The Literal Grammatical Historical Hermeneutic and Modernity’s Voice

A guest post by Jerome Wernow.

I wonder if the literal-grammatical-cultural-historical hermeneutic used in current Evangelical exegesis is but a modernist construct arising from the fundamentalist-theological liberalism debates of the late 19th century like that of Charles Hodge’s common sense realism and Baconian inductivism. It seems to have gained traction and solidified in the early 20 century by particularly as advocated by J. Gresham Machen in the Princeton Theological Seminary debates. Here the philosophy wherein the method is structured is predicated upon a logical positivism similar to the early Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ordinary language philosophy. It is taken up by Bernard Ramm and later by Carl Henry’s propositional revelation notions.

My notion has been better clarified by my good friend R.T. Michener where he suggests that “fundamentalism and theological modernism are simply different sides of the same radical modernist coin. Both embrace the paradigms of Enlightenment empiricism and rationalism too seriously. The way I see it ( Hauerwas affirms this and I agree) is that theological liberalism tries to keep the faith by cutting out all the things that don’t fit into the empirical and/or rational modes, whereas fundamentalism tries to defend them using the tools of empiricism and rationalism to the nth degree. Both end up embracing rationalism and empiricism as the first order bases or “metaphysic” as such, upon which to build a worldview. This is what led the fundamentalist strain in evangelicalism, according to Hauerwas, to make “Sola Scriptura” equal to “Sola Text.” After pondering his clarification, I find myself in accord with his musings.

Further, I suggest mining the philosophical constructs of those who wrote grammar and hermeneutical textbooks used in Evangelical seminaries using ‘the method,’ as well as, the content of the books themselves. My counter to those who appeal to antiquity to demonstrate a golden braid free from modernity’s web is this. Could it be that the principles of the ‘the method’ found in antiquity are mere voicings of a Greco-philosophical rationalists’ strand of modernity that is critiqued by Heidegger and more properly Westphal, voicings that ‘became’ the univocity of modernity?

Now, one should not take my concord with the voices of Heidegger, Westphal, and R.T. ( he does not demean) as ultimately demeaning the method. For me, it is “one way of saying being” amidst many ways (William Desmond-Philosophy and Its Others). The method is useful and ready-in-hand as a tool to unlock one of the bolts in order to enter the ‘Doors of the Sacred ’ (to mine Moriah in Tolkien speak). It is not the only voicing needed to open that door, however. Exegesis emerges from a dynamic plurivocity where the Triune God conducts the voices from the middle (the metaxu to use William Desmond speak). He as Conductor leads to conscious emergence of exegetical significance and meaning.

Picture the plurivocity of voices in the narrative of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, Acts 8:25-39). Whatever hermeneutic was involved in the Eunuch’s ordinary language understanding would be but univocal in had he sat in his chariot alone with his text-in-hand. Other voices that are ‘saying being’ co-participated in exegetical emergence when he sought dis-closure-of-truth-in-text. It included the current community narrative of Philip, the Eunuch’s emotional emergence of spiritual consciousness in community worship, the salvation history of church universal in process, spiritual illumination by the Holy Spirit’s voicing, the voice of the angel, and perhaps others as well i.e. Candace.

Well enough, I must return to my exegetical tasks of the day – constructing the sermon…take a look and uncover my hypocrisy

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on September 23, 2010, in Hermeneutics, Philosophical Theology, Th.M. Program and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. Okay, who let Jerome in here?

    I’d love to hear what people think about Jerome’s argument. I have some thoughts (anyone surprised?), but I’d like to see where other people want to go with it first.

  2. I think the paraphrase of Hauerwas by Jerome’s friend (ending with the words “Sola Text”) could be very useful in eliminating what I see as errors of emphasis which plague the interpretations of both the evangelical-inerrancy side and the theological liberal side. Hauerwas has maybe given me a clue to approaching them both critically and productively.

    Speaking from the liberal side of the fence, there are a lot of us very sick of rational historical treatments that throw the spiritual baby out with the bathwater. Although I am sure there’s bathwater that needs dumping, and Hauerwas makes it clear that the ‘baby’ has gone out of the tub just as certainly for the evangelical method as for the liberal one.

    I’m going to try to get up a post tomorrow using the paraphrased bit to help make a point I’m trying to make this week over at my little blog (I’ll track back to you when I do).

  3. It sounds like Jerome follows prima scriptura, or his and Derrida’s plurivocity.

    • To be honest, I’m not sure I’m following his argument; what is it? That there are many voices that contribute to the interpretive process, is that what’s being communicated or argued? And further, that the LGH is just one of those voices? It almost seems that the argument relativizes to the point of really not presenting an argument for one method over/against another (e.g. yet the LGH assumes a certain ‘kind’ of history that makes it exclusive from other approaches to interpretation).

      Maybe I just need Jerome to clarify his point.

  4. I won’t try to speak for Jerome, but I would agree that it sounds like he’s arguing for a plurality of legitimate approaches to interpretation.

    I’d be interested to know why you think this hermeneutic has to be exclusive. Augustine, for example, was quite comfortable combining a historical-grammatical approach (“literal” doesn’t work with Augustine because his definition of the term is so different from the one we use today) with a spiritual-allegorical approach. The same would be true with Cyril of Alexandria and other early fathers. They didn’t see anything necessarily exclusive in the approach, though they did think it was very important.

    • Marc I agree with you on ‘literal’ ‘Augustine’ and some of the other ‘Fathers’ (e.g. even the Antiocheans and their idea on theoria — while they are championed as literalists, they aren’t LGH’rs).

      I’m thinking in terms of how ‘history’ is construed. Is it something that we can reconstruct (history of religions) and then use as the cipher for interpreting the text? Or instead should ‘history’ be understood in more of a theological sense like Barth and Torrance believed. Here’s TFT commenting on Barth’s understanding (and then TFT in his recent posth. book: Incarnation also thinks this way):

      Because Jesus Christ is the Way, as well as the Truth and the Life, theological thought is limited and bounded and directed by this historical reality in whom we meet the Truth of God. That prohibits theological thought from wandering at will across open country, from straying over history in general or from occupying itself with some other history, rather than this concrete history in the centre of all history. Thus theological thought is distinguished from every empty conceptual thought, from every science of pure possibility, and from every kind of merely formal thinking, by being mastered and determined by the special history of Jesus Christ. (Thomas F. Torrance, “Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931,” 196)

      I don’t think LGH fits with this kind of construal, at all. It thinks through apologetic concerns which does real damage to exegesis, as far as I’m concerned.

      • RE: that LGH in its current situation (or consider it to be the only “voice” even in the West)

        Couldn’t resist the post. I think you understand where I am coming from. I am a very cautious ecumenist yet open to the voices of others in the Church universal. Consider the examples of individuals of the LGH that I propose, not others including me. This discussion has caused me pause and clarify my constructions.

        About “theological-exegesis” as you have suggested has trajectory toward the God conducted choral plurivocity for which “the eternity placed in my heart longs.” Thus, as your description states and depending upon fuller articulation on ‘what-it-is:’ I say-“me voici! Viens, Viens! Oui, Oui!” – Here am I, Just, Just, Yes, Yes!

    • So to follow up, on your question of “exclusivity,” I don’t think the LGH should be exclusive; but I do think that given its certain philosophical orientation, and the matrix through which it was shaped, that it can’t (e.g. that it’s mutually exclusive) work with other models of interpretation given its unique shape; being formed in a particular milieu, and seeking to answer certain questions that aren’t necessarily appropriate or driven by the text and its “grammar.”

      I realize that even Barth and Torrance, in their own way were seeking to “respond” to modernist terms; I just think that they found the better way relative to the way the LGH went (in America). The funny thing is, Marc, is that the LGH (and you know this given our cultural setting [like Multnomah and Western]) is what I was trained in, engaged in, and even taught. I’m really reconsidering this now though. Even our friend, Ray Lubeck, with his adapted canonical critical approach — ironically — in many ways functions through the emphases and methods provided by the school of LGH.

      I will always be literary-historical-grammatical in some sense, but I think the LGH is rather strained in actually providing a christoformed mode of interpretation that gets at the “intent” of the text (cf. Jn 5.39). I think Calvin provides a good model of “theological-exegesis” (although some of his is also polemic) that penetrates the text in ways that uncover the ways that the text bears witness to Jesus.

      • Bobby-Objection:
        The matrix of E-LHG method by nature is exclusive

        I don’t think the E-LHG must be exclusive by necessity. I do think that given its orientation toward modernist common sense realism and the matrix through which it was shaped there is suspicion when called to co-operate with other models of interpretation. This is one consequence of the univocal and exclusivist *character* of modernity’s scientific meta-narrative wherein the E-LHG method was formed (see: Lyotard’s intro The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge). I am suggesting that there was character leakage of the scientific meta-narrative contaminated the E-LHG method with a similar closed-ness when faced with critique (hence the pejorative stereotype “fighting fundy”).

        If can be heard as the rational voice that is part of human psychofacticity in Viktor Frankl’s sense, then it can be harmonized with other voicings and their co-participation in hermeneutical activity. It need not be confined to singing as a one part voice due to its matrix but rather join the choir of God’s others/church universal. I suggested that the E-LHG method is primary to approaching the Door of the Sacred in the western world. It may even be universal since sense experience filtered through the bottleneck of our subjectivity is part of our essentia (Neo-Thomistically speaking). The correction within my construct when voicing the E-LGH is (1) recognition of the common sense realism character, (2) restraint from univocity, and (3) harmonization with other voices under the ‘conducting’ of God.

        Finally, my correction issues from univocal questions that disturb my waters. For instance, I wonder if the leakage of scientific exclusivism toward other ways of saying being has led to narrowing, less transcendent ways of asking and thus answering certain questions. By this I wonder if a univocal E-LHG method asks and answers in ways that aren’t necessarily appropriate or driven by the “text-grammar-historical” locus?

        Let me trot out a sacred cow for an example: the creation, intelligent design, theistic evolution or whatever you want to call it discussion. What if the *proper* inclusion of voices of ‘living symbol-mystery’ have been neglected? What if the consequence of such neglect results in the wrong question being raised and therefore the wrong answer being *bound-to-be-given* (hyphenated in the givenness of Heidegger)? What if the locus of the discussion is not found in common sense reality at all? What if the locus of the question sometimes really resides in the “who” not “how” and thus the answer resides in the mystery of worship?

      • Jerome said:

        The correction within my construct when voicing the E-LGH is (1) recognition of the common sense realism character, (2) restraint from univocity, and (3) harmonization with other voices under the ‘conducting’ of God.

        Oh, you’re an ecumenist 😉 . Seriously, I see what you’re after; but I’m not as sure that I want to salvage, so to speak, that LGH in its current situation (or consider it to be the only “voice” even in the West).

        What do you think about “theological-exegesis?” Where the loci presented by the Text are identifed and their ‘inner logic’ becomes the foci that shapes our interpretive projects. In short, The theme of Scripture becomes determinative of our exegetical decisions so that who we encounter in the text — Jesus — becomes “the voice” that imposes upon all other voices. So we aren’t imposing “our history” on Him (which christologically would be ebionite); but that the history we are confronted with in His life (including of course heilsgeschicht) sets the tone and presents the structures and contours through which we interpret out of and come to know the God disclosed in the text and revealed in Jesus.

      • I actually like the trajectory toward theological hermeneutics, but I’d hate to see it get separated from grammatical-historical considerations. That certainly was never Barth’s intent. If you read his description of hermeneutics and look at examples of his hermeneutics in action, it seems clear to me that he never abandoned the importance of understanding the meaning that the human author tried to convey in the text. The big shift in modern hermeneutics that Barth helped get going was the realization that we need to deal with more that one communicative action in the text. At the very least, we need to address the communicative agency of both the divine author and the community forming the text. So, we have three different “authors” that we have to account for in interpretation. My concern with some of the rhetoric against grammatical-historical interpretation, is that it often feels like an attempt to get rid of one of those three communicative agents (i.e. the human author). That is unwarranted (although I recognize that for some texts separating the “author” from the community is nearly impossible). We can affirm the importance of the other two without losing the significance of this one. Though the human author may have been over-emphasized in recent history, let’s not swing the pendulum too hard in the other direction.

      • Jerome,

        Here’s a post that gives a little more clarification on my rationale:

      • Marc,

        I agree with you (we don’t want a docetic schema), and I’m not for jettisoning the LGH (but for its “e” version, probably); but I want to make sure that we aren’t as the community importing our experience into the text (rather idealist, eh) as well.

        Interestingly, I’m not sure I’m all that pleased with Barth’s exegesis (like in his romerbrief). While I find it to be groundbreaking, and jolting (like a “strange new world 😉 ); it’s not necessarily representative of the kind of theological exegesis I’m thinking of. I prefer Calvin’s approach. While Barth and Calvin are in the same stream in many ways, their disparate historical situations certainly impact their exegesis in ways that I guess could be said to be idiosyncratic. In fact, I find Calvin to be more grammatically-historically driven than our friend, Barth.

  5. Jerome, you rightly point out that the obvious objection to your argument is that the grammatical-historical approach to interpretation has been around for quite some time. Some used it nearly exclusively (e.g., Theodore Mopsuestia) and others combined it with other approaches (e.g., Augustine, Cyril of Alexandrai). But, the mere fact that a historical-grammatical method existed long before the development of modernity seems to be a clear defeater for your argument.

    In anticipation of this argument, you say: “My counter to those who appeal to antiquity to demonstrate a golden braid free from modernity’s web is this. Could it be that the principles of the ‘the method’ found in antiquity are mere voicings of a Greco-philosophical rationalists’ strand of modernity that is critiqued by Heidegger and more properly Westphal, voicings that ‘became’ the univocity of modernity?”

    This response, though, is ambiguous. You seem to be saying that these ancient methods are still examples of “modernity” at work because they are voicings of the same univocity that we find in modernity. But, even if this contention is true, your argument that historical-grammatical interpretation is a consequence of modern development likes Baconian inductivism and logical positivism would fail. Instead, historical-grammatical interpretation would be the consequence of far older philosophical developments

    So, which argument are you trying to make here? Are you trying to say that this hermeneutical method is a consequence of modern (i.e. 19th century and later) philosophical developments, or are you trying to say that it’s a consequence of certain philosophical influences that have been around since the early church and have affinities with modern philosophy? Or, am I missing your argument entirely?

    • The Literal Grammatical Historical Hermeneutic: reflections on the ‘Face’ of my responder

      At first glance my ‘wonderment’ faces “the literal-grammatical-cultural-historical hermeneutic used in current Evangelical exegesis as but a modernist construct arising from the fundamentalist-theological liberalism debates of the late 19th century like that of Charles Hodge’s common sense realism.” I suggested that it issued from a modified Baconian inductivism.

      Defining contours of that face include an epistemic assumption that the human intellect correctly ‘perceives’ the outside world as an object of *sense* experience. That objective experience of the world experience the world outside is how the world actually is. There is no tainting from the subject’s interior preconceptions. The world as perceived as object is *real,* and accessible through *common* sensate experience to all. It is an approach that lauds basic propositional thought to tease out the knowing of reality.

      I used Machen, Robertonson, Hodge, Henry and will add Robert Traina, Scofield, Terry, and Zuck to the prominent list of Evangelicals who taught this approach in 20th century seminaries.

      This is the first point that I am arguing.

      Marc – Objection#1:
      The “grammatical-historical approach has been around for quite sometime…long before modernity” ergo “a clear defeater of your argument.’

      Dico (I say):
      It seems you have equivocated by: (1) dropping the term ‘literal” justifying the move by determining the term “literal” as vague so as to drop the notion (making it easier to comport) (2) comporting the sense of “historical-grammatical method” of those in antiquity like Augustine with modernity’s version of the “literal grammatical historical” method. In doing so, you have shifted the meaning of the sense of the phrase of used by E-LHG to advantage your argument in antiquity.

      First, assertion of the vagueness “literal” as was common parlance in the mid to latter part of the 20th century understood by those teaching exegesis is truly questionable. A common Evangelical textbook for interpretation of the time, Mickelson-“Interpreting the Bible, defines “literal” as the “customary meaning of a word in its context” and then uses “literal” in his methodology for exegesis (p. 33, 211). The common parlance of “literal” in *L*HG context is not vague, rather it is quite clear. I am using it as the E-LHG method proponents use it avoiding contamination as best I can of 21st Century constructs and wonder if there was such contamination in the “literary” response.

      Second, Augustine did not eschew allegorical or mystical methods in interpretation but combines methods to understand what is in the text-grammar-history (mostly Latin texts). The face of Evangelical hermeneutics is different. The E-LHG does not employ allegorical or mystical methods. My most important rejoinder if however, that my musing posits the characteristics and univocity of common sense realism as the construct wherein the LHG Evangelical hermeneutics finds its source and method. This posit was not addressed prima facie. My ‘argument’ seems to have been diverted toward appeals to antiquity instead.

      Marc – Objection#2:
      My query as to strands of the Evangelical LGH method’s of realism voiced in modernity have echoes from voices of antiquity and was (1) ambiguous, and (2) supports the fact that the source of the LHG method was voiced earlier thus my argument of of univocal Baconian/positivistic fails.

      The response of ambiguity has some merit since I gave little support for my assertion. My point is that “there is nothing new under the sun.” The Pharisees and Sadducees did and taught a ‘univocal’ style of LGH methodology. It was precisely what Jesus faced and transcended. Jesus taught of the importance jots and tittles of the Law but not the univocal reduction of it to propositional rationalization. Respect was given for the jots and tittles but only as symbols pointing to another world (a spiritual world-Beryaev/Rahner) that transcended the common sense understanding that stopped at the voice of rationation alone. I assume history repeats itself and the pendulum of extreme allegorical methods to extreme wooden literalism in response and vice versa will continue as well. Certainly, elements of LGH method have been voiced in antiquity. But the kernel of the critique of my argument is attached to “univocity.” I have situated the voicing of the 20th century Evangelical LHG (E-LGH) method within the contours of common sense realism. I don’t deny that Marc’s argument regarding the univocity or plurivocity as having *similar* characteristics along with other voices in antiquity, that they have existed or that there is a connection. I would even assert that there is. It is called dynamic tradition

      The points missed in the critique of my assertion and in most of the discussion are (1) the characteristics of the brand of E-LHG method *are* that of common sense realism, (2) the method in the milieu of modernity has an erroneous penchant toward univocity as solely *being* the means of divining truth and meaning in text through common sense alone, and (3) the method is important and valuable *when voiced in harmony* with other methods in the search for understanding. If you look at the narrative section of my first post, I am not asserting all voices but rather voices affirmed as we reflect the image of God emotionally, spiritually, communally, traditionally, mystically, as well as corporeally/rationally (common sense-wise). Herein, lays an equivocal correction to the drift toward univocity inherent in modernity’s construction of reality and that the LHG method should it forget from whence it came. For Western Seminary’s mid 70’s-80’s brand


      Is LHG method a consequence of modern philosophical developments or that it’s a consequence of certain philosophical influences that have been around since the early Church and have affinities with modern philosophy?

      This is a good question pleading for clarification. My answer attempts to avoid false alternatives as one should gather from my previous answers. So my answer is: yes to both. *As has been discussed, the ‘face’ of the 20th century E-LHG hermeneutic is prima facie a consequence of modern developments and that other similar voicings throughout ancient history have struggled to find correctives.* Although antiquity is interesting my primary arguments are not situated there. I suggest addressing the characteristics of common sense realism, the historical milieu of 19th-20th century dialogs and sources of the method (i.e. training of the pundits of the LHG method), and my assertions of univocity needing a plurivocal correction. Therein lies my argument.

      • I think it’s pretty clear that we’ve been addressing separate issues. I was responding primarily to your assertion that E-LHG is a product of modernism. My objection has been that the HG part of that equation is much older. And to establish that, I have appealed to various early exegetes (e.g., Theodore and Augustine). You contend that I have equivocated by dropping the L from that equation. That is not the case. I’m not trying to compare the HG of the early church to the LHG of modernity. I’m trying to point out that the HG in both cases is comparable. (And, I certainly would not claim that Augustine eschewed other approaches to the text; that would be absurd. I only claimed that he included a grammatical-historical approach in his toolbox.) Unless I’m missing something here, I don’t see how there’s any way to argue otherwise. It’s simply clear that early exegetes spent tremendous time on what we would consider to be historical-grammatical issues. That’s the historical point I was trying to make. Not all of E-LHG is a product of modernism. Can we agree on that point, or are there differences here as well? (By the way, I didn’t man that “literal” as used by early theologians was vague, only that “literal” as used in contemporary discussions is.)

        But, I would certainly agree that some E-LHG is a product of modernism. I have no problem with the premise that evangelical hermeneutics was influenced by empiricism, positivism, and common sense realism, creating a hermeneutical method that you described well in the second paragraph of your comment. So, we’re in agreement here. The only difference is that I’ve been trying to argue that this is a picture of contemporary exegetes using an older tool, but using it in a way that is thoroughly informed and influenced by their modern setting.

        The real issue, as you made more clear in this comment, is that of univocity. (As a side note, I think that your argument would be much more effective if you emphasized univocity more than modern philosophy from the beginning. If I had picked up from the beginning to that you were saying that univocity is the problem if which modern philosophical hermeneutics is only a contemporary example, I think this discussion would have gone in more profitable directions.) Even here, though, I would want to say that univocity is not inseparably connected to the historical-grammatical method (whether it’s inseparable from E-LHG as you discuss with Bobby is a separate issue), but only when that method is combined with certain other philosophical constructs. That is why many early exegetes are able to use this method in a non-univocal way.

        So, ultimately, it would seem that we have much to agree on. We agree that modernism affected contemporary hermeneutics. My point is that there is significant continuity as well as discontinuity, whereas your argument seems to go overboard on the discontinuity by failing to make important distinctions within the hermeneutic (for example, referring to “the literal-grammatical-cultural-historical hermeneutics” unnecessarily combines a number of elements that can be usefully distinguished in this discussion).

  6. Bobby: Mia culpa for lack of clarity due to jargon within the Leuven philosophical school. The necessity for clarification with a minimal amount of philosophical jargon seems needed for a response. That will come Sunday afternoon due to the rigors of my schedule.

    Marc: Are you suggesting that (1) Theodore Mopsuestia used the same *literal*-grammatical-historical method for exegesis as the LGH approach practiced in the 20th century (i.e. Machen-A.T.Robertson) (2) Theodore’s method or that of the Antioch School is cited, propounded, or significantly considered as an influence in 20th century Evangelical exegesis? If the latter is so and you can demonstrate it with some certitude then I accept your conclusion of defeat, if not I will come back to the dance Sunday afternoon.

    • Jerome,

      thanks. I think I understood your philosophical stuff (plurivocity, univocity and the context that defines the meaning that you are using). What I was concerned with was the idea, that you seemed to be suggesting, that LGH can be appealed to as one of many hermeneutical paradigms. If this is what you were saying, then I would want to disagree with you; which is what my points back to Marc were getting at (on ‘history’).

      I’m not answering for Marc, but, relative to your 2nd point and challenge to Marc, I don’t think he’s trying to argue for continuity between the LGH and the Antiochean school in the slightest; in fact I see him saying just the opposite.

      The way Marc sets up his question[s] to you (his last paragraph makes it sound like he’s supposing an either/or; but the way I’m reading you is that you see a both/and relative to antiquity voicings and the univocity in the modern. Even so, what’s your point? Is it in fact that you hold that there are many ways to get at the meaning of the text (from a philosophical interpretive and methodological vantage point)? If so, I’m left scratching my head — viz. because of the various and disparate philosophies that shape the multitudinous panacea of available hermeneutical options that furnish the exegetical landscape.

      • I will need to clarify since my communication seems wanting and my point missed. I am saying that LHG, as stated at the outset, is a way of saying being and an important contributor to the dialogue. I suggest it emerges categories in the ratio and that is necessary, important and is also in dire need of conceptual formation directed by the voice of the Spirit (illumination), as well the voice of community, the voice of tradition etc in order to make the symbols studied in LGH ‘living symbols’ (Rahner TI-4/Berdyaev/Thomas ST1,a1,q1-with hesitation) that become transformational in the receptive soul.

        LHG in its Evangelical construction is a tool drawn from the constructs of modernism and very different from Augustine’s approach Augustine [De Util. Cred. iii] . It serves an important purpose in our current modern context but when it becomes univocal the grand purpose for which it has being, the glorification of God by transformed lives, is lost. What remains seems to be an overly rational propositional theology that totalizes everything even encompassing God (the critique of Marion-God Without Being). Voice of the spiritual and aspects of emotion that emerge along with the rational are drowned out and risks the deep no longer calling to deep Psalm 42:7 leaving only the coldness of religion to remain.

      • Jerome,

        I agree, I do think that the LGH, given its original orientation, is rationalistic (but of course we might need to define what rationalistic means 😉 ). That’s why I think we need to present a qualified LGH wherein Christ shapes the ‘form’ we take in our exegetical projects (i.e. vs. ‘our subjective experience’ imposed upon the text). This is where I find TF Torrance’s ‘stratification of knowledge’ helpful (you can read about that here: .

        It somewhat baffles me that people will look at the project that someone like Torrance presents and not even engage it.

    • I retract my statement of tool poor and unthoughtful use of terminology.

  7. Let me respond to Jerome’s historical question first. First, I probably should have mentioned that I dropped the word “literal” from the description of the hemeneutic we’re considering on purpose. At the very least, that word is usually used far too vaguely to be of any real help here.

    Second, it seems that we’re mingling quite a few issues here that I think need to be separated for clarity: the object of hermeneutics (e.g., “meaning” of the text, intention of the A/author, etc.), the method(s) of interpretation, the level of confidence we can have in the accuracy of our interpretation, and the ultimate goal of interpretation (e.g. cognition, trasnformation, etc.). If we’re going to bundle all of this together, then obviously there are real differences, say, Augustine and Osborne. But, if we’re going to have a more meaningful discussion about hermeneutics, we should probably identify more clearly which aspect we’re discussing and what exactly the supposed differences are.

    So third, my historical point only focused on “object” and “method” in this discussion. With regard to “object,” I would say that both ancient and modern interpreters aim at understanding the meaning that the human author tried to convey to us, though most ancient interpreters saw that as only one object among many. Even Origen, usually portrayed as the worst offender against “literal” interpretation, was keen to understand the meaning as presented in the text by the human author. That was clearly an important hermeneutical aim for him and the other early exegetes, and is a point of commonality with modern hermeneutics.

    And, I would see similar commonality in method. If this is the aim of hermeneutics, both early and modern hermeneuts agree that close attention to the actual words of the text (grammar, syntax, lexical issues, etc) understood in their historical context is important. Early commentaries/homilies are replete with examples of early interpreters doing just this. Now again, they didn’t see this as the only proper method of interpretatin

    So yes, I would disagree with Jerome that historical-grammatical interpretation is a tool dawn from modernistic assumptions. It is a tool that has long been a part of the church’s hermeneutical toolkit and has almost always functioned as a vital part of valid interpretation.

    Now, none of this means that modernist philosophical assumptions have not had any impact on evangelical interpretations. There’s a difference between saying that modernist philosophy gave us the tool and saying that modernist philosophy influences the ways in which we wield the tool. But, I’ll have to save that for a later commet.

  8. Alas, dis-closure of our difference /difference further emerges. This is very instructive to those who follow the discussion of this blog. Although my construct for hermeneutical clarity is quite different from the four divisions upon which you have elaborated, I do find them inter-est-ing to engage.
    Marc’s Objection #1 Regarding your second point, the modern “aim at understanding the meaning that the human author tried to convey to us,”
    Dico: That aim emerges from “common sense realism”. More poignant, however, is the statement “though most ancient interpreters saw that (the aim of the human author) as only one object among many.” The many, especially to those who seek spiritual sense that transcends the symbol/word of the author in order to embrace the Author distinguishes himself from the voice of modernity as do the voice of many ancients as you say i.e. Origen- in extremis. My point, univocity of modernity is in contrast to plurivocity of antiquity in the voice of object(s) in your very statement.
    Marcs objection#2 As for method, “the hermeneuts” of common sense realism may have in common approaching “the actual words of the text (grammar, syntax, lexical issues, etc) understood in their historical context”
    Dico: …but they get off of the bus at that stop. Surely, the prominence of allegorical and multiplicity of senses in the method of the ancients militate against commonality with the “one” sense of LHG method of evangelical moderns, i.e. Ryrie. Those riding to the school of Alexandria bus went many stops further than the moderns, so we seem to disagree. I say seem because I do muse over the hesitating affirmation “they didn’t see this as the only proper method of interpretatin (sic)”. That is my point, the univocity of modernity with a sole method embedded within common sense realism and the plurivocity of the ancients incorporating varying voicings from literal, allegorical, multiplicity of sense etc. show dissociation between the E-LHG hermeneuts v the ancients. Are you arguing on my behalf or showing agapeic being?
    Finally, I do not view a univocal E-LHG method *as a tool* of common sense realism rather I associate it as a pressing out as accidens of the hermenuet’s philosophical substantia (Neo-Thomistic speak). By this I mean E-LHG method is actualization of its potential in their philosophical essence, common sense realism. Thus, for the univocal engaged in the method, it is no tool it is B/being. Now I seek the horizon of sweet dreams.

    • You say that the aim of understanding the the meaning the human author tried to convey in the text “emerges from ‘common sense realism.'” Seriously? Do you really want to say that early exegetes did not at all in any way seek to understand the meaning of the human author. Maybe I’m missing your point, but you seem to be suggesting exactly that by saying that this “aim” did not arise until common sense realism came on the scene. That is precisely the historical argument that I’m objecting to. You could certainly argue that this was not the sole, or even the primary, aim of the early exegetes (and we would agree on that), and you could argue that modern hermeneutics expresses this univocally because of the influence of modern philosophy (I wouldn’t necessarily disagree here), but I simply can’t see how you can say that the aim itself is a consequence of common sense realism. (Whether a hermeneutic grounded in common sense realism approach this aim in importantly different ways is a separate question.)

      On univocity/plurivocity in antiquity and modernity, I think we’re in agreement. And, that’s where I think you’re missing me. I’m not arguing that univocity is characteristic of all the early exegetes; that would be absurd. I’m simply arguing that the historical-grammatical method was characteristic of nearly all of them. They certainly did not stop there, but that was never my point. And, to the extent that this method was evidenced in the early church, that stands as an indicator of some (I think significant) strands of continuity with modern hermeneutics.

      I think your final paragraph expresses well where we are missing each other. I never said that E-LHG was a tool of common sense realism, only HG. Your focus has consistently been on a entire philosophical framework, whereas mine has been much more narrowly focused on a particular hermeneutical tool and its historical pedigree.

  9. Ah, see, Jerome, you lose me with neo-Thomism . . . I’m not a fan 😉 .

    • Neo-Thomism – has a ‘good’ way of saying being 1 Thes 5:21., try it you’ll like it 😉

      • I did try it, and I’m still trying to get the bad taste out of my mouth. 🙂 Seriously, neo-Thomism does not jive with Scripture; because it cannot unpack or articulate a God who is Trinity, in “Evangelical” ways. And if this is so, further down the stream, it cannot, then, unpack issues revolving around soteriology, anthropology; and then even hermeneutics.

      • Bobby- I am not a Neo-Thomist but appreciate what they have to offer. Your response is most inter-est-ing but not one which seems to offer an openness to other horizons. I am not sure what Neo-Thomist you ahve encountered but I think that one left you painting on a canvas that is to small. Selah.

      • Jerome,

        I’m not quite sure of the form that you refer to either, when speaking of Thomism; alas, another discussion for another time. I’m glad to hear you aren’t a neo-Thomist (whatever that might entail from your perspective), and I appreciate the stimulating discussion.

    • Objection #1 Do you really want to say that early exegetes did not at all in any way seek to understand the meaning of the human author. Maybe I’m missing your point, but you seem to be suggesting exactly that by saying that this “aim” did not arise until common sense realism came on the scene.

      Dico: You have missed my point entirely. We all live corporeally,-ancient, middle, modern, and post. The key is univocity and the modern strain of common sense realism used in E-LGH method. The ancients even when ‘doing’ intensive reading’ as part of their method (common sense) do not solely depend on this sense but rather use associative strategies, dialectic, allegory etc along with their lexical strategy (cf. O’Keefe Sanctidied Vision). The moderns are more narrow using hermeneutics as their tool. Regarding hermeneutical aim v goal, is this not a distinction without a difference? Or perhaps an artificial description of a proximate aspect or the ultimate remote telos of ‘glorification of God’ by the *reflection* of His quality through the totality of the human person adequately considered?

      Also, there seems to be a continuing avoidance of my argument prima facia, is there warrant based upon the character of common sense realism, the character of E-LHG, and the historical embeddeness of its proponents to say that the philosophy of Reid etc formed the brand of LHG method that we have?

      So I have entered your realm of church history, my weak point and your strength, come dialog in my arena.

      But I must respond later.

  10. I should also say that I’m not satisfied with viewing evangelical hermeneutics as a single entity. We’ve been referring to E-LGH as though evangelicalism can be characterized as having a singular approach to hermeneutics. That’s simply not the case. This would be an easier discussion to have if we picked some particular evangelical as a case study and engaged his/her hermeneutic. But, that’s probably a task for another discussion.

    • This has been a most instructive and valuable dialog. It truly has caused me pause to think. Unfortunately I must disengage or never finish the opus that I have been unable to complete for 24 years. My runway lights seem to be fast approaching. My wife in all her sagacity has reminded me of this. So to Bobby and Marc until a later time – pax et bonum

  11. Thanks for the dialog, Jerome. It’s been fun. Just to clarify from your last comment above, I have not been avoiding your argument prima facie. I haven’t spent much time on the main point of your argument because I’m largely in agreement with it. As I indicated in my last comment, I have no problem with your thesis that E-LHG has been significantly importantly shaped by modern philosophy in general and common sense realism in particular.

    So, instead of focusing on where we agree, I concentrated my efforts on where we (seem to) disagree. I’m still not sure that we’re on the same page when it comes to what I think are important elements of continuity with earlier hermeneutical practices. And, (with Bobby) I’m still unclear on how you can at times associate LHG with illegitimate univocity, but at other times think its an approach worth pursuing. That would seem to suggest that you do think there is a form of LHG that does not fall prey to univocity and is, therefore, worth pursuing (which is, by the way, what I’ve been trying to argue by pointing to the existence of just such an approach in the early church).

    But, thanks again for the conversation. It has certainly pushed me to consider some new options.

  12. Marc and Bobby – The discourse was most pleasurable and an excellent rupture into my self-constraints.

    I look for to a new post or two on ’embracing onto-theology’ and a second on a ‘phenomenology of conscience’ when I come up for air in a while. Until then I hope the Th.M. students also followed theisintriguing discussion if for nothing else but to see how some philosophical theology can be voiced.

  13. Here’s one more in case you’re looking for another perspective on the discussion. This one came in by email from Phil Gottschalk who teaches at Tyndale Seminary in The Netherlands.

    I’ve done some reading and teaching relative to hermeneutical method….I have relied on David K. Clark’s book, To Know and Love God, in my Foundations for Theology course where we discuss such things as the impact of PMism (Derrida et alia), Structuralism, and Wittgenstein on interpretation. My focus is more on whether we can know truth at all (I defend a chastened ideal realism, metaphysical realism, rational empiricism – Geisler’s term; correspondence theory view of truth). I agree with Norman Geisler and William Lane Craig that if we give up our ability to know truth we are left in a morass of skepticism. I don’t agree with some evangelicals who defend the idea that there is something to be gained by rejecting “Enlightenment” rationalism (by which they reject any and all forms of rationalism) and embracing PMism. There is a difference between the hubris of “Enlightenment” empiricism and saying that we do know some things certainly. (Erickson defends this view.)

    I think that if Derrida were right, we couldn’t understand him or we could interpret him in any way we liked. PM agnosticism reduces to skepticism and nonsense. (I don’t see anything new in the new PM agnosticism which makes me think I should rethink, for instance, Geisler’s deconstruction of agnosticism. See his Christian Apologetics.) Similarly I still think Wittgenstein makes a similar error. If our terms never refer to a real object and only has meaning in a language game, then we cannot communicate with each other. Everyone would be trapped in their own language game, not merely a theological one, a scientific one, etc. I still think Desmond is right in his question to Wittgenstein and company “To what does your term refer?” It’s the limit question, as with Kant: How can we deny we have no knowledge of a thing which we name? To name God implies we know something of him. To say God is a mere postulate of practical reason, as opposed to pure reason, is a dodge. He (and Wittgenstein) name God. If we can’t name him, then we really must be silent, but neither of them are. I think we can be more bold and say we do in fact know some things about God, though of course we do not know all or exhaustively.

    How can we get at the meaning of any text if we cannot know anything certainly? I’m not saying that various figures in church history haven’t used other methods of interpretation than the grammatical historical method. But, I would say that I think, for instance, that the allegorical method does violence to the plain sense of the text and I believe there is a plain sense of the text. For instance, when it says the Samaritan poured oil on the wounds of the beaten man it means he poured oil on the wounds of the beaten man, not (as allegorists say) that Jesus is the Samaritan and the oil is the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that we can recognize that a story is a parable, but still recognize real elements from fanciful interpretation. If we give up a literal grammatical interpretation we have no means to find any real meaning. Everyone’s interpretation then becomes their own choice without any other justification other than “I like it.”

    I was schooled at TEDS during the Walter Kaiser era, E.D. Hirsch Validity in Interpretation. Finding the author’s intent was what we were to strive for. I don’t see any other option that allows any sort of successful intersubjectivity (communication between persons). Of course, we never achieve a perfect understanding, but that is better than simply giving in to the idea that no one has any truth. I think Grant Osbourne’s Hermeneutical Spiral is correct here. Clark affirms something similar.

    So, forgive me, I am not really a theologian or strictly speaking a biblical studies person. I am a philosopher who is concerned with defending the possibility of knowing some true truth (to use a Francis Schaeffer term). In brief I believe good hermeneutics (learning the biblical languages and working to understand a text) leads to knowing some truths certainly.

    I can’t say I am any sort of expert on the debates between American fundamentalists and liberals. In general I think saying that liberals gave up any hope of proving religious truth claims, e.g. the resurrection of Christ, is correct, but I don’t see why proving it via rational and historical arguments is wrong or pointless. I guess I am still a Geislerite (Geislerian?).

    • In light of these discussions and just a shot across the bow as I avoid returning to work…

      I wonder if Westphal’s (“Hermeneutics as Epistemology, p. 73)” quote has some warrant when citing Jabe:

      “there will always be Rabbis and poets. And two interpretations of interpretation”

      or perhaps many ways of voicing interpretations of interpretation. This may be of course a segway (not with the result of Heselden-Segway Inc I hope,2817,2369791,00.asp ) to an epistemology discussion. ciao

  1. Pingback: Fundamentalism and theological modernism – both wrong? « Next Theology

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