It’s a good and important word to know.
Comes to us from the Greek—
actually goes back to the Greek god, Hermes,
god of transitions and boundaries, travelers, artists and athletes.
Hermes was guide and intercessor, messenger of the gods,
and his name became the root for the Greek verb “to interpret.”
Hermeneutics is thus a matter of interpretation,
and biblical hermeneutics is the interpretation of Scripture—
of particular interest in the determination
of what biblical commands remain authoritative.
For the most part we agree on disregarding
some biblical precepts, and we find it remarkably easy to do so:
no shellfish or mixed fabrics in clothes, for example.
Now, on what basis do we dismiss these words of God?
These are archaic, anachronistic laws that don’t apply to us?
They no longer make cultural sense?
I cannot think of other reasons for dismissing them,
and we all agree on dismissing them (or most of us do anyway—
not sure all of us agree on anything!).
Most of us again agree to disregard
Scripture’s general acceptance of the institution of slavery.
But now it’s not just about an archaic, anachronistic point of view
that no longer makes cultural sense (is, in fact, culturally offensive).
It is, rather, about the acceptance of conditions
we acknowledge to be antithetical to our best understanding of God—
offensive to God.
Some agree; some don’t, to disregard
those verses that argue for women to be silent in a church,
not to be an authority in a church.
Doesn’t make cultural sense to most of us.
Is offensive to God to some of us.
We add the hermeneutical (interpretive) question
if such verses were addressed
to particular circumstances in particular churches
(and they were),
then are they or are they not to be understood to apply
generally to all women in all churches.
And, of course, we consider such questions in light of other verses
that describe women preaching and teaching men
and serving as deacons in their particular churches.
Fewer still agree to dismiss verses
condemning some people acting in some ways.
Though again we have to ask if we know exactly
to what those verses refer,
and are they meant to apply to specific people in specific circumstances
or generally across the board to all people everywhere?
And we don’t know.
Jesus certainly never found homosexuality important enough an issue to mention.
And here, too, some, but now a minority in the Christian world,
wonder if these commandments broadly applied
are also offensive to God—
not in keeping with who God is.
A Baptist church in Virginia is being asked to withdraw
from the Baptist General Association of Virginia
because they ordained a gay man last month,
and a Virginia pastor said, “Let’s not pretend the issue of homosexuality
is in the same category as women in ministry or race relations,
as it’s often compared to.”
(or shellfish or mixed fabrics, we might presume.
But I’m not pretending.
Obviously, homosexuality is a different issue—
we are, after all, not talking about race relations or women in ministry—
it is a different issue;
equally obviously to me though, it is the same issue—
when it comes down to the hermeneutics.)
The Virginia pastor concludes,
“It boils down to whether this is a red line or not.”
And why should this be the red line?
So who needs to stop pretending?
If there are scriptural rules you dismiss—
if there are any scriptural rules you dismiss (and there always are),
then you can no longer argue for others to be kept
just “because the Bible says so.”
I’m sorry, you have to have another argument—
You have to justify yourself
based on something other than the word of God
(as admittedly weird as that sounds!).
And not only can you do that,
not only do you have to do that,
you already do that.
You may or may not name it that.
And there are more and less legitimate ways of doing it.
If you want your conviction about a particular issue
to stand with integrity, start here:
“According to my best understanding of the spirit of Scripture
and the nature and the will of God,
I believe this commandment is authoritative, and this one isn’t.
Here’s why ….”
And different people will have different answers,
and that’s okay.
Different churches will come to different conclusions,
and that’s okay.
Because, particularly if they’re Baptist, they’re not supposed to claim
that with much prayer and reasoning together,
they’ve reached the correct answer for everyone—
the correct answer everyone needs to come to,
but rather that they’ve reached the correct answer for themselves.
And if a church reaches the conclusion
they cannot be welcome and affirming, for example,
they’re absolutely right,
but again (and I can’t say it enough),
not just because the Bible says so.
Interpretation puts you in the realm of Hermes
at the boundaries—
puts you in transition,
not safe within acknowledged borders,
but trying—struggling to understand the messenger of the gods—
traveling—on the way,
not having safely arrived.
So if you’re willing to start the conversation,
and I dare say you have
(there are some biblical precepts I reject),
then I dare you to finish it.