Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 5, 1956

Biblical Hermeneutics (III.)

John T. Overbey, Albuquerque, N.M.

Once a document has been authenticated and its credibility has been established the next problem to be solved is its interpretation. In any field of Biblical criticism certain canon must be formulated. This is no less true in the- field of hermeneutics or Biblical interpretation. All efforts to bring about a unanimity in interpretation will be futile unless men can agree on the proper method of interpretation. It has already been pointed out that our greatest problem is not in the field of evidences — most honest people accept the authenticity and credibility of the Bible — but rather in the field of hermeneutics. If there were some way to get people to agree on the proper method of interpretation many of our problems connected with the proper understanding of the word of God would be solved — this is even true in the field of evidences.

In our two previous essays we have endeavored to show that this problem has been in existence and has perplexed the minds of the erudites from the first century to our present day; and there is no likelihood that the problem will be solved in this generation. This is no doubt largely true because of the prejudicial attitudes that permeate the minds of so many people — even in the church. Once a person's mind is prejudiced in favor of a certain teaching or practice it is most difficult to make him see a matter differently. This characteristic which is true of so many people is almost innate. Almost from birth people's parents begin to formulate in their minds certain prejudicial attitudes; and by the time one reaches maturity, these preconceived notions are so imbedded in the mind that it is next to impossible to remove them.

We have discussed two methods of Biblical interpretation that have been rejected by most Biblical exegetes, viz., The Mystic Method. better known among theologians as "Neoplatonism," and The Dogmatic Method, better known as "Scholasticism," or "Aristotelianism." Both of these methods have been rejected as "systems," but their influence still lives in the interpretation of many passages of Scripture. Both methods pre-suppose the correctness of a given contention, and then set out to prove that the presupposition is true. No exegete will follow such a course in searching for TRUTH.

The Inductive Method

Along about the close of the sixteenth century there arose in England a method of reasoning that almost revolutionized the study of the Bible and science. This method came to be known as The Inductive Method. Sir Francis Bacon is probably more responsible for the introduction of this method than any other one individual.

In 1592 at about the time when Christopher Marlowe was creating in Dr. Faustus a scholar who exchanged his soul for knowledge, young Bacon wrote his relative, Lord Burleigh: "I confess that I have as vast contemplative ends as I have moderate civil ends, for I have taken all knowledge to be my province." This bold assertion expressed Francis Bacon's lifelong creed; he was concerned with civil preferment only because a government appointment would make possible an unrestricted devotion to his titanic purpose of surveying all knowledge and reorganizing it for the benefit of mankind. This task he never did complete, but the very fragments of his immense labors have gained for him a secure position as a gigantic intellect and a pioneer in the realms of light. In philosophy it was Bacon's work more than that of any other man which carried Elizabethan thought forward into the Restoration period and beyond.

"The ideas of Bacon which emerge in all his philosophical writing reveal him to be a true pioneer of thought and a child of the new world of learning. Knowledge by authority he despised, and syllogistic reasoning he condemned as unsound. To him all science is a unit. 'The divisions of knowledge,' he wrote, 'Are like branches of a tree that meet in one stem.' The aim of knowledge is practical. The establishment of man's empire over nature depends upon knowledge, but to the acquiring of pure knowledge there are the idola mentis — fallacies — which mislead the mind. The just and methodical process which leads to sound truth must be inductive, for true knowledge is a knowledge of causes, and experience and observations must precede general truths. Syllogistic reasoning from generals to particulars is contemptible, and the reverse of sound. Bacon was concerned always more with the methods of acquiring truth than with the detailed results. Moreover, he failed to consider the function of scientific imagination or the value of the working hypothesis as a guide to investigation. Nevertheless, more than any of his contemporaries in the realm of reasoning process, he looked forward; there is in his life and his work a magnificence of attainment, a clearness of vision, and a straining toward intellectual immortality that has lifted him out of his own age and made him a contemporary of all scholars and scientists since." (THE LITERATURE OF ENGLAND, Woods, Watt & Anderson, p. 548).

In 1605 Bacon published the "Advancement of Learning," a classification and critical survey of all the existing sciences, and in 1620 he published his greatest work, the "Novum Organum," an exposition of the new experimental method of reasoning. It was in this later composition that he dealt the death blow to Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism, for in the course of the composition he sets forth and illustrates his "idola mentis — fallacies which mislead the mind." He asserts, "There are four classes of idols which beset men's minds. To those, for distinction's sake, I have assigned names, calling the first class, Idols of the Tribe; the second, Idols of the Cave: the third, Idols of the Marketplace; the fourth, Idols of the Theater." This further statement from "Novum Organum" is of particular interest just here:

"The formation of ideas and axioms by true induction is no doubt the proper remedy to be applied for the keeping off and clearing away of idols. To point them out, however, is of great use, for the doctrine of idols is to the interpretation of nature what the doctrine of the refutation of sophisms is to common logic."

By Idols of the Tribe is meant those idols which have their foundation in human nature itself, and in the tribe or race of men. Out of this "idol" grew the doctrine of Hereditary Total Depravity. By Idols of the Cave is meant the idols of the individual man. According to Bacon, "everyone has a cave or den of his own, which refracts and discolors the light of nature; owing either to his own proper and peculiar nature or to the differences of impressions, accordingly as they take place in a mind preoccupied and predisposed or in a mind indifferent and settled; or the like." An example of this "idol" is especially to be noted in the philosophy of Aristotle, "who made his natural philosophy a mere bondservant to his logic, thereby rendering it contentious and well nigh useless."

By Idols of the Marketplace is meant those idols formed by the intercourse and association of men with each other. This "idol," according to Bacon, is the most troublesome of them all, "for," says he, "men believe that their reason governs words; but it is also true that words react on the understanding; and this it is that has rendered philosophy and the sciences sophistical and inactive." Concerning Idols of the Theater, Bacon has this to say:

"There are idols which have immigrated into men's minds from the various dogmas of Philosophies, and also from wrong laws of demonstration. These I call Idols of the Theater; because in my judgment all the received systems are but so many stage-plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion. Nor is it only of the systems now in vogue, or only of the ancient sects and philosophies, that I speak; for many more plays of the same kind may yet be composed and in like artificial manner set forth; seeing that errors the most widely different have nevertheless causes for the most part alike. Neither again do I mean this only of entire systems, but also of many principles and axioms in science, which by tradition, credulity, and negligence have come to be received." (Novum Organum, Par. 44)

Many other sections could be cited from Novum Organum, but these will suffice to show that Bacon rejected the dogmatism of his and the preceding generations. The inductive reasoning which was advocated by him consisted in the collection of all the facts and particulars that could be assembled. Once all data was assembled it should be carefully studied and compared. Whatever was special and exceptional should be excluded or rejected. All negative material also should be duly considered. Not until all care and diligence had been exercised in the assimilation of these facts and particulars should one ascend to a general conclusion.

But in pursuing this process of reasoning one must not fail to include deduction, which is the process of descending from the general to the particular — from the whole to the parts included in it — which affirms that if a given general proposition be true, it follows of necessity that some other one embraced in it must also be true. The true method of arriving at facts include induction, not as opposed to deduction, but both combining in opposition to dogmatism. The process by which one determines when the church or kingdom was established involves inductive reasoning:

  1. Christ said the kingdom would come with power, (Mk. 9:1).
  2. He also said that the power would come when the Holy Spirit came, (Acts 1:8).
  3. The Holy Spirit came on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ, (Acts 2:1-4).
  4. Since the Holy Spirit came on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ, and the power was to come with the Holy Spirit; and since the kingdom was to come with the power,
  5. Therefore, we conclude that the kingdom came on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ.

Number (5) is a logical deduction that is based on inductive reasoning. Many other arguments could be adduced showing that the church or kingdom was established on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ, but such would be a work of supererogation. It will be noted that every point of induction is a Biblical fact. There is no human wisdom involved in the induction whatsoever. This method must be followed if one arrives at Biblical truth.

Since the whole Bible is founded upon facts — historical events persons and things — these facts must all be considered, both those that appear to be in harmony and those that appear to conflict; and from these the conclusion must be deduced. When all facts are assembled, that is induction; and when a conclusion is reached from these facts, that is deduction. This is the only way to arrive at a logical conclusion.

Now, in the collection of materials for Biblical induction, the following rules must always be observed: The person doing the speaking or writing; the persons addressed — their prejudices, difficulties, previous attainments and general character, whether Jews or Gentiles, believers or unbelievers; their relation to the one who is addressing them, with the main design of his address, and whole scope of the argument in which the given passage occurs.

Men differ today in their interpretation of the Bible because of the particular theology under which they were reared or tutored. When men are willing to follow the same method of Bible study that they apply to the sciences they will arrive at truth, and their interpretations will not be very far apart. When men arrive at the same interpretation, it then becomes a question of respect for the authority back of the thing commanded.

No doubt the inductive method is the proper method of Biblical interpretation; and when men appeal to Scripture to interpret Scripture they are following this method. Seek to gather all the facts that throw Scriptural light upon any given question, and then draw the conclusion from that evidence.

(Acknowledgment: The writer is indebted to Brother Homer Hailey for the outline of the material contained in these essays — J. T. O.)