Hidden Hermeneutics

We always have spirited discussions in our Tuesday morning lectionary study group, but today’s got a little more spirited than usual.  Part of it had to do with our tendencies to use unstated hermeneutics with roots deep in our separate traditions to pronounce interpretations that are not easily supported by the text itself.  The text, of course, was Matthew 16.13-20, Matthew’s version of Peter’s confession.

It wasn’t simply that we all read it from a post-resurrection point of view, but that we read into it meanings that are not all that present.  Consider my friend Randy who seemed to read “…Messiah, the Son of the living God” as the same thing as “Lord and Savior” as that phrase is used in contemporary language to mean the totality of the doctrine of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus as the unique, one and only way to salvation.  I have no objection to that interpretation as long as the pathway to arriving at it is made clear, but for my friend that pathway was so thoroughly integrated into his theology that our demands that he articulate it just led to irritated confusion.  Not that we were picking on Randy, we all do the same thing all the time.

We went on to talk about what it means to have the authority to bind or loose.  Most of us, me included, jumped at the assumption that we were talking about forgiving or not forgiving sins.  But Bob objected.  Nothing in the text supports that interpretation.  One has to conflate it with John 19.20-23 to come up with that. In so doing it is wise to remember that in John the authority to forgive or retain sins is not given to Peter, but to the eleven after the resurrection. More than likely, said Bob, it has to do with the authority to permit or prohibit behaviors, ways of worship, or teachings, which is an interpretation that Ray Brown also recommends.  That not only makes more sense, but it is also supported by the text itself. 

These are cautionary matters that we must keep in mind not only when preaching but even more when teaching.  We must guard against the hidden hermeneutic.  In fact we need to dump that word altogether, and use ordinary words to explain to those we are instructing exactly how it is that the traditions of our particular denominations and our own individual study have led us to the interpretation we offer. 

5 thoughts on “Hidden Hermeneutics”

  1. You skipped over the long tradition of using this passage to support the practice of excommunication, which gave the church, usually the bishop or priest, the enormous power to regulate behavior, which would be supported both by Bob\’s interpretation or by the Roman Church\’s.

  2. ….and a wonderful discussion it must have been! Difficult, perhaps nearly impossible, to separate our definition of scripture, denomination, daily living itself, from that which we have experienced in a life long environment.When we don\’t have the occasion to explain our belief or our behavioral patterns, it is just easy to assume that our way IS the way, IS the correct understanding – we don\’t have to explain it – we just believe it:) Oops and we can put it all under our own \”leap of faith\” or \”that\’s what we\’ve been taught since childhood\” and go on in the same, perhaps true, perhaps false ways. How blessed we are when we can been called to \”explain\” or verify that on which we stand – blessed that is when we take the opportunity amidst patient listeners and friends.

  3. I don\’t think the passages are primarily about forgiveness or about forbidding or allowing certain behaviors or practices, although I can see how people can interpret it this way.After reading your post, CP, I had to go look up how the Bible uses the word bind, or binding. My two favorite OT Scriptures about binding God\’s laws on your heart and about the Messiah binding up the wounds of the brokenhearted don\’t seem to apply, of course. But Matthew 12:24-30, Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18, Mark 3:27 and Mark 16:15-18 all seem to indicate that binding and loosing has to do with using the authority Jesus has given believers in His name to bind the works of the devil on Earth and loose those the devil has bound. \”… Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven …\”That\’s what I think they mean, at any rate.

  4. Firefly,Now that\’s what we would call pretty good exegesis using a hermeneutic consistent with conservative evangelicalism. In other words, I can argue with your conclusion, but you have made your pathway to it very clear and easily understood.CP

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