Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hermeneutics Paper Part 2: Training, Tools, Text


One reason that pastors begin to rely on traditions is poor training. Training in hermeneutics has as its own goal to equip a sinful man with the knowledge and skills necessary to read the text of Scripture and use the tools at his disposal with an understanding of their and his own limitations. Poor training can be caused by students who are inadequately prepared to begin specialized language and hermeneutical training. Poor training can be due to an ill equipped teacher. And it can be due to a poorly conceived and overly compartmentalized approach to ministerial training.

Considering the student: If a student is not conversant in the linguistic and grammatical study of his own native language he must either undertake considerable self-education in this area or be left to flounder. If, e.g., one does not have the vocabulary and skills to understand transitive/intransitive, active/passive, subject/predicate, or direct/indirect objects, etc. in English he will not be likely to make the appropriate connections in the original languages.

A possible solution for this is remedial coursework and tighter application requirements. But even more important is that the student recognize such weaknesses in himself and strive to overcome them. If he is unable to overcome such weaknesses, he should be wary about the kinds of claims he makes, being honest about his own limitations.

Considering the teacher: Whether the teacher is teaching Historical, Biblical, Doctrinal, Symbolical, or Liturgical Theology, the teacher must be able to constantly show the relationship between the topic at hand and its application to the preaching of the pastors in properly applying Law and Gospel. Not every teacher is able to do this or do this well. The temptation for the teacher is to hide this weakness from others, and maybe even from himself. In hiding such weaknesses the teacher fails to give the students the knowledge, tools, and skills they should have been given. For example: Imagine an Old Testament exegetical course taught by a professor who does not know Greek or is unfamiliar with the Septuagint. The Septuagint is neglected, probably not even brought up, much less used in class. The students do not learn about the Septuagint, its contents, its relationship with the New Testament. The Septuagint becomes irrelevant, and even sinister. The only thing the students might know is that it is a Greek translation of the Old Testament used by the Eastern Orthodox and that it has extra books. And, they might possibly be told that the New Testament tends to quote it rather than the Hebrew text. But they would not be enabled to read the Septuagint, and thus find valuable lexical and semantic insights; such as the fact that αγαπαω is used not only of godly love, but also of incestuous desire. Worse, these students go out and create scandal by teaching the same ignorance to the congregations. This author has recently become aware of a pastor who was removed from his parish for putting into his bulletin the passage reference for the Introit to Pentecost (Wisdom of Solomon 1:7) and referring to it in his sermon. One wonders how Martin Luther would fare in such a climate, but then such teachers, students, and congregations would probably also be ignorant of Luther's, Chemnitz', and Gerhard's use of proof texts and sermon texts from the Apocrypha.

A possible solution for such problems is to require that all teachers have advanced degrees in the field that they are teaching. But advanced degrees do not really guarantee competency. It is more important that the teacher recognize such weaknesses in himself, admit them to his students, and encourage them to surpass him in such areas. Then, he should strive to be constantly learning and improving himself in the subjects he is supposed to teach.

Considering the approach to ministerial training: The whole of ministerial training is to foster the growth of men as students of Scripture who have the breadth of knowledge and the tools to properly apply Law and Gospel as well as correctly administer the Sacraments. All the branches of Theology have at their base the study of God's Word and proper teaching of God's Word to the assembly. All the branches of Theology are intimately interrelated. When one theological branch is taught without these relationships being brought to the students' attention, the relevance of one or of the others is left in obscurity. The students may be able to make these connections on their own, but more often than not a complex system of individual and discrete doctrinal pronouncements come to the fore. Often these are termed “principles” rather than “doctrine.” Once example of such compartmentalized doctrinal “principles” is the popular “headship principle” ostensibly based on the I Cor. 11:3 and the use of αυθεντειν in I Timothy 2:12.

If, according to the headship principle, a woman may not have authority over a man in any context,1 then it might be appropriate to state “In some jobs which place her [a woman] over men like being president [sic] it might be almost impossible for a Christian women [sic] to function without violating the scriptural principles. In other jobs or positions she may be able to operate in a way which shows respect for the biblical principles.”2

But at a later date the same source says, “A Christian woman may be convinced that none of the men who are running for a particular office would offer qualified and/or honest service for the benefit of those they represent. If God has given her the gifts to fill such an office well, she may feel the greater harm is to allow less than qualified candidates to fill those positions.”3

Principles take the place of the clear declarations of God in His Word. This causes confusion about what a proper Christian application of a principle—such as the “headship principle”—might or ought to be. Missing from the whole discussion on this particular principle is any reference to the Bible's teaching on the Three Estates and the nature and scope of authority in each of these estates. Rather than the clear Word of Scripture a person's conscience becomes the final hermeneutic and authority for determining God's will.

Part of the training which may fail the student is a proper understanding of the nature of the tools he is to learn to use.


One significant problem in the training of biblical interpreters is the simple lack of comprehension about their own weaknesses. Some seminaries are satisfied with what they call a “working” knowledge of the languages. What this tends to mean is that the student is shown which books he can use to look up words or grammatical constructions.

It is possible for a student to have a good grasp on the way languages work in general and do a reasonably good job at interpreting the original text; even if he is not able to read the original language very well. One could make the reasonable assertion that such a student would need to have a fairly good grasp of Scripture in a sound translation and a solid understanding of doctrinal, historical, liturgical and symbolical theology. It is possible to be a good preacher and pastor without knowing all the letters of Greek or Hebrew. But the notion of a “working” knowledge tends to predispose students to the false idea that they are, perhaps, competent enough to make pronouncements based on the original languages.

Part of the problem is a lack of understanding about the nature of the tools placed at their disposal. For example: Hebrew lexicons such as BDB, KB, and Holladay have as basic presuppositions in their lexical treatment the Documentary Hypothesis and various literary and historical theories that have grown up in the wake of Wellhausen. Works such as DOCH revise the literary history based on modern historical linguistic theory and add another layer of modern linguistic semantic theory.

Hebrew grammars such as GKC, Jouon-Muraoka have, in addition to these historical critical literary theories, the presupposition of an evolutionary historical linguistic development of the Hebrew language from and idealized Proto-Semitic language. Muraoka updated Jouon's grammar to include modern historical linguistic theory. Grammars like the one by Walke and O'Connor shift focus to the various modern linguistic syntactical and text-semantic theories as an organizing principle.

The picture is similarly confusing for the tools available for Old Testament and New Testament Greek.

The simple lesson is that students should read the introductions to each work and note the explicit presuppositions upon which each work is based. Louw-Nida is very different from BAGD, which differs greatly from Thayer. Robertson's tome is not so much a grammar as it is a protracted argument for the historical evolution and nature of Koine Greek as a distinct dialect.

We should note additionally that lexicons do not give definitions. They give a list of probably appropriate English equivalents. Similarly, grammars of dead languages do not give rules, they give catalogs of what the authors think are the explanations of forms. That is to say, lexicons and grammars of dead languages are not prescriptive, they are descriptive. They do not teach the student how to become a native speaker with native speaker instincts. They are different attempts to figure out what was meant by the original writers, attempts based on sometimes very different theories. And as such, they play a distant second fiddle to the context of Scripture in figuring out the meaning of Scripture in a particular passage.

But the importance of establishing context bring us to the question of the text itself.


The author has written several times elsewhere about the nature of modern textual criticism. Here he would summarize that modern textual criticism is not “lower” criticism. The Lutheran Cyclopedia gives this interesting and very naïve definition of textual criticism:
That branch of study which traces the hist. of the transmission of ancient texts with a view esp. to determine the most ancient form of a given text, thereby laying the basis for interpretation. Also called lower criticism because of its basic or primary nature; cf Higher Criticism. (p. 757)
Compare the Lutheran Cyclopedia entry for Higher Criticism where the distinction between the two is made:
In distinction from lower criticism (see Textual Criticism) it deals with such questions as authorship, hist. background, authenticity, integrity, and unity of the books. (p. 379)

Any introduction to modern textual criticism (Tov, Greenlee, Wurtwein, Deist, Metzger, Aland and Aland) will quickly show that authorship, historical background, authenticity, integrity, and unity are intimate aspects of the practice of textual criticism—not only of each book of the Bible, but of each manuscript of each book.

From the time of Astruc and Wellhausen the philosophical school of Modernism took hold in academic circles. The then new scientific historical criticism began to be identified with higher criticism. Another false dichotomy was introduced: “Higher Criticism bad, Lower Criticism good.” Bernard Ramm's textbook, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, treated historical criticism with only 21 pages in the 1956 edition. This had grown to 30 pages in the 1970 edition. Herman Otten's 1965 Baal or God is one of the earliest publications to offer a popular critique of the historical critical method. Ralph Bohlmann's Principles of Biblical Interpretation in the Lutheran Confessions, published in 1968, barely mentioned historical criticism at all. But his 1983 revised edition includes 9 pages of discussion on the issue. Published in 1976, Harold Lindsell's The Battle for the Bible became mainline Protestantism's handbook on the history of the battle to defend Biblical Inerrancy.

Meanwhile, from 1969 and onward the nominally Lutheran Fortress Press was publishing the historical critical Guides to Biblical Scholarship at a rate that would total 27 of these “guide” books by 1995. These are just the Lutheran sources. This does not count the various academic societies and journals that were activly publishing historical criticism since the late 1800s,4 but mainly unnoticed by Confessional Lutheranism.

This may seem a bit of a digression, but it is necessary to understand the milieu in which Textual Criticism became an academic pursuit. There was no academically neutral ground on which Textual Criticism could establish itself. It was in 1882 that Wescott and Hort produced their Introduction. Readers who are not familiar with Wescott and Hort's theories for formulating textual families—or with the denial of inerrancy and Divine Inspiration by their inheritors—are already unable to use the tools of Textual Criticism. This last is not an insignificant claim.

There are probably many Confessional Lutherans who feel competent with the critical apparatus (ap. crit.) used in the BHS, HOTTP/HUBP , Rhalfs, UBS, or NA. But this feeling of competency is ethereal. BHS, while representing the St. Petersburg Codex (Codex Leningradensis) has an ap. crit. which is highly selective, and the selectivity of which is based on the historical critical research done by the editors on the particular books of the Bible they were to prepare for the BHS. Rhalfs' ap. crit. is nearly useless in and of itself with problems already widely known.

HOTTP, UBS, and NA suffer from a variety of problems common to their own methodology. Three main issues in these modern editions are 1) strong textual bias; 2) the presentation of meaningless data; and 3) leading the interpretation. The author has discussed these issues in detail elsewhere.5 Here these issues are dealt with in summary.

Strong Textual Bias: The editors of UBS and NA demonstrate in their own introductions to Textual Criticims that they have a determined goal to rid the Greek New Testament of any influence from the Textus Receptus. Just one example:6 Bruce Metzger wrote in his Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism concerning the Textus Receptus:
this debased form of the Greek Testament. Having secured an undeserved pre-eminence, what came to be called the Textus Receptus of the New Testament resisted for 400 years all scholarly efforts to displace it in favour of an earlier and more accurate text. (Metzger 1968:103, emphasis added)

The Presentation of Meaningless Data: The way the variants are presented in the ap. crit. of these edititions makes it impossible to reconstruct any individual manuscript. This is a foundational flaw. It means that it is impossible for the user of their eclectic text to determine why a particular variant might have occurred in the context of the original manuscript. Thus, it makes genuine textual criticism impossible.

Leading the Interpretation: These graphics are of P52 which is dated to the first half of the second century.7 
Illustration 1: P52 Recto

Notice that there were no punctuation marks, spaces, paragraphing in use when the NT was written. Dictionaries and grammars as we know them did not exist in any practical way. What the student learns today is a Koine Greek that has been standardized over the 2000 years since the writing of the New Testament.

In order for the modern student to interpret 1st or 2nd century Koine writing the student must make judgments about word division, phrase division, sentence division, and paragraphing. The student must decide upon accentuation and breathing. For example: this fragment gives us two examples of diaeresis. The first can be seen in this graphic and is used according to the rules for Koine taught to students today (line 2, ουδεναϊνα). The second use is in line 2 verso (that is: on the other side) where the diaeresis follows a consonant and marks the word ϊνα. This second use is not in accord with those rules. Each of these decisions is an interpretative decision.

Modern critical editions of the GNT have made all those decisions for the reader. And if the reader is not practically aware of these decisions, these interpretations will affect exegesis unintentionally.
Illustration 2: P52 Verso

In the case of the NA text, the editors state:

The system of paragraph divisions has been developed much more extensively than before, and not simply for greater clarity. It is designed to aid the reader’s understanding of the writings by clarifying their structure, e.g., in the Gospels distinguishing the primitive units. The strophic printing of verse has been expanded, perhaps even too much at times, but further revision is always possible. The same holds for punctuation, which seeks to follow Greek usage in contrast to the earlier Nestle which was dominated by German usage, and The Greek New Testament where the influence is English. (Aland et al. 1987:44*)
For the most part one can trust the word divisions, punctuation, etc of the modern critical editions. And for the most part one can trust the text presented in them. But the exegete must never pretend that at these various layers of interpretation many significant decisions have already been made for him.

The exegete must also be aware that the textual traditions embodied in the modern critical editions of the GNT have deliberately steered away from the textual base used by Luther, the Reformers, the Confessors, and the great theologians of Lutheranism. They have done so with an explicit denial of Inerrancy and the Scriptural Doctrine of the Preservation of the Scriptures (Mt. 5:18; Jn 8:31-32; 17:20; Eph. 2:20).

Examining the text of the GNT for the sake of Lutheran doctrine is not a task to be done lightly. Since the text of Scripture is the measuring stick, the exegete must make himself aware of how far his modern critical edition differs from the measuring stick used by Lutheranism as the basis for doctrinal interpretation up to the end of the 19th century.


1C.f., the WELS doctrinal statement: “SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES OF MAN AND WOMAN ROLES” Principle #20 “Christians also accept the biblical role relationship principle for their life and work in the world (I Co 11:3; Eph 5:6-17). Christians seek to do God's will consistently in every area of their lives. We will therefore strive to apply this role relationship principle to our life and work in the world.” And also antithesis #6 “We reject the opinion that male headship and female submission apply only to marriage or only to marriage and the Church (1 Co; 1 Ti 2:12).”
2WELS Q&A on whether a WELS woman could be a doctor in charge of a practice with men under her authority,
3WELS Q&A on WELS member Michelle Bachman's run for political office,
4For example: influential academic journals- Vetus Testamentum, Novum Testamentum, Zeitscrhrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft and Zeitscrhrift für die neutamentliche Wissenschaft; influential academic commentaries International Critical Commentary, and the “Polychrome Bible” of Haupt.
5Abrahamson 2005.
6Other examples: Metger 1975:xxiii, Aland, et al., 1987:41*, Aland & Aland 1987:4, 6-7. Remember that these are the lead editors of the UBS GNT and the NA.
7JRULM 2005.