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In case you missed it, here’s Hermeneutics Part 1
Here we go for our second blog on hermeneutics. (Definition) At this point we’re still in the introductory phase. So, we’ll touch on a variety of mini-topics that will be fleshed out more in future posts.
Remember, we use hermeneutics every day whether we think about it or not. Even if it’s as simple as properly interpreting what is meant when the weather reporter says “It rained cats and dogs today” or something much more complex like scripture, we’re constantly using hermeneutics. What this shows is that some communication that we interpret is so second nature to us that we need almost no hard work at all to understand the intended meaning and some communication can only be properly interpreted with a lot of effort.
One of the major overarching ideas of hermeneutics that I certainly buy into is the assumption that there are no objective interpretations. A nice way to say this is that we don’t approach a text, or any other kind of communication, as a blank slate. It just isn’t possible, as desirable as it may be to someone, to have no preconceived notions that influence how we interpret.
Let me give an example. When I was growing up, if I got into trouble, my parents would sometimes say things like, “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” Have you ever had someone say that to you? In our culture, we seem to value eye contact. We value it when we’re angry at someone because we think it means they are listening even though there may be no actual correlation between the two. We value it in interviews. We’re told to “look them in the eye” and give a firm handshake. We think it means confidence. Without even thinking about it, we interpret lack of eye contact with certain things. But, do all cultures in all places interpret lack of eye contact the same way? No. In many places it’s a sign of respect rather than lack of confidence or inattentiveness. If we assume too quickly what is being communicated based on our own automatic reflexes we can end up interpreting incorrectly. What I’m trying to show here is how easily our preconceived notions enter into the picture of hermeneutics without our awareness.
In the end, one of the important things we do to prepare ourselves for the task of hermeneutics is to recognize our own tendencies. Since we can never get rid of them, we need to at least acknowledge that we have them, and mentally bear down to minimize their effect on us. If we don’t, we’ll just be reading to justify what we already know rather than considering the possibility that we could be wrong about something.
One of the ways we can accomplish this task is to get many varying perspectives. We need to get past the fear of being persuaded by another view we don’t currently have. The truth of scripture’s original intended meaning should show strongly enough in the midst of false interpretations as long as we’re carefully and completely considering as many of the arguments as possible.
I’ll end this post with a final example that will hopefully show the prudence of researching opposing views as well as the views we already hold as a means of coming close to being able to look at scripture objectively. I recently taught a group regarding spiritual gifts. There are two overarching views (and many sub-views) of those two main views. Either spiritual gifts have continued or they have ceased. The conclusion, for the purposes of this post, is not important. What is important is the result of that session. What I did, was first teach both views and the basic arguments of them. I did my best to give a fair treatment of each argument. Before unveiling my own view, I let them reflect on each view for one week. The next week I recapped and presented what I thought was the truth. What was so excellent was that the general reaction was a significant surprise at the strength of the argument that stood in opposition to each member’s previously held belief. They all had an assumption about what the right answer was but they didn’t expect to see such a strong argument for the view they didn’t already hold. They also realized how significant a factor it was towards their belief in their current view and their exposure to that view versus their lack of exposure to the opposite view. One of the reasons they had such a strong view for one side was the imbalance in their knowledge of their own view and their lack of knowledge regarding the claims from the other side.
Well, this should set us up to begin talking about inductive and deductive study in hermeneutics for our next post.
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