The New Hermeneutic
Before we can understand what the new hermeneutic is, we must know something about hermeneutics itself. So first we need to establish that the foundational principle of hermeneutics is the unity of the Scriptures; second, we will define hermeneutics from the Scriptures themselves; third, we will reject the errors of the new hermeneutic and then give some examples of it. Finally, we will make some concluding remarks.
We believe the Bible to be the Word of God. In it, God reveals Himself, interprets history, and gives the meaning of life. Every word is inspired by God, who is its author. We must insist that the words of the Bible are God’s literary production, compiled and written by the Holy Spirit through men over many generations, that is, from Moses (1500 BC) to John (95 AD). Scripture itself claims God as author: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God [is God-breathed], and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Therefore we believe the Scriptures to be what they profess to be — the word of eternal life (John 6:68). Because God is the author of all scripture, we know that it is trustworthy, accurate and without falsification at every point. All of its viewpoints are truth, and are normative. All of its statements agree with one another; it is not self-contradictory. Nor is any statement irrelevant to other statements; for the one bears out the other. Because God is the author, there is a wonderful unity and cohesion. All that is revealed in one part is substantiated by others.
This unity of the Scriptures is the fundamental principle of hermeneutics. Therefore we see that all things must be interpreted using God’s Word as an absolute reference. For example, we find that God determines history and interprets history. The Bible is itself an interpretation of what God has done. He must interpret for us; He tells us what everything means. If we deny God’s interpretation of history or of anything else, we deny the trustworthiness (and therefore the divine authorship) of the Scriptures.
Following this principle, we will now look at what the scriptures say concerning hermeneutics.
The basic meaning of hermeneutics is “to interpret, expound, or explain.” In Luke 24:27 we read, “and beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.” So we see that the Lord Himself was engaged in interpreting His revelation, and that it is a special gift of the Holy Spirit to be able to do so. God Himself in scripture interprets scripture, but He also gives this gift to the body of Christ as it is filled with the Holy Spirit.
In Genesis 40:8, Joseph said to the butler, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” And Daniel explains to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:27, “The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, show unto the king; but there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets.” So we see that God is His own interpreter by way of revelation.
God not only reveals His will to us (Deut. 29:29), but He also interprets His will. That’s why the Scriptures are referred to as “self·interpreting”. Daniel explained this to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:30: “But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king”. Both Joseph and Daniel confess that not they themselves, but the Lord Himself must give the interpretation.
Proverbs 1:23 confirms this as well: “I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.” Thus today (since Pentecost) the Lord makes His will known by the Word and Spirit, the Spirit being the interpreter whom Jesus called the “Spirit of Truth” (John 15:2). As Jesus said in John 14:23-26, “If a man love me, he will keep my words... the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things.” Scripture cannot be interpreted privately, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Pet. 1:21)
The “new” hermeneutic is not new in the sense of time; it is as old as the Garden of Eden, when the serpent questioned the authority of what God had said, “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Gen. 3:1) This is the basic sin of the new hermeneutic, to question the very Word that God has spoken. It lacks the respect and awe for the Word of God that is able to bring true wisdom: “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” (Ps. 19:7) “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). And Satan from the beginning is the father of all liars who refuse to accept the authority of God’s Word.
The Scriptures are not silent about those “who changed the truth of God into a lie” (Rom. 1:25). Even some of the Pharisees followed a “new” hermeneutic. Jesus said to some of the leaders in the church then, “Ye are of your father the devil, ... there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:44)
In contrast, we read in verse 47 that “he that is of God heareth God’s words.” Here we see the clear antithesis between those who hear and believe and love what God has said, and those who refuse to obey and believe, and hate what God says; who seek to destroy the unity of the scriptures and oppose and falsify what God has said.
The new hermeneutic may come in two forms: in outright rejecting of the Word of God, or in a new interpretation of it. The prefix “anti-’’, such as in the “antichrist”, implies both elements of opposition and of substitution.
The Bible repeatedly speaks of those who are false. We don’t only read of antichrists, but more especially of false Christs (“pseudo-Christs”) in Matthew 24:24 and Mark 13:22; those who are false substitutes, or put themselves in the place of the true. For example, both Matthew 24:24 and Mark 13:22 speak not only of false Christ’s, but also of false prophets. There is further mention of false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13), false brethren (2 Cor. 11:26), false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1) and false witnesses (Mart. 26:60). So instead of (in the place of) the true word of God, a false word is substituted which makes the claim of being the word of God. Jesus Himself warns in Mark 13:22, “For false Christs and false prophets shall arise and show signs and wonders to seduce if it were possible even the elect.” And earlier, in verse 6, He says “many shall come in My name saying, ‘I am Christ,’ and shall deceive many.”
So we see clearly in scripture that although the “new” hermeneutic is present in every generation, it will be especially deceptive as the time of Christ’s return draws nearer. This we are warned of by the Lord Himself in the eschatological chapters of Mark 13 and Matthew 24. We must therefore not be surprised, but rather prepared for those who are false in our generation. To this end the apostle Paul already warned the Ephesians elders what would happen in their generation (Acts 20:29-31). The same warning applies to us now, for we also find ourselves engaged in a battle against those who are anti-Christ.
It is not our intent in this paper to give an exhaustive list of all the various ways in which the authority and unity of the scriptures is being denied today. Rather, it is our hope to help you formulate a Biblical framework by which you can identify and evaluate those who oppose and substitute the Word of God. The few examples of the new hermeneutic that follow will help you to exercise the framework we have presented.
A. H. DeGraaff, who taught at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Ontario, wrote on p. 10 of his book “How To Read Your Bible” that: “The history lessons in the Psalms and other so-called historical accounts in the Bible are not incorporated for their own sake, as so many scientifically established verifiable historical facts.... They are rather recorded to confront us with the living God.... The Bible is not a source book for the historian; that’s not its purpose.” (This view represents others who also teach at the Institute.)
DeGraaff interprets scripture with the presupposition that the Bible is not a historical source book, while in fact, that is exactly what the Bible is! DeGraaff flatly denies what Luke, for example, opens his gospel account with: “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” (Luke 1:3,4)
It is precisely because the scriptures give an accurate historical account that we can have faith; otherwise it would be impossible. John says the same thing: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples... these are written that ye might believe...” (John 20:30-31). “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things ... his testimony is true” (John 21:24). These disciples were even sent forth as witnesses to these things (Acts 1:8)! The Bible clearly teaches that it is necessary to know historical facts, and so are revealed to us in the Word for that purpose.
Thinking similar to De Graaff’s is reflected by Professor Stek of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, who on p. 16 of his article “Reflections on Genesis” writes that “Every portion of holy scriptures that we call historical narrative ... is in its own way inadequate for contemporary critical historiography but is wholly adequate for its specific redemptive and revelatory purpose.”
For Prof. Stek “it is God’s Word about the past summoning His people to faith and obedience”. So Prof. Stek and many others such as Van Till at Calvin today still claim they believe the Bible as the Word of God. God is still confronting His people through His Word, but for them it is not important whether the events recorded are events that took place on a certain calendar date. However, since both DeGraaff’s and Stek’s earlier writings of ten years ago, this thinking has developed into a complete denial of Adam as the first person in history, denial of the earthquake in Matthew, and of many other events recorded in history.
Our reformed historic faith, rooted in the scriptures in which God has spoken in history has been substituted by a neo-orthodoxy (Barth) in which the living God confronts man apart from His written Word, and by a new philosophy of history. We are told that we need not worry about past events and calendar dates, because the gospel is the good news of the eternal present in which dates and places are irrelevant.
The result of such views leaves one with a Bible that can no longer speak to us with any kind of authority because the “real” meaning of what is written must be determined by the scholar who understands “history” and the scientist who knows the “facts.” The plenary, verbal inspiration of the scriptures is then lost; God is unable to speak clearly in His Word. Then every word of scripture loses its authority. The Bible is then not a living Word to be believed, but merely a subject to be discussed. Since the Bible is not regarded as an absolute standard, the self takes the Bible’s place of authority; and we have subjectivism. The final result is that man enthrones himself in the place of God.
What we have witnessed here in reformed circles is a tragic re-run of what has taken place in Holland in the GKN, who at their synod in 1967 said that they no longer know what the first chapters of Genesis mean. They no longer could say the serpent spoke, or that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was an actual tree.
We have seen something of the magnitude of the battle, which has raged since man fell into sin, and continues also to our day. Because the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:16), therefore we are under obligation to both discern and urge out those who oppose and substitute man’s word for the Word of God. They are the antichrists of our day, as the apostle John shows: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (I John 2:18, 19)
It grieves us to hear that there may be some among us who are not of us. Yet this is what the Lord warns us for. How is it possible then to discern these things! It requires a conscious effort to read and study the Bible, as Paul exhorts: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
It is by reason of use that one’s senses are exercised to discern both good and evil (Heb. 5:14). Hosea shows that the absorption of knowledge by the people of God is not a foregone conclusion. He also shows the dire consequences of neglecting the Word: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” (Hosea 4:6)
Every word that we hear must be measured against the standard of God’s Word, no matter who is speaking; even if it is “an angel from heaven” (Gal. 1:8), we must search the scriptures daily to see if the things spoken are so (Acts 17:11). Every believer of the body of Christ has been given the Holy Spirit and is responsible for using His interpretation of the Word.
Is it possible to stand up against all the false teachers? In the same chapter John writes that it is possible: “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.” (I John 2:26,27)
There are many who are false who claim to have the anointing of the Holy Spirit. However, when they oppose and substitute what God has written, we know they are false. What a comfort it is to know that if we believe the scriptures, and diligently search them, then the Holy Spirit will teach us the truth from the scriptures. As John says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24)
And Peter: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit... not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” (I Peter 1:22,23)
Therefore by the Holy Spirit we are able to discern what is false, and those who “have left us” and are “not with us.” It is with grief and sorrow in our hearts that we acknowledge these things, knowing what the end will be of all who oppose the living Christ. May those who teach the new hermeneutic come to repentance and be restored to God’s grace as Manasseh was. There is no room for us to rejoice in our orthodoxy or conservatism. That too is a pride of the flesh, and abhorrent in God’s eyes.
There is only place for deep humility that by the grace of God we may discern and know the truth revealed to us by the Holy Spirit — the Holy Spirit who wrote the scriptures so that “the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” By grace are ye saved — it is the gift of God.
And let us continue in fervent prayer that we will not be deceived by the darkness that is around us; but that instead we may be a city set on a hill to lighten the world. May we be found faithful and true witnesses to Jesus Christ when we are gathered before His throne!
[Return to top]