Hermeneutics and the Heart

November 01, 2018

by David E. Briones

I teach biblical hermeneutics—how to study the Bible—at Reformation Bible College. I enjoy teaching all of the subjects assigned to me, but hermeneutics is certainly one of my favorites. I especially enjoy the first couple of class sessions. We spend significant time thinking about what constitutes a good and faithful hermeneutical method—a good, explicitly Christian way of interpreting Scripture. To set the context for that discussion, I read a quote to the class that comes from Augustine’s On Christian Teaching: “So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them.”

This quote challenges every interpreter of Scripture—professor and student alike—not only to know the text but also (and especially) to live out the text. Putting the text into practice is absolutely essential to knowing Scripture truly. A person successfully attains knowledge of God when he embodies the life of Christ to others. What impresses me most as a professor is not when a student knows the right interpretation of a text but when he lives rightly in response to the right interpretation of a text. It is impressive when a student, by his understanding of Scripture, can “build up this double love of God and neighbor.” It helps me, as a professor, to do the same.

We may find ourselves treasuring the theology in the text at the expense of treasuring Christ himself.

Augustine’s quote is also convicting. We—professor and student alike—may have the kind of “understanding” mentioned. We may find ourselves treasuring the theology in the text at the expense of treasuring Christ himself (John 5:39), craving theological debate rather than intimate fellowship (1 Tim. 1:3–4, 6–7), and challenging the honor of others rather than outdoing one another in honor (Rom. 12:10). All too often, this sort of ignorant understanding manifests itself on the campuses of so many Bible colleges and seminaries—the places, ironically enough, where people are being equipped with an understanding of the Scriptures that, when rightly employed, generates a double love of God and neighbor in oneself and others.

If we’re honest, our hearts are inclined toward this sinful, even paradoxical, disposition—to know but not to know truly. Professors can teach and relate to students in a way that reeks of cold intellectualism. Students can happily exist within their misguided zeal and not even know it. And Christians in general can, strangely enough, profess to love the Bible but fail to love the God of the Bible or his people. Recognizing this proclivity in my own heart makes me thankful for the gospel of Jesus Christ, who perfectly fulfilled the law, which depends on the commandments to love God and neighbor (Matt. 22:36–40). It makes me thankful for the church’s union with Jesus, where what is his is ours by faith alone. This means we can receive Christ as a gift, as all of his accomplishments become ours by faith. And only after receiving Christ as a gift can we, as Martin Luther insisted, receive Christ as an example. We can look to the one who lowered himself for the sake of others, out of love for God and neighbor, and, by the Spirit, find the strength to do the same.

. . . continue reading at Tabletalk.

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