead that this unifying center is to be discovered by ordinary rather than mysterious means. This is what I would call the “literal” approach.

Obviously much more could be said (and has been said) about these texts, but it is hoped that the previous is adequate to identify the basic approaches to the problem that are in circulation today. I also hope that it commends the last approach (often associated with dispensationalism) as a more hermeneutically credible one (i.e., more faithful to the received laws of language) than the typological approach that in the ascendancy today.

Posted in Theology | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Arminius’s Declaration of Sentiments

A little over fifty years ago, Carl Bangs lamented that Jacob Arminius (1559/60–1609) had been consistently misunderstood and misrepresented by both friend and foe alike (Bangs, “Arminius and the Reformation,” Church History 30 [1961]: 155–56). Some thirty years later, Richard Muller identified Arminius as “one of the most neglected of the major Protestant theologians” (Muller, God, Creation and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius, ix). And as recently as 1999, Roger Olson described Arminius as “one of the most unfairly neglected and grossly misunderstood theologians in the story of Christian theology” (Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, 455). Apparently, Arminius has received a bad rap of some four centuries’ duration.

Gunter, Arminius's DeclarationIn the past ten years or so, however, the study of Arminius has been making a bit of a comeback. A number of substantial works on his life and thought have been published by people who have been largely in sympathy with his theology. One of the most helpful works in this regard has been W. Stephen Gunter’s book Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments (Baylor Univ. Press, 2012). Gunter’s work is particularly significant in that it provides the first English translation of Arminius’s Declaration of Sentiments made directly from the Dutch text. Arminius’s Declaration was originally produced in response to accusations that had been lodged against him and was delivered orally by Arminius before the States of Holland at The Hague on October 30, 1608. In this document, Arminius mentions a number of important theological topics, but the bulk of the work is spent discussing his understanding of predestination which was especially under attack at that time. Here’s one of his most significant statements about predestination in the Declaration:

This decree [to save or condemn certain persons] has its foundation in divine foreknowledge, through which God has known from all eternity those individuals who through the established means of his prevenient grace would come to faith and believe, and through his subsequent sustaining grace would persevere in the faith. Likewise, in divine foreknowledge, God knew those who would not believe and persevere (Gunter, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments, 135).

If one wants to correctly understand Arminius and avoid the charges made by Bangs, Olson, and others, reading Arminius himself is essential,* and Gunter’s work is a good place to begin. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the main contours of Arminius’s theological distinctives, he was a significant theologian whose heirs have been many, and for that reason, he is worth understanding.

*I say this not out of sympathy with Arminius’s major theological contributions (with which I largely disagree) but simply because it is true.

Posted in Church History, Historical Theology | 4 Comments

Whatever Happened to Literal Hermeneutics? (Part 4d)

Having discussed two seminal axioms of language that seem to qualify as “received laws of language” (the Univocal Nature of Language and the Jurisdiction of Authorial Intent) and offering a qualification concerning the dual authorship of Scripture often raised by non-dispensationalists, I turn to a third and final principle, again borrowed from my mentor, Rolland McCune: A Textually Based Locus of Meaning.

This is the capstone of ordinary linguistics. The whole meaning of a text is exhausted in its own words. Any meaning assigned to a text after the fact that cannot be derived from the author’s own words simply isn’t there. To allow any text an afterlife is to remove meaning from the text and grant it to something alien to the text, sending meaning into an inevitably downward spiral of ambiguity and relativism.

Naturally, we must concede that implications of an ancient text can unfold over time and details emerge in the course of progressive revelation. But new meanings can never be assigned or discovered after the fact and apart from the author’s express permission. Specifically, the meaning of a text cannot be moved from the text to:

  • Holy Spirit “Leading.” Yes, the Holy Spirit is active in causing the believer to welcome a text’s meaning and in helping the believer to discern the implications of a text’s meaning for his own situation (1 Cor 2:14), but the Spirit does not disclose a text’s meaning to the believer. Were this the case, (1) meaning would be wrested from the words and the words rendered, to that degree, unnecessary, (2) the divine purpose for language would be thwarted, and (3) the idea of a sufficient canon would be irrevocably lost.
  • An Existential Encounter “Above the Text.” Closely related to the previous (and perhaps identical to it) is the Barthian idea that language is an inadequate vehicle for revealing truth, and at best serves as a hinweis or pointer to truth. To apprehend God, one must look not in the text but above it to an experimental “Christ encounter”—a personal disclosure that communicates ineffably what cannot be expressed in words. The same criticisms leveled above are appropriate to this understanding.
  • Later Revelation. More acceptable in non-dispensational evangelical academia is the idea that there is “additional, deeper meaning, intended by God, but not clearly intended by the human author, which is seen to exist in the words of a biblical text when they are studied in the light of further revelation” (Brown, The Sensus Plenior of Sacred Scripture, 92), such that “the text’s intention becomes deeper and clearer as the parameters of the canon are expanded” (Waltke, Tradition & Testament, 7). This option provides an advance on the previous two options, but either (1) requires a suspiciously equivocating hermeneutic that applies a grammatical-historical approach to the latter portions of Scripture but not to the earlier ones or else, more ominously, (2) suggests that the promises of God are “never an announcement of what God has irrevocably determined to do, but only of what he will do in certain circumstances,” with he result that “if this makes prophecy seem very uncertain, I am very sorry, but I cannot help it, for it is the way that it is” (Pieters, The Seed of Abraham, 142).

Pardon me, but that’s not the way it is. There is a better way to protect the meaning of Scripture and that is to insist that the locus of meaning is in the text itself. It is to insist upon literal interpretation.

Posted in Theology | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Whatever Happened to Literal Hermeneutics? (Part 4c)

Having established two axiomatic principles of language that govern the intelligible use of words (the Univocal Nature of Language and the Jurisdiction of Authorial Intent), we need to pause, I think, to make an important qualification—not so much a third axiom of language, but an answer to a common observation that is often raised at this point, viz., that the Scriptures have two authors, divine and human. As such, some non-dispensationalists maintain, God is able to use linguistic structures with a broad semantic/syntactical range to secretly but accurately communicate meanings additional to what the human author intended. This being the case, they reason, it is possible to affirm the two principles above but still find a loophole, unique to the Christian Scriptures, that allows two disparate streams of intentionality in a single text: the divine author intended more than or other than what the human author intended, and that’s OK in view of the inscrutable mystery of inspiration.

Of course it is true that God always knows comprehensively the details and implications of any of his statements, and thus knew quantitatively more and qualitatively better than the human authors did when they wrote (so, e.g., Dan 12:6–9; 1 Pet 1:10–12). But this is not the same as saying that God meant more than the human authors did when they wrote. To put things succinctly, acceptance of the analogical view of truth in one’s epistemology does not legitimate the possibility of equivocation in one’s view of language. Note the following:

  • The gift of language and miracle of inspiration seem precisely intended to ascertain that the thoughts of God were perfectly communicated in human words (1 Cor 2:13) and to prevent the possibility of alien meanings exclusive to the human authors (2 Pet 1:19­­–21). They are God’s words breathed out (1 Tim 3:16) through human vehicles, not bypassing their respective styles and vocabulary, but ensuring that His Word and their words enjoyed a perfect confluence.
  • The idea that God used human authors to write something grammatically/technically accurate while at the same time intending something other than what they intended is very difficult to harmonize with the doctrine of inerrancy. At best, it would seem, God is perpetuating deception.
  • Finally, if God is able, at any time, to mean more than or other than the human author, it would seem to me that whole of Scripture is placed in serious jeopardy and its meaning potentially lost to all that might seek it. The miracle of inspiration is emasculated and the Scriptures themselves are rendered superfluous.

Scripture is, in one sense, a unique book. Unlike all other books, it boasts an inerrant unity that partakes of inspiration. But it does not follow that this uniqueness is such that the Bible must be read with a correspondingly unique hermeneutic. The univocal nature of language and the jurisdiction of (unitary) authorial intent cannot be set aside in view of the “dual authorship” of Scripture. Two transmitters are used in the communication of Scripture, to be sure, but they share perfect denotative confluence.

Posted in Theology | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Can We Be Good Without God? Yes…but really No

Atheists are fond of boasting that they can be perfectly good people without God—that is, without needing the threat of some all-powerful Being punishing them for wrong-doing. Their argument can have two purposes. One is to counter the oft-quoted sentiment: “Without God, everything is permitted.” Rather, they claim, they are morally upstanding citizens even without a belief in God. Thus, atheism does not lead to anarchy. The second point is to demonstrate their moral superiority—unlike Christians, they have the inner fortitude to control their own behavior. They do not need some external threat to keep them from stealing or killing. They do not need God to be good.

Christians who understand the gospel are actually willing to agree in one sense. Belief in God does not guarantee that a person will be morally superior to those who do not believe in God. It should not surprise Christians to find atheists, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, or people from any number of religious persuasions who are honest, hard-working, generally good people. After all, people do not become Christians by their moral effort but by their trust in God’s gracious work on their behalf.

Yet Christians should be better than they were or could be. Their trust in God may not make them better than others, but it should make them better than their old selves. When God saves someone, he makes them new. So people may be good without God, but they would be even better with Him.

There are, however, two ways in which we must answer the original question in the negative—we cannot be good without God. First, there could be no foundation for goodness without God. On what grounds do we determine whether or not something is good? Who has the authority to determine what is good or what is bad if not God?

Let’s briefly consider two possible alternatives. The first is that the sense of morality—the idea that all people have that certain things are right or wrong—is simply a result of natural selection in evolution. The thinking goes like this: those who were altruistic (unselfish and cooperative) were better equipped for survival and, thus, passed altruistic gene on to their descendents. That’s why we feel that unselfish behavior is “right.” That feeling helped us survive.

However, this theory is flawed. Altruism within your “group” may lead to greater survival, but hostility toward those outside would also lead to greater survival. But we believe that sacrificing for those outside your “group” is good and right (e.g., jumping in a river to save a stranger), whereas evolutionary theory would mean we would need to believe it was wrong. Nor does this theory explain why people display altruistic behavior when no one else will know about it. They would get no direct benefit from that behavior. Finally, this only explains why we think certain behaviors are right, but does nothing to explain whether or not our sense of morality is correct. It fails to move from is to ought. It tells us that this is how people think, but it cannot tell us whether or not we should think that way. I may think it is good to be kind to others, but is it really good? Evolution cannot explain that. Thus, we are left without a ground for goodness.

The second alternative is that morality is socially determined. It is not given by God, but is created by people in a given culture. However, this theory also fails to solve the problem of moral grounding. If there is no God, then we are simply left with subjective and arbitrary feelings. Why should these be imposed on others? If you say “The majority should get to decide what is right or wrong” then does the majority get to decide to exterminate the minority? If not, then why? Who gets to determine what the majority can or cannot do? When one child begins telling another what to do, the second child often responds with some statement like this: “Says who?” In other words, you do not have the authority to tell me how to live. You cannot serve as an adequate grounding for morality in my life. The question is, who can? No one on earth possesses the right to tell everyone else how to live. That’s because only God has the ultimate right to do that.

There has been no satisfactory answer for the grounds of objective moral values without appeal to divine authority. So people do not need to believe that God exists to be good people, but without God existing there would be no such thing as goodness.

There is another truth that forces us to state that people cannot be good without God. Even those who do not believe in God could not be good without God’s common grace. God is at work in the world restraining evil. He may often work through secondary means, like governments and positive peer pressure, but He also works through His moral law written on people’s hearts and their God-given consciences. People may not be conscious of His working, but they benefit from it. Left to ourselves, we would all be purely wicked. We get glimpses of this truth from time to time when we hear of the horrific acts that people are capable of committing, such as mass killings, brutal tortures, and extreme forms of abuse. The reason not everyone commits those horrific crimes is that God is at work to keep our depravity in check. Part of what makes hell such a horrible reality is that God will no longer restrain evil. All of our worst tendencies will be indulged completely, with no hint of goodness mixed in. We cannot really be good without God. Praise God that He works so that people will be good now!

Posted in Apologetics, Practical Theology | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Can We Be Good Without God? Yes…but really No

1611 KJV Discovered

_82944747_therarebiblewillbeondisplayatthechurchingisburnthissaturdayWhen the King James Version was published in 1611, there were actually two printed editions, with 450 variations in the biblical text (Norton, Textual History of the King James Bible, 173–79). These are commonly called the “He” and “She” Bibles, from their respective readings in Ruth 3:15 (“he went into the city” and “she went into the city”). The “He” edition is commonly believed to be the first and the “She” the second.

A rare “She” KJV, said to be worth about £50,000, has recently been discovered in a Lancashire village church.

Posted in Bible Translation | Comments Off on 1611 KJV Discovered

Justification and Sanctification

Guy Waters has an excellent summary of justification and sanctification over at the Ligonier Blog.

Posted in Theology | Comments Off on Justification and Sanctification

Whatever Happened to Literal Hermeneutics? (Part 4b)

A second received law of language that may be deduced from common usage is the Jurisdiction of Authorial Intent. I proposed last week that a text can have but one signification in any given context; this week I suggest further that the sole arbiter of that signification is its author. This seminal axiom of language is mnemonically captured in Fee and Stuart’s statement, “A text cannot mean what it never meant.” The meaning of a given text is always found in the author’s original intention: it can never be changed after the fact by a reader, some alien force, or even (after further reflection) by the author himself. Denotative meaning is static and perpetual.

Of course, the meaning of Scripture is not uniformly perspicuous, and it is impossible to interview an author or to enter his mind for clarification. Meaning can, at times, be elusive. But since the author is using the established grammatical, syntactical, and lexical norms of a given historical context, we can with patience reduce the options considerably. This is what is meant by grammatical-historical interpretation. And since the purpose of Scripture is revelation, we should expect that God would not be in the habit of obfuscating that meaning.

Due to the uniqueness of Scripture as an inerrant unity, we also have another interpretive tool at our disposal, viz., the analogia fidei­, or the analogy of faith (sometimes called the analogia scriptura or the analogy of Scripture). By this we mean that the interpretive options for a given text can be categorized as likely, possible, unlikely, or impossible not only in view of linguistic factors, but also in view of theological factors. So, for instance, when Paul says that “a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Rom 3:28) and James that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas 2:24), we know that certain linguistically possible interpretations of this pair of texts are not theologically possible.

But while we must admit the propriety of appeals to the analogia fidei, we must also be keenly aware of the susceptibility of this principle to abuse. Specifically, while the analogia fidei­ can help to reduce the number of linguistic options during the course of exegesis, it cannot create new linguistic options that the author demonstrably never intended. So, for instance, after God clarifies at length and with unequivocal specificity that Abram’s biological seed would be eternally plentiful (Gen 15:2–5) it is not possible for a modern interpreter to allow this explicit denotation to fall away in favor of a “greater seed” and a “greater Israel” that Abram did not have in mind on this particular historical occasion. Similarly, after God invites Abram to pace through the land of promise to establish its precise length, breadth, and contours (Gen 13:17), it is not possible for this explicit denotation to fall away in favor of a “greater land” that Abram did not have in mind on this particular historical occasion. Likewise, when the prophets dedicate dozens of chapters to exultations about millennial blessings that are geological, zoological, meteorological, agricultural, medical, political, sociological, etc., it is not possible for the modern reader to resignify these as merely spiritual blessings.

To interpret Scripture in such a way is to resignify an author’s words without his permission, and thus to banish that author from his own words. And this simply cannot occur in any sustainable theory of language.

Posted in Theology | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Book Giveaway: Winner

Jonathan Cook, youth pastor at First Baptist Community Church in Monte Sereno, California, won the book giveaway.

Posted in Announcements | Comments Off on Book Giveaway: Winner

Whatever Happened to Literal Hermeneutics? (Part 4a)

We come now to the heart of this series, viz., a discovery of the “received laws of language” that we as humans unconsciously use every day as we engage in ordinary communication with one another. The material here is not new with me, but rather is a distillation of an article published in 2002 by Rolland McCune, “What Is Literal Interpretation?” that he contributed to a start-up journal published by a missionary with whom he was acquainted, Sola Scriptura, issue #3. It is unfortunate that the study has not been circulated more widely.

The first of the hermeneutical rules he proposes is the Univocal Nature of Language. By univocal is simply meant “one voice.” By saying that the Bible speaks univocally we mean that its statements can have only one signification in any given context. To this I add the following qualifications: (1) while we must concede that many words have wide semantic ranges, we would insist that they bring but one meaning to any single propositional context; further, (2) while we admit that some people occasionally use double entendres or puns to deliberately connote two things at once, we would argue that such figures only “work” when hearers successfully incise the play on words: a communicator who uses puns that his audience doesn’t “get” is a failure. To summarize, no system of language/thought can survive solely or principally on such clever ambiguities. They are incidental exceptions that prove the rule.

As a transcendental rule, this seminal principle of language is axiomatic—it must be assumed true in order to be disproved. To assert otherwise would require words that follow this rule, or else the argument would fall apart into meaninglessness.

Applied to Bible study methods, this principle means that the Bible, since it is written in a “normal” manner with respect to grammar, syntax, genres, figures, etc., and was written for the express purpose of revealing truth, contains no additional, hidden meanings that were “missed” by the original writers/readers using standard grammatical and syntactical hermeneutical methods. A statement made in the OT had precisely the same meaning to its immediate readers that it has to its modern readers. To cite Fee and Stuart, “A text cannot mean what it never meant.” True, later revelation often clarifies or expands what was known by earlier revelation, but it never divulges hidden messages unknown to the original communicators, much less those that resignify the text.

To affirm otherwise, I would argue, is to introduce uncertainty to the whole of Scripture. In Milton Terry’s words, “The moment we admit the principle that portions of Scripture contain an occult or double sense we introduce an element of uncertainty in the sacred volume, and unsettle all scientific interpretation.” Who knows? Perhaps the plain meaning of the precious New Testament promises of eternal life, heaven, and eternal reward will one day yield to some new meaning that rises to replace it! We surely cannot countenance this scenario, and so it follows that we cannot countenance any scenario that does this to any text of Scripture. To use transcendental terms, the Christian system cannot survive the implications of a Scripture that allows for the possibility of evolving, surrogate, or alien meanings anywhere within its leaves.

As such, a literalist resists hermeneutical models specializing in “mystery”—models that boast hidden meanings, whether they be twofold (the Apostolic Fathers), threefold (Origen), fourfold (Cassian), or the more domesticated typological/Christological school popular today. Instead, the literalist does not rest until he discovers an exegetically plausible and “normal” explanation for each difficult text of Scripture, viz., one that preserves the univocal nature of language.

Posted in Theology | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Book Giveaway and Some Summer Reading

In a few days, we’re going to give away a couple of books to one of our readers. The books we are giving away are Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy and Four Views on the Historical Adam, both in the Counterpoints series published by Zondervan. In order to enter the drawing for these books, you need to leave a comment below. In your comment, please list two or three books you are hoping to read this summer.

I’ll start the ball rolling by offering a few titles from my summer reading list:

Baptists in America: A History by Thomas Kidd and Barry Hankins

Nothing: A Very Short Introduction by Frank Close

Perspectives on the Atonement: Three Views edited by Andrew Naselli and Mark Snoeberger

In order to be eligible for the drawing, comments must be posted before 11pm (EST) on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. The winner will be announced on the blog the following day.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 28 Comments