Answer By John Mackay
The background to this question is: Recently I ran a teachers’ conference in a large school. One teacher asked: “There are many Christians who believe in millions of years, so how do we incorporate this into our Christian schooling?” When challenged that a Christian should be more interested in what the Bible actually teaches, rather than what percentage of Christians believe about any topic, they replied rather abruptly; “Well your hermeneutics demands six literal days, but their hermeneutics doesn’t!”
Some know the word, most don’t. It was almost unknown to Christian congregations until the mid-1900’s, when its use took off, largely due to the increasing influence of old earth liberals and theistic evolutionists, who demanded a way to read Genesis in accordance with their acceptance of millions of years and evolution theory. Until the start of the 1900s most people were satisfied with taking Genesis at face value. Even gap theorists, who were putting millions of years between verses 1 & 2 of chapter 1, were stuck with a six day literal reading for the rest of Genesis.
So what is a hermeneutic?
It’s a theory or method of interpretation!
Do we need one? Do we all have one? Do we use a method to interpret? Whether you know it or not there are basic tools or methods of interpretation we unconsciously use whenever we read any document, so let’s deal with those first.
1. We assume the author wants to communicate with us.
2. We assume the author means what they say, and
3. We assume that the author is sane.
This is easy to prove. If you don’t believe the author is communicating something you won’t waste time looking for it. Any author who doesn’t mean what they say is not looking for much readership, and if you assume the author is insane then why are you reading it? Even when a message is in a different language or poetic or coded, we still use these same basic rules to find meaning.
But sometimes you can overthink yourself by looking for too many levels of meaning or more sophisticated methods of interpretation. Consider the problem of a STOP sign. When you pull up at a roadside STOP sign, it has only one meaning. You don’t need to search for a suitable hermeneutic. In every country regardless of the red colour, the spelling of STOP, or its location, the meaning is deliberately absolute so you won’t spend an hour pondering how to interpret it, or wondering why it’s at the railway crossing. The only meaning is the literal one revealed from on high by the government or courts, and enforced by the policing powers that be.
But such basics are not what is being referred to in the current context of Genesis and old earth theory where its most ardent proponents insist that taking Genesis literally i.e. as real history, is merely one “hermeneutic” amongst many. All readers, from the atheist Dawkins to the Liberal Archbishops and the fundamentalist readers know that Genesis states the world was made in six days. The hermeneutic question is does it mean what it says, or is there a hidden meaning whereby six days can convey something else, and what method could you use to show this?
This dilemma was seen clearly when one world expert tried to avoid personal commitment to the obvious. Dr James Barr, Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford University, appointed 1977. This renowned Hebrew scholar stated in a personal letter to David Watson (UK) April 23, 1984:
“So far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writers(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:.
(a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience;
(b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story;
(c) Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguished all human and animal life except for those in the ark”.
In other words: I the Professor can see that the writer/s of Genesis meant you to think that they meant six literal days, but I the academic am not admitting to believing that! Once you get to that point you have to find, invent or pretend there is a way, a method, a hermeneutic around this obstacle to the conflict with modern science’s billions of years of evolving galaxies and earth.
So let’s be blunt: The type of Hermeneutics being desired by the teacher in the challenging question we began with, was not designed to find the truth, but to avoid a meaning they do not want. Such hermeneutics can be a clever mask, designed to make people think you are academically searching for truth, when your method is actually designed to produce only the result you want – a meaning acceptable to a non-biblical culture. Don’t be surprised therefore that many Theological Colleges which take secular Government funding for students, insist on hermeneutics that avoid any reading of Scripture on the age of earth, creation or of issues like homosexuality, etc. that is likely to threaten the funding chain.
Such methods completely miss basic issues such as: what do the texts say; what did the text mean to its original author; and what meaning does it communicate to us today. Once you remove all the academic fluff they are really asking: “How many ways apart from the obvious can I read this text according to my prior theory of understanding or interpretation, which I won’t publically concede places human philosophy and/or science above scripture?”
What happens if you do this? Let’s do a quick analysis of the problem resulting from accepting a worldview that “the earth is millions of years old” and using this as your framework for understanding Genesis. Theological college students convinced that hermeneutic ‘X’ enables you to read the days in Genesis 1 as something other than literal days, get caught out by the fact that the same hermeneutic enables the word God in Genesis 1 to not mean a literal god i.e. does god mean spaceman? Such a hermeneutic has not helped give the text useful meaning, it has stripped it of meaning completely, and the Dawkins of the world laugh at the pathetic theologians who argue such nonsense.
Those who want to read the Bible that way, we recommend its time you to admit you have abandoned any pretence of searching for the truth. Your aim is to get any result which removes conflict between your pagan based world view and the meaning you are forcing on the text, so why pretend to believe the Scripture is inspired like so many of you claim?
The leaders of the Reformation would be utterly ashamed of your claims to believe in the inerrancy of scripture and accept the Sola Scriptura principle, i.e. the Bible alone. In reality you believe Sola Humanis (man alone). This is evident from your first step in understanding scripture, which is to use outside authorities such as philosophers, scientists, etc. and impose their worldviews upon scripture. Time to be honest and ask: “Is the result I get from my hermeneutic, actually what the Bible teaches?” Be brave enough to analyse your conclusion through Scripture alone.
But be warned! The results you obtain using Sola Scriptura will upset people. Stick to Scripture alone and you will insult the Big Bang scientist who believes he has more authority and truth than God’s Word does. You will offend the humanist politician who does not want to be penned in by absolute morality, and you will put off the educator who wants to teach only the ways of man, and exclude the ways of God from the classroom. Most serious of all, you will expose the theologians who pride themselves on believing the inerrancy of scripture, when they truly do not. In return he or she will usually rise up in anger and use their position of authority to attack any Christian or organisation who exposes them for the liars they actually are.
CREATION DAYS: Were the days of creation, as described in Genesis 1, real 24 hour days? Answer here.
GENESIS DAYS? Are they 2 parallel symbolic lists of 3 days of forming and 3 of filling? Answer here.
CALVIN: Why do you insist on six literal days when Calvin and others believed the world is very old? Answer here.
DAYS: The New Testament says “a day is as a thousand years” to God. Why can’t Genesis days be long times? Answer here.
SIX DAYS? Why did God create the world in six days? Surely God could have used any time he wanted? Answer here.
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