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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cults, Hermeneutics, Apologetics, and Philosophizing

dakebibleDr. 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 last June (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.

DakeNow, 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.  These 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 these aversions to the appeal of Scripture’s sufficiency as a stand alone authority that concerns me about the entire classic apologetic enterprise. 

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15 Comments:

Blogger Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

I come from an area of the country in which this idea the God has a physical body is common, though from a different theological perspective. The only way to answer such ideas is from the context of the passages and the context of Scripture as a whole. Trying to resolve them through abstract hermeneutical principles will not work and will just cause them to roll their eyes and ignore you.

1:06 PM, March 23, 2012  
Blogger Jet said...

Language and writing is not a human invention; at least not the ability to speak and write and communicate.

For what its worth this is a belief that squares with the nativists view that our ability to acquire language is innate and develops through a process called maturation much like the attainment of full functional capacity by a cell, a tissue, or an organ.

As I understand it this is at antipodes with the interactionists views which hold that language aquisition is a direct result of interaction with the environment mainly with the culture.

3:17 PM, March 23, 2012  
Blogger eklektos said...

Dr. Howe's complaint sounds just like the Roman Catholics, he has simply replaced the magisterium with philosophy. I prefer the Spirit and workmanlike study.

5:22 AM, March 24, 2012  
Blogger Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Love your Blog, Fred.

Years ago, on the Dr. Charles Stanely Open Forum, a similar subject surfaced, however, it was concerning being fluent in Greek and Hebrew. The poster claimed knowing the original languages was paramount in having a right understanding of Scripture. I found this article on the Internet, which was very interesting, and it kind of ties into what you are talking about here. I just thought it was interesting enough to pass along.

Was John Bunyan qualified to preach?

John Bunyan had more knowledge of the Word of God in his little finger tip than all the Hebrew and Greek scholars of all the ages combined, as is easily demonstrated historically, and yet John Bunyan knew not a jot or tittle of Hebrew, nor an iota or a kappa of Greek.

The supposition that one must understand Greek and Hebrew to understand the Scriptures is an ignorant and unregenerate supposition of the highest order. It reveals a fundamental ignorance of how God both transmits and reveals his Word.

It takes the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit to correctly understand the Scriptures, not a knowledge of Hebrew or Greek. As Tozer correctly stated, in order to understand a bibical text it in fact takes an act of the Holy Spirit EQUAL to the act which inspired the text in the first place.

And all who are truly regenerate know exactly what Tozer meant by that, and all who are truly regenerate have EXPERIENCED exactly that, and he who hasn't experienced exactly that is deluding himself if he thinks he's regenerate.


As one who is totally at home in the biblical languages, including Hebrew and Greek, and then some, I concur with John Owen, who also knew more Hebrew and Greek than all the "experts" today who can't even pronounce Greek properly, let alone speak it, and who thus, when asked by King Charles why such a learned man as himself went to "hear a tinker prate", referring to John Owen's habit of going to hear John Bunyan preach whenever able, Owen replied, "May it please your majesty, could I possess the tinker's abilities for preaching, I would willingly relinquish all my learning." Because Owen knew that revelation doesn't come through Hebrew and Greek, but through the Holy Ghost in POWER. END OF ARTICLE.

As A.W. Tozer so aptly wrote in his book “Why People Find the Bible Difficult, “To believe rightly is as much a miracle as was the coming forth of dead Lazarus at the command of Christ. The Bible is a supernatural book and can be understood only by supernatural aid.”

Mary

Sorry I didn't get the author's name.

8:26 AM, March 24, 2012  
Blogger Eric Gustafson said...

I'd just like to point out that you used the law of identity and the law of excluded middle (both from Aristotle) to say that you "don't need to run to Aristotelian logic first to give [you] a filter to read [your] Bible."

12:02 PM, March 26, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Eric,
Like I noted in a previous article,
http://hipandthigh.blogspot.com/2012/03/questioning-classic-apologetics.html

Aristotle didn't invent the laws of logic, he merely was able to systematize them. They transcend humanity because they already exist in the mind of God. Hence, when I read Scripture, because God's exists, the laws of logic are presupposed as a given.

4:06 PM, March 26, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

That is precisely the point Fred.

6:56 AM, March 27, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

No, it's not precisely the point. Because you would say I needed to establish the validity of Scripture FIRST before I can use it as an authoritative source when engaging unbelievers.

In the instance of this post, rules of hermeneutics must be agreed upon first between the believer and unbeliever (pseudo-Christian cultist), generally the Greek laws of logic are the standard, and only after that establishment, then I can reason with the pseudo-Christian unbeliever from the Bible.

I say I can by-pass all of the hermeneutical rule stuff and go right to the Bible. It is the only way I have engaged all forms of pseudo-Christian cults, particularly the Mormons.

7:07 AM, March 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter said...

In the two best ways I was a witness to people, I didn't reason with them at all. In once instance I emphatically defended a student of mine, and he thought I was fired because of it. Two years later, he saw me coming out of a church one Sunday evening and asked if I went to church there...

The other instance was with a family member who had allowed some terrible things to be done to me apparently thinking that could extend her life. I ignored that. At her death bed, I was praying aloud for her, when I found myself asking the Father to forgive her anything she may or may not have done to me: "lay nothing to her charge." What followed was "I don't know if I am saved," and then the sweetest words I have heard in my life: "What do I do?"

History has proven this to be the most effective means of bringing others to Christ: laying down everything you have for another and being a living witness.

Not logic nor reasoning nor disputation, but giving everything up that is dear to you, even your wise intellect. And this can only be done by the Holy Spirit. I can't do it. But God can.

8:13 PM, March 27, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

"Generally the Greek laws of logic are the standard"? First, they are the "Greek" laws of logic. Greeks systematized and codified them, but as you've already said, they transcend humanity, and one cannot even make a coherent statement without using them. So I think they are a little more than a "general" standard.

You say you can "by-pass all of the hermeneutical rule stuff," but isn't that precisely what the cultist you're talking with is doing? You're saying their hermeneutic is wrong, and your hermeneutic is right. So not only are you using the laws of logic to make such a statement, you are also relying on a specific hermeneutic in your argument.

As Dr. Howe has said, all this "I only rely on the Bible alone" stuff sounds very pious, but it is in fact untenable and at times, dare I say, dangerous.

8:46 AM, March 28, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

BTW, my above post should say, "First, they are *NOT* the "Greek" laws of logic.

6:00 AM, March 29, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

"Generally the Greek laws of logic are the standard"? First, they are the "Greek" laws of logic. Greeks systematized and codified them, but as you've already said, they transcend humanity, and one cannot even make a coherent statement without using them. So I think they are a little more than a "general" standard.

It's better to say they are the Greek interpretation of logic. My point is that Aristotle is not the unquestioned standard for "laws of logic," because even the biblical authors deviated from his Greek interpretation. As you and I have already discussed, the biblical authors appeal unquestioningly to God and the Word of God as the starting point of all knowledge without first "proving" it as a reliable source of authority. You may disagree with that, but any time a prophet says "Thus saith the LORD" or Jesus says, "It is written" they are "question begging" according to Aristotle.

You say you can "by-pass all of the hermeneutical rule stuff," but isn't that precisely what the cultist you're talking with is doing?

No. The cultist has a sinful view of God that he is trying to "prove" from scripture, and in that process, he violates his God given understanding of basic communication. Like I stated in the article, if a cultist tells me Jesus never claimed deity, we can look at the cultist's pet passage and place it in the greater context of what ALL of God's Word reveals about Jesus to demonstrate he is wrong. The concept of "context" is intrinsic to a creature made in God's image, thus the cultist is suppressing that truth in unrighteousness. It doesn't have to be "proven" to him.

As Dr. Howe has said, all this "I only rely on the Bible alone" stuff sounds very pious, but it is in fact untenable and at times, dare I say, dangerous.

You guys may want to believe this, but as I state in my post, I can prove what I am saying.

8:38 AM, March 29, 2012  
Blogger Sir Aaron said...

So you can't refute heretical doctrine taken by stringing together random passages from the Bible unless you first use an outside source to shape our hermeneutics?

That, in and of itself, is heresy.

2:20 PM, March 29, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

Fred, how did the biblical authors deviate from Aristotle's "Greek interpretation" of the laws of logic?

The biblical authors did not, nor could they, "appeal unquestioningly to God and the Word of God as the starting point of all knowledge..." As we've said numerous times now, if nothing else, the laws of logic would be known intuitively prior to knowing anything from the Bible. Moreover, were not the majority of the biblical authors, and even Jesus Himself, confirmed via signs and miracles? That's what the Bible says at least.

You said the cultist violates his "God given understanding of basic communication." But you just said prior to that the biblical authors, and by implication the rest of us, should unquestioningly appeal to God and the Word of God as the beginning of all knowledge. Are you now saying we have an understanding of basic communication prior to understanding the Word of God? Which is it? It doesn't seem like you can have it both ways.

Sir Aaron, the "outside source" that shapes our hermeneutics is simply called reality, or as Fred put it, it's our "God given understanding of basic communication." More specifically it starts with the laws of logic that are intuitively know via reality and that Fred has described as "transcend[ing] humanity" and "presupposed as a given." It can't be the case that "hermeneutics starts with the Bible" is not the same as "hermeneutics starts outside the Bible" unless it were the case that the laws of logic were in place first.

8:22 AM, March 31, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Fred, how did the biblical authors deviate from Aristotle's "Greek interpretation" of the laws of logic?

A few things.

First, they couldn't "deviate " from Aristotle's interpretation, because they probably had no clue who Aristotle was, particularly OT writers. Maybe Paul did being a Jew who was from Tarsus.

Second. Attributing the right understanding of logic to Aristotle presupposes he got it right to begin with. But who says Aristotle is correct on all of his points?

Third, Aristotle is noted for three "proofs" attributed to him, Law of Identity, Law of Non-Contradiction, and Law of Excluded Middle. There isn't anything particularly special about Aristotle articulating those "laws." He just happened to do it. Those principles existed before Aristotle articulated and I believe, because mankind is created in the image of God, all men intrinsically utilize them.

Fourth, as James Anderson points out http://www.proginosko.com/docs/The_Lord_of_Non-Contradiction.pdf, philosophers have challenged them. They may be goofy for their challenges (suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness), but those laws aren't certain because of Aristotle, and later Aquinas's utilization of them.

The biblical authors did not, nor could they, "appeal unquestioningly to God and the Word of God as the starting point of all knowledge..."

Are you saying the biblical authors DID NOT appeal unquestioningly to God as the starting point of all knowledge? That they argued from evidence to the probability of God and proceeded from there as is the typical approach to classic apologetic evangelization? That they never presented to their audiences a most certain confidence that they are denying their creator with their rebellion? Even though Jesus and the Apostles frequently wrote, "As it is written"?

As we've said numerous times now, if nothing else, the laws of logic would be known intuitively prior to knowing anything from the Bible.

I don't understand this objection, because I agree with you. The fact that men are logical because they are created in the image of God preceded Aristotle.

Moreover, were not the majority of the biblical authors, and even Jesus Himself, confirmed via signs and miracles? That's what the Bible says at least.

The Bible says? Are you saying you "know" about signs and miracles because of evidence or because of the testimony of Scripture?
BTW, the signs and miracles were performed primarily before God's people. Exceptions being the Egyptians during the days of Moses, the pagans during the time of Elijah, and Jesus, whom the Romans and other gentiles would have witnessed. Our belief in miracles now are only through the testimony of Scripture. IOW, we have to take the Bible's word for it. Unless you are advocating for charismatic theology.

Are you now saying we have an understanding of basic communication prior to understanding the Word of God? Which is it? It doesn't seem like you can have it both ways.

I'm not asking for both ways. Men were created by their creator to communicate. Meaning that they can understand rules of grammar, like context, when they communicate. I can go to the Bible, (and I've done this), and explain to a cultist who is ignoring context and show him how he is wrong. I did not have to begin with Bernard Ramm's classic book on hermeneutics before I showed him his error and he understood what I was saying.

10:04 AM, April 02, 2012  

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