Unscientific Is Good

“The reason literature, like art, has no hard-and-fast rules, is because authors and artists confer meaning upon things as they go.”

Recently on the hermeneutics exchange, Monica Cellio (one of the bright lights, whose eyes are like lasers) asked,

Do any principles commonly used in the field of hermeneutics have any counterparts in scientific principles? Is there a corollary in hermeneutics to the requirements that science demands as far as the reproducibility of experiments, peer review of results, etc?

This is a fantastic question, not because it will lead us towards a better understanding of the Bible, but because it exposes the reason why modern academics have such a problem with understanding and teaching the Bible.

There are no such principles. This is because hermeneutics is not a science. There are no hard-and-fast rules in literature. Bible teacher James Jordan, in a recent lecture, said,

Do you read anything else by rules? When you pick up the latest mystery novel, do you say, “Well, let’s remind ourselves of the rules of hermeneutics,” or do you just plow in? Do you read the newspaper by rules? The assumption seems to be that the Bible is some kind of weird book, and that if you don’t have all these rules you’re going to misinterpret it. There’s always some helpful stuff… but the problem with reading by rules is that it reduces reading to science. We have what is called ‘the ideal of science.’ Science has to turn all art into knowledge of a certain sort, with rules. That’s not the way the Bible is written and that’s not who God is. Some rules are commonsense, designed to get you to read sanely, like “Pay attention to the context.” [1]

The reason literature, like art, has no hard-and-fast rules, is because authors and artists confer meaning upon things as they go. So I guess reading cumulatively through a book is one rule. But once you are inside the author’s or artist’s world, the work becomes uniquely self-referencing. So the Bible makes its own rules based on what has gone before. This means that what gets classed as “faithful exegesis” of the Bible’s literature is in fact a sort of scientistic tunnel vision, based on the mistaken assumption that breaking things into smaller pieces will reveal their true essence. We must treat the Bible as literature, as a book. Having eyes like lasers is only good for cutting things up into small pieces, and hermeneutics is not an autopsy. If you take a single note out of a piece of music, it loses its meaning.

Next post, I’ll have a look at a famously difficult passage which can only be understood by taking into account the “meanings” of certains things conferred upon them in earlier Scriptures, and the order in which its events take place.

[1] James Jordan’s lecture series is here. Also, details on our one day event on hermeneutics and literary structure (held in Australia), can be found here.

ART: Gold Albert Einstein by Michael Bull. Just to illustrate my point.

Share Button

3 Responses to “Unscientific Is Good”

  • jared leonard Says:

    “But once you are inside the author’s or artist’s world, the work becomes uniquely self-referencing.”

    This seems patently true of science. Once you’ve adopted the methodology (i.e., once you’re on the “inside”) then you’re good to go, as it were. It’s not that there aren’t “hard and fast” rules, rather, it’s that those rules exist, and are applied within, particular instances. Books and symphonies are not amorphous collections of their respective parts. If the Bible were just another book or song then we wouldn’t need new eyes and ears to understand it. If something is necessary for understanding to obtain, then isn’t that indicative of a hard and fast rule?

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks Jared

    Perhaps the difference is that with the Bible, and any book, the methodology isn’t revealed up front. If this is the case with say, evolution, that might be because evolution is just a story. If you believe it, you are inside the mind of fiction writers who confer meaning upon things that those things do not inherently possess.

    Also, when it comes to the Bible, there is a spiritual darkness that veils it to the minds of men, which might explain why we need new eyes and ears.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Happy to discuss further, Moriarty.