Est. May 2008

27 August, 2013

Hard Scripture

Over at Grace to You, John MacArthur posted an essay titled  Feminism and Exegetical Mayhem.  His first paragraph:
No other passage of Scripture has been subjected to more scrutiny in the feminist debate over the role of women in the church than 1 Timothy 2:9–15. Entire books have been devoted to refuting the historical and traditional interpretations of this important passage (e.g., R.C. Kroeger and C.C. Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman)
About halfway through he quotes Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, who ‘disposes’ of certain other passages of Scripture dealing with the topic because, in her words:
“Those of us who respect God’s Word cannot force meaning where meaning is unclear. Therefore we may legitimately put these Scripture portions aside for the very reason that they remain ‘hard passages’—hard exegetically, hard hermeneutically, and hard theologically”.
I contend that if you ‘set aside’ passages which are in no way ‘hard’ to interpret, you are not respecting God’s word.  And Ms Hull and others are doing just that.

If you go to the passages she ‘skips’ (and Pastor MacArthur helpfully links to each of them), what’s notable is that there doesn’t seem to be anything ‘hard’ about them at all, either exegetically or hermeneutically (both mean roughly the same thing, which is ‘translate and interpret’); they seem pretty clear to me.

I think what’s ‘hard’ about those passages is reflected in something Jesus said after His ‘Bread of Life’ discourse (John 6).  In verse 60, we read, ‘When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”’; immediately after that (verse 61), Jesus says, ‘But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?”’

What Jesus had been talking about wasn’t hard to understand: He spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, and with the prohibition in the Law against consumption of blood (and, indirectly, human flesh) it would have been obvious to His hearers He was speaking metaphorically about ‘eating’.  What was ‘hard’ about the words was that they ‘offended’ the sensibilities of those who heard them.

And when we find something distasteful or offensive, we do our best to re-interpret what is often the plain meaning of the words into something more palatable – at least to ourselves.  That’s why, I think, the apostle Peter pointed out in Second Peter 3:
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (verses 15 and 16, emphasis mine)
Certainly there are some things in Paul’s writing that are difficult to understand one a first, second, and perhaps even third reading, but that hardness goes away with a bit of study. But what’s really being talked about by most of the people who speak of ‘hard Scriptures’ is that those Scriptures are simply hard to stomach; since they cannot go in and re-write the words to suit their sensibilities, they ‘twist’ what is usually the most obvious meaning of the passages via eisegesis, not exegesis – they interpret Scripture through the lens of ‘the interpreter's own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text'.

So it’s not exegesis that’s hard; it’s not hermeneutics that’s hard; what makes these passages ‘hard’ is the eisegete’s own inability to stomach what the words really mean.

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