Hermeneutical Devices to Condone Sin
The Bible condemns promiscuous or abusive homosexuality, but says nothing against "monogamous" homosexual relationships between consenting adults. Peggy Campolo has recently tried to blunt the Biblical arguments against homosexuality by reinterpreting some of the relevant texts. She says that the rules in Leviticus against homosexuality "are part of the purity code (what we now call kosher laws) rather than the moral code." To negate the censure of homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9, which includes the "effeminate" and "abusers of themselves with mankind" among the gross sinners who cannot inherit the kingdom of God, Campolo says that scholars are unsure about the meaning of the Greek word for the second of these groups. "Up until the 14th century, it was often translated as masturbation." She says that in 1 Timothy 1:10, those that "defile themselves with mankind" are not homosexuals in general, but those who castrate and sexually exploit young boys. Then, fearing not to confront Paul's awful denunciation of homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27, she argues that Paul, writing from Corinth, has in mind only the vile same-sex orgies that took place there in the Temple of Aphrodite (1).
All this has a surface plausibility that melts under serious examination. In both Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20, homosexuality is grouped with moral offenses of an especially heinous character, such as adultery, human sacrifice, and bestiality. In the latter passage it is classified as a capital crime. No violation of "kosher law" was punishable by death.
As to the meaning of the controversial word in 1 Corinthians 6:9, surely scholars today have a better idea of its meaning than did poorly educated translators in the Middle Ages. Until opposition to homosexuality became politically incorrect, modern authorities did not doubt that the word means "homosexual." Arndt and Gingrich elaborate, "a male homosexual, pederast, sodomite," and they support this translation with six citations of ancient extrabiblical literature (2). Campolo conveniently ignores that the word occurs alongside another of similar meaning. According to Arndt and Gingrich, the word translated "effeminate" refers to a specific kind of homosexual, a catamite—that is, a man or boy who takes a female role in homosexual relations (3). (Through its derivation, the word suggests soft clothing.) Paul evidently uses the two words together to assure that both female-role and male-role homosexuals will feel the weight of his disapproval.
Campolo's assertion that the word for homosexual in 1 Timothy 1:10 refers to a particular corrupt practice is wholly groundless. The word is the same as the second word for homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9. In the latter instance, she says the meaning of the word is unknown. In the former, she says that we know its meaning so well that can identify its special reference to a particular practice.
The attempt to exclude "monogamous" homosexuals from the sin Paul denounces in Romans 1 violently mishandles the text. Paul is describing a universal trend in sinful human society, a movement from unbelief to idolatry, to immorality, and finally to outrageous immorality. He sets prevalent homosexuality in the last stage of degradation. He neither says nor intimates anything to suggest that he is referring only to the worst forms of homosexuality rife in Corinth. On the contrary, his description of unnatural relations fits every kind of homosexuality.
Perhaps recognizing the weakness of her exegetical arguments, Campolo tosses them off quickly and moves on to sad stories about the abuse of homosexuals. No doubt gay-bashing is an ugly, unchristian thing. But we must be careful not to be swayed by emotional unreason. Just because homosexuals have often been mistreated is no reason to absolve them of their sin. The devil likes to play both sides of the street. To create a climate of sympathy and tolerance for homosexuals, he can easily provoke hateful people to persecute them.
As Christians, we must surely love homosexuals and treat them as bearers of the divine image, just as we must treat with respect all other sinners, whether they be card sharks or cannibals. We must tell all sinners about the love of God and offer them salvation through Christ. And if they repent of their sin, we must give them a place in Christian fellowship.
Eradicating a homosexual orientation, so-called, is not easy, and in some cases may be impossible, but to abstain from homosexual sin is entirely possible by the grace of God. Moreover, most homosexuals are really bisexuals, and the rest have at least a latent capacity for heterosexuality. Therefore, a converted homosexual should not overlook the possibility that God wants him to marry and have children. Yet he should not hide the truth about himself from the woman he chooses. She should enter the union with eyes open, recognizing that she must be patient in building her husband's affection. But his task in suppressing homosexual urges is fundamentally no harder than the task facing married men who must overcome unlawful heterosexual urges. If God leads a converted homosexual to marry, he should pursue God's will with perfect confidence that God will enable him both to love his wife and to deny man-love.
The Bible does not condemn abortion. Voices dissenting from the evangelical consensus against abortion have until now been few and timid. The first step away from this consensus is, of course, to question whether the Bible actually condemns abortion. It is true that the Bible does not mention it, although drug-induced abortion was a common practice in the ancient world. Some have taken this silence to mean that the Bible regards the practice as morally neutral.
The Bible says nothing against abortion because it was written when no one doubted that the babe in the womb is a human being. The writer of Psalm 22 believed that he was a person before birth (v. 10). Likewise, the writer of Psalm 139 regarded the fetal stage of his growth as nothing other than himself (vv. 13-15). When John the Baptist was still unborn, he leaped for joy when the mother of Christ entered his house (Luke 1:44). Thus, in the view of readers during Bible times, abortion was equivalent to murder.
Proof that early Christians opposed abortion lies in the oldest Christian document outside the New Testament, the Didache, probably written before AD 70. The Didache, seemingly intended as a manual for instructing new converts, has a strong Jewish flavor, suggesting that its source is a body of Jewish Christians within Palestine. Among its moral teachings is a clear statement that the church, in obedience to the tradition of the apostles, did not condone abortion. It says, "Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born" (4).
Hermeneutical Attempts to Restrict Helpful Applications of Scripture
We should not draw any truth from a text apart from the main lesson intended by the author. "It is wrong to ask a text questions that it does not seek to answer in the first place, to draw lessons from it that it is not designed to yield," says Krabbendam (5). We must suppose that he restricts the purpose of the text, as he does its meaning, to that intended by the human author.
"All scripture . . . is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). We may therefore expect to find edification even in dry genealogies, compiled in all probability without any thought to their spiritual value. Also, we may look for worthwhile teaching in the minute descriptions of the Tabernacle, though the original purpose of these descriptions was merely to assist the Levites in their religious duties.
Any message is full of information irrelevant to the main goal of communication yet helpful in drawing a detailed picture of what the author believes. For example, Paul in 1 Thess. 5:23 wants only to pronounce a benediction on his readers. He is not presenting a lesson on the nature of man. Yet his passing reference to the body, soul, and spirit create a strong presumption that he is a trichotomist. If he is, then we must follow his example, for the doctrine of inerrancy covers incidental assertions as well as primary assertions.
Applications should be limited to those indicated in the text itself. Virkler argues, "In order for our application of the text (through principlizing [sic]) to be valid, it must be firmly grounded in, and thoroughly consistent with, the author's intention" (6).
Although this rule appears reasonable, it does not stand up when tested by sermons and devotionals obviously produced with the help of the Holy Spirit. Read almost any entry in Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. While always respecting the natural meaning of Scripture in context, he draws out spiritual and practical truths which never entered the mind of the human author. The passage on the morning of May 8 is John 5:13: "He that was healed wist not who it was." From an accurate rendering of the facts in this man's story, Spurgeon develops the lesson that we must seek a greater knowledge of the Lord if we are to witness for Him effectively (7). Yet nowhere in the text do we find such a lesson explicitly stated. The purpose of the text is to provide another lesson altogether—to show us through the miraculous works of Jesus that we may believe His claim to be the Christ. Who would be so reckless, however, as to affirm that an infinite God could not have given us this text so that it might be used exactly as Spurgeon has used it?
Imagine the plight of the poor preacher who takes seriously the strictures imposed by this rule. How will he fare as he seeks year after year to develop new sermon ideas? Will his preaching remain vital and interesting, or will it dry up?
Yet eisogesis is a serious enough problem among fundamental preachers that a student preacher should be taught never to fit a text to his sermon. Rather, he should always fit his sermon to a text. As he examines the text brought to his attention by the Spirit, he must be receptive to the Spirit's illumination, showing him a message suitable to the needs of His people. The most important test of whether the message truly comes from the Spirit is whether the message is consistent with what the text actually says.
Exegesis is the paramount task of a preacher.
Scripture itself says, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). Why, in this prescription of what preaching should include, is there no mention of exegesis? Exegesis is unquestionably of great importance. Yet the proper use of exegesis is merely to clean the Sword of the Spirit down to its true meaning before it is wielded in reproof, rebuke, and exhortation. The simplicity of Scripture assures that exegesis usually does not need to be a dominant or time-consuming part of the preacher's message.
An older view
It is instructive to compare modern exegetes with the comparably well-educated but much deeper Bible student of a century ago, Andrew Jukes. Jukes said: "God's Word is His work as much as creation; and it is its infinite depth and breadth, and the diverse and manifold ends and aims of all we find in it, which make it what it is, inexhaustible. To look, therefore, on the mere surface of the Bible, is one thing; to look into it quite another; for each part may have many purposes. The very words which, in one dispensation and to one people, conveyed a literal command, to be obeyed literally, may, in another age and dispensation, supply a type of some part of God's work or purpose; while in the selfsame passage the humble believer of every age may find matter of comfort or warning, according to his need" (8).
Evil Effects of Modern Hermeneutics
- It creates dependence on a scholarly elite, a new priesthood.
- It fosters intellectual pride, as well as contempt for the preaching and writing of earnest, God-fearing men without scholarly pretensions. Some examples of this contemptuous attitude can be drawn from the works of D. A. Carson. He says of the many viewpoints among Christians, "Many local Bible teachers and preachers have never been forced to confront alternative interpretations at full strength . . . . They are unlikely to throw over received traditions. But I am not talking about such people. I am restricting myself for the sake of this discussion to the wisest, most mature, best trained, and most devout leaders of each position: why cannot they move to greater unanimity on all kinds of doctrinal fronts?" (9). In other words, all the smart people should be willing to look at Scripture through the same filter of modern hermeneutics. He says in his review of Andrew Murray's The Holiest of All, a devotional classic which has been a blessing to generations of ordinary Christians, "The book remains a collection of marvelously pious and spiritually minded gems strung out on a string of abysmal exegesis" (10). Note the disdain for simple piety, as well as for Bible study conducted without attention to technical minutiae or scholarly precedent.
- It cultivates admiration for unbelieving scholars. Carson shows us how far this admiration can go. In his book where he compares and evaluates available New Testament commentaries, the vast majority of those he recommends as the best have authors who do not subscribe to inerrancy.
- It fosters bad preaching.
- It causes sermons to be cluttered up with scholarly digressions, often of an inferior nature. We have all heard snatches like the following: "Now in the Greek this word 'bridge' literally means a structure joining two sides of a river." Thank you, indeed.
- It shackles the preacher to his books when he should be on his knees before God.
- It makes preaching dull. A preacher to the liking of a contemporary evangelical scholar is about as stimulating as a museum guide and about as effective in challenging sin as a proctor at the library.