Extra-Biblical Data & Hermeneutics

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

April 25, 2017

Should data gained apart from the Bible influence our interpretation of it? Before answering that question, consider what could be implied based on a face-value interpretation of the following passages of scripture:

Genesis 1:16 – The sun and moon seem to be the largest heavenly bodies.

Genesis 1:16-18 – The moon is literally a light, rather than a reflector of light!

Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Psalms – The sun rises and sets! It is not stationary.

Psalm 93:1 – The earth does not move (rotate or orbit). It is stationary!

Psalm 104:5 – The earth rests on “foundations.”

Daniel 4:11 and 22 – The earth has an “edge” to it.

Apart from extra biblical scientific data, one might conclude that the Bible teaches that the earth is flat, has edges, has corners (Isaiah 11:12; Revelation 7:1), and that it rests upon a foundation. Indeed, I personally know several people who actually believe the earth is flat because of Bible verses like these. If we did not have scientific data to the contrary, then they would be justified in holding their “flat earth views.” However, since we do have contrary scientific data, I think their interpretation of the Bible is wack!

Similarly, I know many more Christians who believe the universe is only a few thousand years old because of their favorite interpretation of some Bible verses. I have written on this topic here and here.

Now, the church has been split on how to interpret some of these passages for centuries — long before modern-day science (see Augustine). However, now that we have scientific data demonstrating the earth is spherical in nature and that the universe is probably billions of years old, we have extra-biblical evidence (apart from the Bible) and reason to interpret those specific passages of the Bible differently than we would have otherwise. If we did not have this scientific evidence then we would not know if Augustine was on to something or not. The scientific data we have at our disposal today, however, supports Augustine’s hermeneutical interpretation of the Bible from many centuries ago.

Some might think this is unbiblical, but it seems the Bible supports the study of God’s work (science) to gain knowledge (Psalm 19:1-2). This knowledge gained via the study of God’s WORK can be vital in interpreting confusing passages of God’s WORD correctly.

Logic & Metaphysical Data

Scientific data is great, but what about logic and metaphysics; should these fields also influence our biblical hermeneutic? Science should (at times) help us infer the best interpretation of the Bible, but there are five essential components to a proper hermeneutic one must comprehend if they hope to correctly interpret the Bible. A proper hermeneutic requires a prior understanding of the following:

1- Original languages of the Bible

2- Historical/cultural settings of the Bible

3- Kinds of literature (genres and compositional devices) of the Bible

4- Presuppositions

5- Universal Principles (Truth and Logic)

The first three principles typically receive the most attention. The final two — which are arguably the most important — are often either ignored or misunderstood.

If we desire to reach logical conclusions about what the Bible teaches — which allows us to state the Bible is true —  then we must begin with the bedrock of logic. Hermeneutics (just like the scientific method, the historical method, and mathematics) assumes logic is bedrock and builds the rest of its discipline upon it. That is to say, every knowledge based field presupposes logic and uses logic. This includes the theologian attempting to correctly interpret the Bible.

What About Free Will?

With this in mind, not only should we look to scientific data to help us infer the best interpretation of specific Bible verses, we should also appeal to other logic-based arguments as well. Accordingly, we can evaluate theological issues regarding God’s sovereignty and human freedom/responsibility. For example, if we have logical reason to conclude that humanity possesses libertarian free will (LFW), then we have good reason to reject interpretations of the Bible suggesting that God causally determines ALL things.

We have data showing LFW is possessed by humanity. Consider two logic-based arguments both reaching deductive conclusions. One is a metaphysical argument and the other is actually a theological argument.

The Freethinking Argument

1- If naturalism is true, the immaterial human soul does not exist.
2- If the soul does not exist, libertarian free will does not exist.
3- If libertarian free will does not exist, rationality and knowledge do not exist.
4- Rationality and knowledge exist.
5- Therefore, libertarian free will exists.
6- Therefore, the soul exists.
7- Therefore, naturalism is false.
8- The best explanation for the existence of the soul is God.

I have defended the Freethinking Argument (FTA) at length elsewhere on this website (here, here, and here) and it has stood strong. The FTA is a metaphysical argument appealing to logic to deductively conclude two things the Bible clearly reveals: supernatural things exists (naturalism is false) and specifically the human soul exists (2 Corinthians 5:8). However, it also adds vital clarification to the debate that has been waging behind the doors of the church for centuries: Humans do possess genuine free will!

The Omni Argument 

Not only do we have extra-biblical metaphysical arguments at our disposal to help us infer the best interpretation of God’s word, we also have logical/theological arguments supporting the metaphysical arguments. Consider the Omni Argument:

1. If irresistible grace (the “I” of T.U.L.I.P.) is true, then for any person x, if God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell, then x will go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.

2. If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then for any person x, God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.

3. There is at least one person who will not go to Heaven and suffers eternally in Hell.

4. Therefore, one cannot affirm both (i) that irresistible grace is true and (ii) that God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient (a maximally great being).

5. God is a maximally great being.

6. Therefore, irresistible grace is false.

7. Therefore, divine determinism is false (God does not causally determine all things).

8. God is completely sovereign and does predestine all things (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:5,11).

9. Therefore, predestination and determinism are not to be conflated.

10. The best explanation of the data is Molinism.

The Omni Argument deductively concludes that “irresistible grace is false,” and that “God does not causally determine all things.” It follows that humans are genuinely free to resist and reject the love and grace of God, or not!

Bottom line: Logic is bedrock and provides powerful evidence. These two logical arguments provide support for one possibly correct interpretation of scripture over another. These arguments count as evidence supporting the notion that interpretations of the Bible asserting that human beings do not possess libertarian free will are not to be preferred over interpretations affirming that human beings are free and responsible creatures!

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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