Biblical Ignorance and Gymnastics
by Barrett Wolf
Observations of Inconsistent and Manipulative Christian Biblical Hermeneutics
- I’ve become increasingly agitated with the common practice of “forcing” a translation or meaning of a particular biblical passage, so that a passage will fit neatly inside a particular doctrine or theological system. It feels a lot like the tail wagging the dog. Example: Matt. 24:34 “genea” is translated “generation” not “race” in every English translation. Pre-millennialists insist on translating it “race” for obvious reasons. Seems like forcing a translation to make it fit into the Pre-trib/Pre-mil system. These are the champions in the evangelical-Christian world for responsible hermeneutics. However, their hypocrisy reveals itself as often as the less biblically literate side of Christianity. There are hundreds of these examples. I could create a whole new list of these.
- I’m uncomfortable with poor explanations of contradictions in the Bible
- I’m deeply disturbed by the lack of commitment to responsible hermeneutics among Churches I’ve attended most of my life. In most cases, the teaching pastor “uses” the text of Scripture to drive a particular message or agenda. These are churches that are the strongest in claiming to submit to Biblical authority and inerrancy but practice shameful hermeneutics habitually. I’ve concluded they believe (in word only, not in deed) in the authority of the Bible as God’s Word, but they do not believe that the Bible is God’s Word in practice, because of the way they so poorly handle the Biblical text. Disrespect for the Bible evidenced in disgraceful hermeneutics that affect the preacher’s homiletics is a rampant disease, even in the most conservative fundamentalist evangelical Christian churches. The result is the production of a Biblically illiterate generation of dim-witted church attenders, who are confused and ignorant of their own Christianity they claim to believe. In most cases, I observe the teacher and preacher succumbs to this disease for the following two reasons:
- To actually apply responsible hermeneutics in church preaching could produce unentertaining sermons and messages that lack exciting personal and immediate application for the audiences. Most church leaders/pastors are motivated to attract larger groups and craft sermons based on what would seem inspirational or attractive to their listeners.
- To actually apply responsible hermeneutics will reveal portions of the Bible, which are very uncomfortable to deal with honestly, impartially and objectively (qualities necessary for good hermeneutics). Bible students and preachers alike seem to gloss over/edit/ignore some of the ugly details of the Bible that reveal horrific things about the God of the Bible. Bible students and preachers also tend to ignore/gloss over apparent contradictions or passages difficult to interpret. People simply believe what they want to believe. And they say what they think others want to hear. This is true of the mega-church pastor in big cities and it’s true of the hell-fire and brimstone screaming small-church pastor. Both are performing for their respective constituencies.
- Christians don’t read the Bible. This has always been a mystery to me. While most Christians profess that the bible is the inspired word of God, most have not read the bible in its entirety, and the portions they read, they don’t read often or carefully. These few portions they do read, over an over again, are mostly read out of context for the purpose of giving some type of daily guidance or encouragement. It’s my observation that Christians, in general, read the bible with the same purpose and effect as a person reading their daily horoscopes in a newspaper. However, I no longer think this is the fault of the non-bible-reading Christian. Actually, it’s the bible itself that’s to blame. It is difficult to read, inconsistent, hard to follow and simply lacks readability. I once thought that the bible was one whole book with various parts. Actually, it is a conglomerate of multiple books, disconnected with multiple authors. To understand “The Gospel According to Matthew”, one simply needs to read that book in its entirety. And so goes for the other books of the Bible.
- Christians play gymnastics with the text. This is the tendency evangelical Christians have to play hermeneutical gymnastics with the text, so they can feel better about maintaining the doctrine of biblical inerrancy or any other particular doctrinal system.