Paradigms And Biblical Exegesis

You should never read something that starts your intellectual juices after midnight; it will probably prevent you from getting very much sleep as the thoughts race back and forth across your mental topography, pushing sleep further and further from its necessary threshold. I made the mistake of looking in on the John Eldredge – An Example of Reductionism thread on Jollyblogger (has gone on to the LORD but his site remains up). I had made a few quickly crafted comments and I was reading through various reactions to what I had said. Since an adequate answer to those responses would take both time and column space, I decided to write a post here instead of trying to make an elaborate comment there.

Let me say right off, that while I have a degree (Ancient History) and am fairly well read, I do not consider myself an expert on exegesis or Biblical interpretation. I am, however, a relatively mature Christian who, while not ordained as clergy, has taught, led Bible studies and cell groups, and preached in the churches I have been part of for over 20 years. With that in mind, take my opinions with a large grain of salt, but realize they have been arrived at through experience in the battleground of teaching, of preparing lessons from scratch, and observing how a large number of diverse people have used the scriptures and their Bibles to formulate their arguments and responses within that context.

In response to David’s article on John Eldredge, the man who is Wild at Heart, I posted the following responses:

I think you hit the significant point when you said, “Furthermore, he has made these three points the controlling paradigm for the way in which he views God and interprets Scripture.”

Besides reasonable linguistic and logical frameworks to approach scripture, I believe most of the problems the Church has faced throughout its history has been related to “controlling paradigms.” This goes for Calvinists and Catholics, Baptists and Anglicans, and helps explains detours like Seventh Day Adventists.

One thing I think we all ought to make a daily part of our Christian life is to ask the Holy Spirit to demolish all of the improper controlling paradigms that distort our view of what He has revealed to the Church and the people of God throughout the history of man. We need to see the Word as the Holy Spirit sees it. I think Romans 12:1-3 and Philippians 1:9-11 are good starts in addressing this issue.

Then I added:

I had some additional thoughts while out weed-whacking my front walk. (Nothing like work to make the mind work) I believe that the problem develops when we use scripture to create a framework for looking at some specific issue in life. It does a good job of clarifying certain problems and possible solutions. Then we fall into the trap of thereafter adopting that framework as our hermeneutical paradigm for interpreting scripture in general. It happens almost without our realizing it. I think that was, at least for me, the significant insight to be gotten out of your posting.

Just a few thoughts from beyond the rim…

Scripture->framework->problem->help, so framework->scripture. David responded with:

Thanks for the comments William – I think you are right. Often the major point someone wants to make is spot on, but its when they start building stuff around it that they run into problems.

That partially hit on what I was saying but didn’t warrant a larger discussion until Terry rejoined:

In response to William Meisheid I ask, a paradigm of no paradigm? How about asking the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth?

It appeared to me that Terry was saying that my paradigm to Biblical exegesis was to have no paradigm, to which David attempted a clarification from his perspective:

Note to Terry – what I heard William saying was that we sometimes use Scripture to answer a particular question or deal with a specific issue. Then we take something which was specific to that particular question or issue and apply it across the board to any other issue. I didn’t hear him saying that we can’t use any paradigm at all for anything. I am not sure what he had in mind, but I could see this cropping up in interpreting different genre’s of the Bible. Let’s say you found an answer to a specific question from your study of the Psalms. The way you studied the Psalms wouldn’t be normative for the way you studied a more prosaic or didactic passage of Scripture. That’s just a thought and attempt to understand what he is getting at. I could be missing his point totally.

At this point, I decided that I need to amplify and explain what I meant, because in a sense, both Terry and David were partially correct about aspects of what I was thinking but had not adequately expressed in my comments.

Terry: In the Bible studies I have lead, I have asked those participating to use Bibles that did not have comments, notes, cross-references, in short just the text. I was not as concerned about the translation they were using, but the commentary that accompanied it. I wanted them to face the text raw and deal with it themselves through prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit before looking at how others interpreted it. Within that framework all of the valid structures of language and logic should be used since the Bible was a book of written words that followed such basic rules. In that sense, I argued for a paradigm of no paradigms, at least none, other than the internal filters already in use by each of those involved. Part of what I tried to do as we discussed the text was to expose those filters and how they impacted the interpretation of the text, using the argument that if you don’t understand your biases, then you can’t begin to see when you are losing your way.

The first time I tried that approach to Bible teaching was in response to R.C. Sproul’s fine book, Knowing Scripture. I apologize that I don’t have the book handy to quote (it’s lent out) but in one section Sproul used how people interpreted the head covering passage in 1 Corinthians 11 to explain their fundamental hermeneutic. With that in mind what I discovered from our study of the same passage was that the notes, comments, and other interpolations in their various ‘study’ Bibles (the paradigms of the author/publishers) prevented those I was teaching from honestly wrestling with the text itself. Instead, they seemed to invest these interpolations with significant authority because, well after all, they were in their Bible. So yes Terry, I believe we should all approach the text at the beginning of any study using the paradigm of no paradigms, as much as that is possible, before we allow all of those paradigms that constantly attempt to assert themselves entry into the process.

Dave: Over the years I have seen so many paradigms outside of the aforementioned problem of interpolated text assert themselves into peoples’ Biblical study. Whether denominational, or philosophical, or any of the various -isms, such as feminism, socialism, liberalism, conservativism, or many others, they all can create paradigms of thinking and interpretation that filter and distort the text, creating eisegesis rather than exegesis. Part of what I view is the responsibility of Biblical teachers is to expose those paradigms and try to help people see past them. Yes, the Holy Spirit is significant in the success of that effort, but at the same time people more often than not have to be engaged for them to open their eyes to what is happening. Even then, it is always a struggle. I know, I have the same problems.

It’s late and I hope this helps clarify my meager thoughts. If not, we can continue the discussion, but only after I can get some sleep, which now that I have been able to express myself will mean my mental activity is no longer beyond the necessary threshold for zzzs. 😉