Ideology & Hermeneutics

Have you ever read the Bible and come across a passage that ruffles your feathers?  Are there things you wrestle with in the Bible? I do.  It’s a clashing of cultures and wills.

We come to the text with our own ideology separate and apart from scripture.  Our daily experiences, our family norm, our society’s agenda, our education have all formed an ideology by which we operate.  Ultimately it comes from a culture and day-in-age that the Bible was not written to, yet that doesn’t mean the Bible is irrelevant to it.

The Bible was written to an audience who were accustomed to a patriarchal and hierarchical society.  That was their perception of “normal,” and they didn’t necessarily perceive it as “bad.”  This is not our world today.  No, rather, our American society professes the value of rights and freedom.  Anything infringing on those is bad!  Our moral obligation is first to ourselves–then to others.

So when we come from our American, cultural worldview and read scripture, there is expected conflict.  It appears to be a conflict that one can’t resolve.  Thus many people facing this dichotomy have to choose which side to take.  This often leads to us ignoring any parts of scripture we can’t reconcile with our culture’s measure of right and wrong.  It’s far more comfortable to side with the majority.

At this point, it is helpful to take a step back and remove ourselves from our present circumstances and point of view.  In the scope of history, the cultural norms have evolved. What is right has been steered by different guiding philosophies over the course of time and in various cultures.

Our culture has evolved out of these, leaving a morality that’s golden rule is “what is right for you is right.” This sense of right and wrong is based on a relative truth, for what is right for me may be in direct conflict with what is right for you.  This is illogical and means that one of us will be victim to the other’s moral discretion.

When we are deciding on how to approach God, should we be founding our faith on something so volatile or something unchanging, firm?

I’d certainly prefer the solid foundation of an unchanging truth–here the Bible has the leg up! It has remained the same for centuries.  In a gamble, it offers far more promise for dependability than the values of our world today.  In a hundred years, society’s moral compass will have changed from where it points to today, but the Word of God will stand unchanged!

Now you may be thinking, “Becky, you’re not comparing apples with apples.  You can’t read the Bible without interpreting, and haven’t interpretations of it varied over the centuries too?”  True. When we come to scripture, we are always reading in light of our earthly experiences.  We are apt to look for what we want to see in scripture.  However, simultaneously, as believers we come to the scripture with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit–our Teacher promised to us by Jesus himself (John14:26).  He is a far trustier guide than any celebrity I’ve seen.  Even with Him guiding us, we can come into tension with our own human perceptions.

So how can we resolve this conflict?

First, we need to approach the text without any sense of superiority.  It is wrong for us to lord over it with a sense that we are on the better side of history with greater knowledge of what is right.  This means if we encounter a passage we feel is wrong based on our experience, we need to take a step back.  We don’t want to be fools who “find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)  Instead, we need to look deeper.  Why, because as believers we attest that this is God’s infallible Word, and we believe God is good and sovereign.  Any pretense that we know better is blasphemy.

A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21:2)

Second, when we meet a conflict in scripture or we get up in arms, we need to reflect on our perception.  Ask: Why do I see it is a problem?  Can I look beyond my perception to see the greater context surrounding the text in question? Can I see the problem being resolved if my starting point isn’t the world’s directive for morality?  What did this mean to the original audience? Finally, the most important, can I trust that God has it right?

The solution to a right hermeneutic requires the unthinkable to our culture today–admittance that our way isn’t necessarily the right way.  Paul exhorts this message to the Corinthians, “Those who think they know something, do not yet know as they ought to know.” (8:2) We are only human–fallen, finite humans at that.  We have only lived and experienced life in this world for a breath of the time it’s existed. How is it that we have the guts to suggest we know better than the God who created it–the God who sees the beginning, middle, and end–the God who is infinite?  What arrogance!  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7)  Right understanding of God comes with right understanding of ourselves.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Matthew 7:13-15 NIV

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