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    Chapter 1—The Need for Hermeneutics

    So who needs hermeneutics? We all do—for at least a half-dozen reasons:HIPSA 2.9

    1. Although the words may be intelligible, the meaning of the statement may still remain unclear.

    I recently saw an auto bumper sticker that admonished, “Do It!” I comprehended the words—they were in “Plain English.” But I did not at once clearly understand their meaning (though I could guess, since we unfortunately live in the age of the double meaning!).HIPSA 3.1

    2. Some make the mistaken assumption of the synecdoche—that a part always equals the whole.

    An earnest Spirit-of-Prophecy-believing Adventist with an acute mental-health problem was urged by his uncle to seek professional therapy. He declined, citing Ellen White’s statement that Satan works through the science of psychology 1Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church 1:290-302 (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1944). (Referred to hereafter as 1T.) as sufficient deterrent to keep him from visiting any psychologist.HIPSA 3.2

    Yet the same writer also said elsewhere that “the true principles of psychology are found in the Holy Scriptures.” 2Ellen G. White, The Review and Herald, November 12, 1895, reprinted in My Life Today, 176 (Washington: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1952). Is there a hermeneutic to harmonize the two statements?HIPSA 3.3

    3. Words evolve in meaning.

    Even a prophet’s words! The King James Version was translated into the Elizabethan English of 1611. Some 350 years later, in 1955, Luther A. Weigle, Dean Emeritus of Yale University Divinity School, published a list of 857 Bible Words That Have Changed in Meaning. 3(New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1955). Today that list undoubtedly could be expanded still further.HIPSA 3.4

    As language evolves, the meaning of words moves, over a period of time, from a general to a more specific meaning. Conversation today signifies oral discourse between two or more persons. But in 1611 the word had a much broader meaning: it included one’s total life-style. When Paul wrote to a young ministerial intern at Ephesus to “be thou an example of the believers...in conversation” (1 Timothy 4:12), he was talking about a lot more than mere words!HIPSA 3.5

    Similarly, the word meat in 1611 was simply a synonym for food. Later it came to designate “flesh food” only. And more recently it has evolved to refer to one particular category of flesh—for, strictly speaking, poultry and fish are not today considered to be meat.HIPSA 3.6

    When Ellen White used the term “shut door” in 1852, she meant something altogether different than in 1844. And so it goes.HIPSA 3.7

    An adequate hermeneutic might help to sort out these problems.HIPSA 3.8

    4. Cultural factors affect meaning.

    The Bible is basically an Eastern book. In the East people show respect—even today—by removing their footwear (see Exodus 3:5 where God tells Moses to remove his sandals). However, in the West today, people show respect by removing the garment covering the opposite extremity of the human body. When the national anthem is played at the beginning of a major-league baseball game in the United States or Canada, all of the players remove their caps and place them over their hearts for the duration of the song.HIPSA 3.9

    5. Circumstances alter meaning.

    Two men in the New Testament asked virtually the identical question—and received vastly different answers! The rich young ruler asked Christ, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). He was told to sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and then follow Jesus. When the jailer at Philippi asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30), he was told simply to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.HIPSA 3.10

    A hermeneutic might help us understand the superficial discrepancy here by pointing out that the problem of the first man was one of coveting wealth, while the problem of the other (steeped in Greek philosophy) was one of belief.HIPSA 3.11

    6. A word may have different meanings—even in the same book.

    In Ellen White’s incomparable biography of Christ she speaks of the events of Resurrection morning: “Christ came forth from the tomb glorified.” 4Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, 780 (Mountain View: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940). (Referred to hereafter as DA.) Yet a scant 25 pages later she states, “The Holy Spirit was not yet fully manifested; for Christ had not yet been glorified.” 5The Desire of Ages, 805.HIPSA 4.1

    Hermeneutics might help unravel this seeming paradox by pointing out that the author meant physical appearance in the first use of the word glorified. The concept of hierarchical status dictated her later use of the word.HIPSA 4.2

    7. Lastly, a given act or a given word maybe interpreted quite differently by the same person, or by two persons who approach identical data from different perspectives.

    I was driving in New Zealand several years ago when an oncoming motorist flashed his headlights at me. I clearly recognized this as some sort of signal. But what did he mean? Was he reminding me that it was getting toward dusk, and I should turn on my headlights? Or was he warning me of a radar trap farther down the road? It was difficult to know.HIPSA 4.3

    A Los Angeles Times reporter several years ago told an after-dinner audience a story, probably apocryphal, that he heard from a Jewish rabbi. It aptly illustrates the hermeneutical problem in which two persons interpret the same data in radically different ways.HIPSA 4.4

    Pope Leo IX, who lived in the 11th century, reportedly was urged by his cardinals to rid Rome of the Jews. (Anti-Semitism is not an invention of the 20th century!)HIPSA 4.5

    “Well,” said the pope, “I can’t just do it out of hand; I’ll have to give them a test first.” So he informed the Jewish community in the Holy City that they should send a representative who would be asked three questions. If the respondent did not answer each of the questions correctly, the Jews must leave.HIPSA 4.6

    Understandably, this caused great consternation as the Jews assembled in their local synagogue. One voice spoke up, “Rabbi, you’ll have to go.” But the rabbi protested, “I’m just the rabbi of this congregation, while the pope is the head of the whole civilized world.”HIPSA 4.7

    Someone else then said, “We’ll have to send a Talmudic scholar. They’re good at reasoning.” But a scholar protested: “What do you mean? The pope has been educated by the greatest scholars of all time.”HIPSA 4.8

    In the confusion a voice spoke from the back of the room. Moishe, a tailor, declared, “I’ll go. I’ve been answering foolish questions from Christians all my life. What’s three more?”HIPSA 4.9

    It was ridiculous, absurd; but in the confusion, Moishe did indeed go. The pope explained the ground rules. Moishe Battalion nodded impatiently and said, “OK; get started.”HIPSA 4.10

    The pope pointed a single finger at Moishe. Immediately, Moishe pointed two fingers back at the pope. The pope was impressed.HIPSA 4.11

    For the second question, the pope silently raised both his arms above his head, forming a large circle. Moishe looked, then stabbed a finger toward the ground in a very determined way.HIPSA 4.12

    The pope, utterly astonished said, “You know, that’s right, too! It’s most remarkable!, But you’ve got to get the last question right, if your people are to be allowed to remain in Rome.”HIPSA 4.13

    So the pope reached under his robes and pulled out an apple. Moishe took it in at a glance, and promptly pulled out of his satchel some matzo—a flat piece of unleavened bread.HIPSA 4.14

    The pope responded, “You’re absolute right. This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. Your people may stay.”HIPSA 4.15

    As Moishe left by one door, the cardinals entered another. “Why did you let them off?” they complained. “You had a chance to get rid of these pesky, troublesome people. And you let them stay!”HIPSA 4.16

    But the pope defended himself, saying, “What could I do? It was quite a remarkable performance, really. I put out one finger, meaning that there is but one God. And he put out two, meaning that the Father and Son are as one.HIPSA 4.17

    “Then I formed a circle in the air, meaning there is unity only in heaven. And he said, by pointing to the ground, Yes, but the kingdom of God is on earth.HIPSA 4.18

    “Then I pulled out this apple, as an example of that terrible, pestilential heresy that the world is round. And he brought our a dull, flattened disc, proving that the world is flat!”HIPSA 5.1

    Meanwhile, Moishe returned to the temple, where all was in confusion. He cried, “Don’t get so excited. We’re staying.”HIPSA 5.2

    The people were incredulous: “You mean you beat the pope?”HIPSA 5.3

    “Of course,” Moishe responded. “You’ve got to know how to handle these Christians.”HIPSA 5.4

    “What happened?” they demanded to know.HIPSA 5.5

    “Well,” said Moishe, “he pointed one finger at me, meaning I’m going to poke out your right eye, So I pointed two fingers back at him, saying, I’m going to poke out both of yours.HIPSA 5.6

    “Then he made a circle with his arms, meaning, We’re going to round up every one of you Jews, and get rid of you. And I said, We’re staying right here.HIPSA 5.7

    “Then he took out his lunch, so I took out mine.”HIPSA 5.8

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