Biblical Hermeneutics

Roger Thornhill

Well-known member
The most objective tool for Biblical Hermeneutics is grammar. Within this large category exists some very basic axioms that are agreed upon by most everyone.

These should form the foundation of the biblical exegesis of any text.

Arguments based on these axioms must be challenged by other axioms. Here are some things that should not be considered effective against axioms.

One's view of the “context.”
Mere statistics.
Metaphorical interpretations.
Philosophy.

My two cents.

Comments?
 

Gryllus Maior

Active member
The most objective tool for Biblical Hermeneutics is grammar. Within this large category exists some very basic axioms that are agreed upon by most everyone.

These should form the foundation of the biblical exegesis of any text.

Arguments based on these axioms must be challenged by other axioms. Here are some things that should not be considered effective against axioms.

One's view of the “context.”
Mere statistics.
Metaphorical interpretations.
Philosophy.

My two cents.

Comments?
Could you list the axioms, or at least some of them?
 

Roger Thornhill

Well-known member
Could you list the axioms, or at least some of them?

I know many linguists would object to a strong term like "axiom" and agree that one can always find disagreement amongst experts.

I would consider anaphora a grammatical axiom. Also equative predicate nominatives. Grammatical concord. Syntax. These provide structure to an exegesis

Is there disagreement even with those? Yes.

That being said, this does not put grammar at the same level as ones view of the context which is often subjective.

I am open to suggestions, and don't consider my description as iron clad.
 

Gryllus Maior

Active member
Thanks, that's helpful. I would say that I largely agree with you, with some caveats. Grammar and syntax is the "objective" base from which we begin, certainly, but even they are not always as objective as we like. Greek is a real language, and like all languages, has ambiguities and difficulties form time to time. Part of the problem with many modern exegetes is that they haven't really learned the language as a language, but see it rather as a means of decoding meaning into English primarily to help with certain exegetical and theological questions. Particularly as you get into the more advanced stages of any language, grammar and syntax can become quite thorny indeed...

And context. Context is in part determined by vocabulary selection, grammar and syntax but these things are also determined by context, in that the speaker/writer determines what he wants to say because of the context, and it is context which then clarifies our understanding of what he is attempting to communicate. I think I know what you mean by the subjective nature of context claims, in that sometimes what seem to be crystal clear statements of Scripture will be challenged because of context -- questions of "women's ordination" are rife with this sort of thing in some circles, but we see it elsewhere as well. It also helps to define what we mean by context. There is a difference between local context -- the sentence and discourse immediately preceding and following the text in question, the larger context, the more extended discourse leading up to the text, and what is sometimes called co-text, documents by the same author and other related literature. Then there is historical and cultural context, which can illumine our meaning of the implications of a text. Done properly the last should enrich our understanding and therefore our application of Scripture, but at the same time it shouldn't override the "plain sense."

We can never wholly, I think, eliminate the subjective element in interpretation. We are, after all, subjects who involve ourselves in the process, and we can't eliminate ourselves. What we can do is test and retest our interpretations against the text in order to be as objective as possible, but always with the possibility that we could revise our understanding at some point.

I think I'm okay with "axioms." I resist when people start calling it things like "the laws of hermeneutics." More like guidelines, I should say. It's as much art as science.

Anyway, just some random thoughts inspired by your comments.
 

Our Lord's God

Well-known member
The most objective tool for Biblical Hermeneutics is grammar. Within this large category exists some very basic axioms that are agreed upon by most everyone.

These should form the foundation of the biblical exegesis of any text.

Arguments based on these axioms must be challenged by other axioms. Here are some things that should not be considered effective against axioms.

One's view of the “context.”
Mere statistics.
Metaphorical interpretations.
Philosophy.

My two cents.

Comments?

It sounds like you want to treat human language as if it will always consistently follow the same rules every single time in the same manner as mathematics does.

That never seemed to be a good idea to me nor a plausible approach.
 
It sounds like you want to treat human language as if it will always consistently follow the same rules every single time in the same manner as mathematics does.

That never seemed to be a good idea to me nor a plausible approach.
Yes.. Rules are learned in your second course after introduction. Five years into to it you forget the rules. Twenty years into it you forget there were ever any rules. You learn to read the language by reading texts. Mountains of text. Hermeneutics isn't about the languages. Different topic. In Jan 1975 took my first course in Hermeneutics from Earl Radmacher. Three hour course 3,000 pages of reading and you had to teach a class on hermeneutics. I taught it in Seattle every other week. Been reading on the topic ever since. OPEN Yale has a course taught by Paul Fry on literary criticism which is free for anyone with access to the web. It is worth your time if you want to understand how texts are handled outside of biblical studies.
 
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Yes.. Rules are learned in your second course after introduction. Five years into to it you forget the rules. Twenty years into it you forget there were ever any rules. You learn to read the language by reading texts. Mountains of text. Hermeneutics isn't about the languages. Different topic. In Jan 1975 took my first course in Hermeneutics from Earl Radmacher. Three hour course 3,000 pages of reading and you had to teach a class on hermeneutics. I taught it in Seattle every other week. Been reading on the topic ever since. OPEN Yale has a course taught by Paul Fry on literary criticism which is free for anyone with access to the web. It is worth your time if you want to understand how texts are handled outside of biblical studies.
Search Hermeneutics Earl Radmacher for youtube lectures.
 

Roger Thornhill

Well-known member
It sounds like you want to treat human language as if it will always consistently follow the same rules every single time in the same manner as mathematics does.
That never seemed to be a good idea to me nor a plausible approach.

I did not argue for invariable rules for exegesis, but for a ranking of evidence.

I agree that there are multiple views of syntax and grammar. I don't agree that one can overturn grammar with a subjective "context."
 

Gryllus Maior

Active member
I did not argue for invariable rules for exegesis, but for a ranking of evidence.

I agree that there are multiple views of syntax and grammar. I don't agree that one can overturn grammar with a subjective "context."
You see, that's the issue. Why do you assume, as you seem to do, that all context is subjective?
 

Roger Thornhill

Well-known member
You see, that's the issue. Why do you assume, as you seem to do, that all context is subjective?

On CARM? 99% yes.

I do think that your contextual arguments on Hebrews 1:8 were subjective. You likely believe the context I used in my reply was subjective.

Grammatical arguments can also be subjective. I don't think my use of anaphora was, and I will continue to believe solid grammatical arguments should not be countered with ones view of "context."

That is, until someone convinces me otherwise, which is always possible.
 
Yes.. Rules are learned in your second course after introduction. Five years into to it you forget the rules. Twenty years into it you forget there were ever any rules. You learn to read the language by reading texts. Mountains of text. Hermeneutics isn't about the languages. Different topic. In Jan 1975 took my first course in Hermeneutics from Earl Radmacher. Three hour course 3,000 pages of reading and you had to teach a class on hermeneutics. I taught it in Seattle every other week. Been reading on the topic ever since. OPEN Yale has a course taught by Paul Fry on literary criticism which is free for anyone with access to the web. It is worth your time if you want to understand how texts are handled outside of biblical studies.
Fantastic response, Stirling.
 
You see, that's the issue. Why do you assume, as you seem to do, that all context is subjective?
Context frequently turns grammar and lexicography on their head. Context doesn’t need to be “subjective” (that’s such a bad word among religious moralists), but it should certainly take the whole of what is said and its general force into account. If your interpretation of a verse doesn’t take context into account, it can most certainly be rejected.
 

Our Lord's God

Well-known member
The most objective tool for Biblical Hermeneutics is grammar. Within this large category exists some very basic axioms that are agreed upon by most everyone.

These should form the foundation of the biblical exegesis of any text.

Arguments based on these axioms must be challenged by other axioms. Here are some things that should not be considered effective against axioms.

One's view of the “context.”
Mere statistics.
Metaphorical interpretations.
Philosophy.

My two cents.

Comments?

Human language doesn't exist like mathematics does and its axioms. Did you really suppose every iota of the New Testament Greek, or LXX, was written using perfect Greek grammar according to some system everyone perfectly knew and used perfectly every single time? To treat the text anything remotely like this is absurd.
 
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Gryllus Maior

Active member
Human language doesn't exist like mathematics does and its axioms. Did you really suppose every iota of the New Testament Greek, or LXX, was written using perfect Greek grammar according to some system everyone perfectly knew and used perfectly every single time? To treat the text anything remotely like this is absurd.
This is a "yes and no" sort of thing. "Perfect Greek grammar" as prescriptive, as some sort of ultimate textbook correct standard, doesn't exist. At the same time, all languages have grammatical norms to which native speakers and writers of the language conform. Otherwise, how could someone in third century BCE Alexandria write a letter to to a rug merchant in Corinth and expect to be understood? There can be a great deal of flexibility for language users, but that flexibility is always in the framework of how the language actually works. Another example are these exchanges on this forum -- you write expecting to be understood, and so do I, but we couldn't do so without conformity to the grammatical and syntactical constructions of English.
 

Our Lord's God

Well-known member
This is a "yes and no" sort of thing. "Perfect Greek grammar" as prescriptive, as some sort of ultimate textbook correct standard, doesn't exist. At the same time, all languages have grammatical norms to which native speakers and writers of the language conform. Otherwise, how could someone in third century BCE Alexandria write a letter to to a rug merchant in Corinth and expect to be understood? There can be a great deal of flexibility for language users, but that flexibility is always in the framework of how the language actually works. Another example are these exchanges on this forum -- you write expecting to be understood, and so do I, but we couldn't do so without conformity to the grammatical and syntactical constructions of English.

English speakers don't understand each other by picking apart their grammar. Are Greek speakers didn't either. Are you picking apart my grammar right now in order to understand what I am saying. What if I use a dangling participle? Are you going to insist I really meant what I didn't intend to say when it is obvious I didn't? Grammar only describes how the language speakers were expected among themselves to most properly say something. It doesn't mean they always did.
 

Gryllus Maior

Active member
English speakers don't understand each other by picking apart their grammar. Are Greek speakers didn't either. Are you picking apart my grammar right now in order to understand what I am saying. What if I use a dangling participle? Are you going to insist I really meant what I didn't intend to say when it is obvious I didn't? Grammar only describes how the language speakers were expected among themselves to most properly say something. It doesn't mean they always did.
No, of course not, because we have internalized the grammar and use it naturally. So did ancient Greek speakers. And yes, native speakers of languages can some times do unexpected things, but it's unexpected simply because there are expectations to begin.
 

Roger Thornhill

Well-known member
English speakers don't understand each other by picking apart their grammar. Are Greek speakers didn't either. Are you picking apart my grammar right now in order to understand what I am saying. What if I use a dangling participle? Are you going to insist I really meant what I didn't intend to say when it is obvious I didn't? Grammar only describes how the language speakers were expected among themselves to most properly say something. It doesn't mean they always did.

We expect that most literate persons speak grammatically most of the time.

Sometimes people make mistakes, but this should not be frequently. My OP is directed at the sorts of arguments that appeal to theology by twisting the rules of grammar. It's often only in their proof texts.

Would you at least agree that if there is a grammatical reading/rendering for a passage that the burden of proof lies with the one who argues by appealing to an ungrammatical one?

I have never seen a legitimate example of this. Can you provide one?
 

Our Lord's God

Well-known member
No, of course not, because we have internalized the grammar and use it naturally. So did ancient Greek speakers. And yes, native speakers of languages can some times do unexpected things, but it's unexpected simply because there are expectations to begin.

We expect that most literate persons speak grammatically most of the time.

Sometimes people make mistakes, but this should not be frequently. My OP is directed at the sorts of arguments that appeal to theology by twisting the rules of grammar. It's often only in their proof texts.

Would you at least agree that if there is a grammatical reading/rendering for a passage that the burden of proof lies with the one who argues by appealing to an ungrammatical one?

No. One should rather take several factors into account at the same time.

I have never seen a legitimate example of this. Can you provide one?

I don't keep a mental list but here is what comes to mind.

At Isaiah 44:6, WHOSE redeemer according to the grammar?
 
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