Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

26 Feb 2024

Seated Upright, Fully Clothed, and in My Right Mind: Musing About Hermeneutics


For those of you who knew about and prayed for my recent open-heart surgery, I want to offer my deepest thanks. The discovery and repair of two long-term heart issues has freshly tuned my heart, metaphorically speaking, to the doctrine of divine providence, easily one the most inexhaustible fields of theology, and perhaps my favorite.

When I wrote my first Facebook post after returning from the hospital Monday, I took a page from the book of my mentor, Dr. Rolland McCune, who routinely described himself in his latter years in terms used in Scripture to describe the restored maniac of Gadera: “Seated uprightfully clothed, and in his right mind” (Matt 5:15). I felt that this line was particularly appropriate to my circumstances, as an extended hospital stay can rob a person of all three staples of human dignity simultaneously. I also was reminded that my improving physical health is merely a subcategory of God’s grace and only a small part of his atoning purposes. Like the maniac, I will lose all three staples of dignity once again when I am laid in the grave—though never again thereafter. My savoring of the richness of this metaphor was also on my mind as I wrote. 

At the end of the day, the hermeneutical reasons for which I appealed to the maniac were straightforward and obvious: 

  • it was an analogy—there was much that I had in common with the maniac,
  • attached to complex metaphors communicating multiple and rich points of theological comparison, that are
  • well-known to a great many speakers of the English language (even unbelievers) because of their literary familiarity. 

These are common, normal ways of using literature, and these three categories (analogy, metaphor, and corpus linguistics) collectively make up a huge percentage of the many uses of OT narrative in the NT, how Jesus used especially the psalms (say, Psalm 22), how the classic hymn-writers used OT narrative (e.g., raising Ebenezer, ruminating from Mt. Pisgah’s lofty height, yearning for the promised land), and so on.

Note that what I did NOT intend was to cast the conversion of the maniac as an obscure instance of prophecy about a 21st-century theology instructor that most everyone else missed, much less a “type” of my contemporary situation (yes, I know some of you are amused by a maniac as a “type” of Mark Snoeberger, but none of you actually thought that this was my hermeneutical intent). These would represent instances of hermeneutical abuse of the story. Now there is certainly more room within the biblical storyline for connections (even subtle ones) between its parts, so I’m not trying to eradicate these when they are objectively there. But my relentless plea is this: please allow the normal, everyday use of literature (like my appeal to the story of the maniac) to take a central place in biblical hermeneutics before grasping at secret readings that prioritize the private/arcane above the public/objective. That’s how God intends language to work.

3 Responses

  1. Tim

    Thanks Mark! Thankful to read of God’s providential care towards you and that you have received the care you need. Take good care and keep writing!

  2. Thank you Mark. I can almost hear Dr. McCune’s voice in that phrase! Thankful for your recovery and evident trust in God and this clear post on hermeneutics (which I will share with my undergrad Hermeneutics class Tuesday!).

  3. Frank Snyder

    I only took one class from Dr. McCune but had many conversations with him. I can almost hear him saying “…seated upright….” Very good point made using the springboard of a very unique humor! – Frank Snyder