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20 November 2011

A Crash Course In Hermeneutics - Explicit Content!

Today we move on to Great Rule-of-Thumb number three. This one's a bit more of a hard-and-fast rule than the others. It's led to some of the most well-known differences of opinion in Christian theological circles, like the question of whether a person can come to Christ of his own will or if he must be specifically drawn by the Holy Spirit, the dispute over eternal security of the believer, etc. (Most of the time I believe this happens because people grab onto what someone has taught them rather than learning from their own careful study of Scripture.)

With that in mind, I'll be using a much less-controversial illustration of the use of this "rule" than did R. C. Sproul in his book Knowing Scripture, from which these 11 principles were taken.

Rule #3 - Interpret the implicit by the explicit

Merriam-Webster.com defines implicit this way: "capable of being understood from something else though unexpressed." Explicit is defined like this: "fully revealed or expressed without vagueness, implication, or ambiguity : leaving no question as to meaning or intent."

Therefore implicit = not directly stated in Scripture but strongly (or mildly) suggested. Explicit = specifically and clearly stated in Scripture. This rule says that when the Bible seems to imply something that goes against something else that is clearly stated, we go with what Scripture clearly states.

This rule obviously makes a lot of sense. We can get some crazy ideas from any piece of literature if we try to read things into it rather than read what it plainly says. That's very true for the Bible, as well.

For starters, there are a couple of Christmas implications in the Bible -- ones that have been thoroughly debunked many times. Tradition says that there were three wise men who visited baby Jesus. Further tradition puts them at the manger. Neither is stated in the Bible (and to tell the truth, neither is really implied, and that's why I'm not using these for illustrations). There were three gifts given to Jesus by the magi, and the same verse states that the wise men visited Jesus at His house, not the inn where He was born.

So here's Rule #3's official illustration from Scripture. It's an easy one. In Galatians 4:13-14 Paul makes a statement which some say implies that Jesus was an angel: "but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself." (NASB)

If we had only that verse to read between the lines to determine Jesus' origin, it might be possible to suppose that He was an angel. However, it's easy to establish that this weak implication is incorrect.

Colossians 3:9 (NLT): "For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body."

John 1:1, 14 (NLT): "In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God... So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son."

John 10:30 (NLT): "The Father and I are one."

All three of the passages immediately above make it clear without doubt that Jesus was not an angel; not a created being. They clearly and explicitly state that Jesus was God in human form, shattering any implication that might otherwise be drawn from Paul's thanks to the church at Galatia.

If this rule is applied without grace for other believers when studying deeper theological issues, it can lead to some serious disagreements and even nasty arguments. This is, for example, the basic reason we have two groups that serve the same God but are opposed to one another (or one another's teaching), sometimes angrily so: Calvinism and Arminianism.

As I stated in previous posts, your Bible study should always be accompanied by prayer and by expectation that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes and your heart. It should never be done to try to make the Word "prove" what you already want to believe, and it should never be used as a club to beat someone else over the head.

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