Dr. Richard Howe left a long, convoluted response to a post I wrote critiquing his complaints against Ken Ham’s apologetic he uses to defend Genesis. I can’t really respond at length to his criticisms of me, but I did leave a basic response in the comments at his blog. Here, I just wish to pull a couple of highlights and expand upon them a bit.
Concerning the subject of hermeneutics and Dr. Howe’s (as well as many classic Thomistic apologists) insistence that established principles of hermeneutics must come from outside the Bible first before one can actually study the Bible, I had written,
When God created man, He made him with the ability to communicate and understand. Obviously a good deal of what it means to understand and communicate is intrinsic with the way all men think. If one teaches the Bible, you don’t need to have a course on “hermeneutics” first in order to teach it. Because all men created in God’s image retain the ability to communicate, all one needs to do is read and explain Genesis 1 and they know what it means. There is only a need to teach “hermeneutics” first if you are an OEC who is trying to explain away the plain meaning of the historical narrative so as to accommodate deep time, evolutionary views of origins.
Dr. Howe responded by writing,
Such a naïve position on Bible teaching explains why there is so much shallow (and sometimes heretical) teaching going on in the name of the Bible. Does Mr. Butler think it is always that easy (even if sometimes it is easy)? I wonder what he would say to Finis Jennings Dake who argued, “God has a personal spirit body (Dan. 7:9-14; 10:5-19); shape (Jn. 5:37); form (Phil. 2:5-7); image and likeness of a man (Gen. 1:26; 9:6; Ezek. 1:26-28; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jas. 3:9). He has bodily parts such as, back parts (Ex. 33:23), heart (Gen. 6:6; 8:21), hands and fingers (Ps. 8:3-6; Heb. 1:10; Rev. 5:1-7), mouth (Num. 12:8), lips and tongue (Isa. 30:27), feet (Ezek. 1:27; Ex. 24:10), eyes (Ps. 11:4; 18:24; 33:18), ears (Ps. 18:6), hair, head, face, arms (Dan. 7:9-14; 10:5-19; Rev. 5:1-7; 22:4-6), and other bodily parts.” [Finis Jennings Dake, The Dake Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Bible Sales, 1991), NT, p. 97] Is Mr. Butler willing to grant that it is “obvious” that God has such bodily parts as Dake says? Cannot Mr. Butler see the need for a careful distinction between what the Bible says and what the Bible means? Such a distinction cannot be thoroughly sustained without proper hermeneutics.
Those who frequent my blog, who are familiar with my background, where I work, and where I attend church, know for a fact I abhor shallow teaching. Come on. I work for John MacArthur, who just finished a 43 year exposition of the entire NT in June of 2011. Believe me. We happen to know what is and isn’t shallow teaching around here.
The broader point I was making was against the classic apologetic argument that a foundation in human philosophy, typically understood as Greek philosophy of the Aristotelian and Platonic stripe, must be in place first as an interpretive grid so as to apply the hermeneutic rules necessary to read and understand the Bible.
Rather, I understand our principles of hermeneutics to be derived from God’s desire as Creator for us to not only communicate with Him, but also with each other. Language and writing is not a human invention; at least not the ability to speak and write and communicate. God is a revealing God who gave revelation to men. I would expect – and this is confirmed with the biblical narrative of Adam in Genesis 1 and 2 – that if God intended to communicate with mankind and have us communicate with Him in return, He would create mankind with that ability. Hence, “hermeneutics,” like laws of logic, are from the mind of our Creator and imparted to us, His creatures.
Moreover, I further derive my hermeneutics from the text of Scripture. By that I mean Scripture is intended to be plain and lucid. What is called the perspicuity of Scripture.
As the creature of a communicating, revelation-giving God, I am able to read the Bible within its context and understand what it means in the normal parameters of exegesis. Certainly learning the original languages, understanding the cultural background, the history in which the book was written, etc., enhances my understanding of God’s Word making it even more clear. But those are hermeneutical principles I didn’t have to gather from an external, interpretative philosophical source that tells me how I should read the Bible. It is part of what it means to be created by God.
Now, Dr. Howe holds up the example of Finis J. Dake, the Pentecostal oriented cultist who published his personal study Bible as Dake’s Annotated Study Bible. Along with his Pentecostal heresies, Dake also held to anti-Trinitarian heresies, as Dr. Howe points out. His claim is that I would be unable to sit down with Dake and “explain” the Bible without first establishing principles of “hermeneutics.” Unless I establish the hermeneutics first, “a distinction between what the Bible says and what it means cannot be thoroughly sustained without proper hermeneutics,” argues Dr. Howe.
Though I agree with him in part about the need to utilize hermeneutics, I believe our “hermeneutics” can be sufficiently established within the context of Scripture. In other words, I don’t need to run to Aristotelian logic first to give me a filter to read my Bible.
The reason I can say that with such confidence is that I have sat down with cultists like Dake and by “just using” the Bible was able to press them as to their false views of Scripture that lead to their false views of God, Jesus, man, and salvation. Dake is like all cultists I am familiar with: They cherry-pick passages, lifting them from their context to prove their heresy.
When considered in the whole of what Scripture teaches about God, for instance, those passages do not teach what the cultist claims they do. Now, did I have to have a class in hermeneutical philosophizing 101 to show how the cultist is wrong? No. I did not. Scripture alone is a sufficient authority to demonstrate the cultist’s theological error.
Dr. Howe goes on further to flesh out his point,
Dake is clearly (to me) heretical here. No doubt Dake would claim that it is he who is taking the “obvious” meaning of the text. The Bible “clearly” says what Dake has it saying. But I would argue (as I suspect Mr. Butler would as well) that Dake has misinterpreted the Bible. How, then, are we to adjudicate this dispute? While I agree with Mr. Butler that much of the time the meaning of the Bible is plain, this will not help us with deeper philosophical and theological issues such as the nature and attributes of God Himself.
I am of the conviction, as I already discussed, that if you begin with the whole of Scripture, the meaning of the Bible is clear, even in the “deeper philosophical and theological issues” pertaining to the attributes of God. In fact, we only truly know about the attributes of God from Scripture. But laying that aside, let me zero in on his claim that the Bible “clearly” says what Dake has it saying.
In a manner of speaking, it does. Take for example the citation of Daniel 7:9, 10 and 10:5-19. Those are Messianic passages. The Daniel 7 passage is a prophecy regarding the Son of Man, a prophecy Jesus said speaks of Himself in Mark 14:61-64. Additionally, Daniel 10 is a Christophany, a personal, pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ to the prophet Daniel. Was Jesus Christ a man? Were prophecies and OT appearances of Christ revealing a “man?” Of course, but I derive that understanding of those passages from the whole of Scripture.
Though Dr. Howe insists that we can’t really refute Dake’s heretical conclusions about God unless we have some philosophical grid in place so as to shape our hermeneutics, I believe a Christian can. Again, beginning with the whole of Scripture, if you take the cultist away from his pet passages he has isolated from their context and proclaim to him the whole counsel of God, the Bible is quite adequate by itself as a refutation to such heresies.
Honestly, as I have written elsewhere, it’s those aversions to the appeal of Scripture’s sufficiency as a stand alone authority that concerns me about the entire classic apologetic enterprise.