Monday, December 28, 2009

Hermeneutics & the American Founding:

Gregg Frazer spent a great deal of time debating my co-blogger King of Ireland on Romans 13, and of late, I've taken to defending Gregg's hermeneutic, not because I believe it personally, but simply on its internally coherent logical grounds.

Gregg is, as my readers know, an evangelical/fundamentalist Christian who believes the Bible the inerrant, infallible Word of God and a literal 6-day young earth creationist.

While it's not out of the realm of possibilities that I become a self-defining/self-understanding "Christian," even an "orthodox Christian" in the future. I seriously doubt I'll ever become that kind of Christian.

The conversation, of late, I've been having with KOI centers around whether Gregg properly interprets and understands Romans 13 in terms of history and logic. From everything I've studied, according to Gregg's internal hermeneutic, he does. Perhaps one could hold to Gregg's fundamentalist premises and differ in outcome on Romans 13 absoluteness. After all, fundamentalists argue over every letter of TULIP. However, according to Gregg's theological premises, his interpretation is as sound as any other (in a later post, I'm going to explain why Gregg and John Calvin had almost identical understandings).

It's just that it leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths (mine included). It holds, while obedience to government is qualified by "rulers" not making believers affirmatively or by omission sin, submission to government is unqualified. And that includes Hitler, Stalin or whomever.

Such a fundamentalist fatalism is immune to the reductio ad absurdum. Of course, the idea that the vast majority of humanity face eternal misery for not being of God's elect is about as bad a truth as I can imagine (worse than submit to Hitler and Stalin). But again, if that's what the Bible says, that's what it says, as the hermeneutic goes.

I've thought about lately the words of the Apostles and hermeneutics. When Jehovah speaks, it's the first person in the Trinity (according to orthodox hermeneutics). When Jesus speaks, the second person. And when St. Paul in Romans, St. John in Revelation, their words are directed by the Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person in the Trinity.

Therefore, when Paul speaks in Romans, etc. this is the "Word of God," -- eternally binding -- that doesn't get explained away by "context." As Gregg wrote in an earlier post:

You must remember that Paul wrote Romans UNDER THE INSPIRATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. God knew what Nero was going to do – and inspired Paul to write to those people how they must conduct themselves not just for that day, but when the persecution came. If it was just Paul’s opinion or limited by Paul’s finite understanding, then I wouldn’t give it any more weight than my own thoughts or those of a “wise” man. But it was GOD’s Word to those people – and it wasn’t bound by time constraints because God isn’t bound by time constraints. Paul did not say: “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities until they start doing mean and nasty things.” There are no qualifiers – despite Mayhew’s penchant for adding them. So, no, Nero had not yet begun burning Christians alive or feeding them to animals or nailing them to crosses, but the God Who inspired Paul’s writing knew he was going to. [Italics mine.]

In short, when you read Paul et al. you are getting the 3rd Person in the Trinity -- an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God -- if not writing for Paul, guiding his hand making sure it says everything God wants. That's why Paul's words (and those of the other Apostles) constitute the "Word of God," just as Jesus' and Jehovah's do. In this sense, the words of Paul, St. John, are equal to Jesus' and Jehovah's. They are all "God's Word," depending on which Person in the Trinity does the speaking (or guiding).

THAT'S the hermeneutic from where Gregg comes. And if one believes in it, Gregg's conclusions per Romans 13 stand on solid ground.

However, that's not the only necessarily proper way to interpret the Bible. It could be that Paul had a finite understanding in some parts of the Bible, and in others, was just giving his opinion, which may have been wrong. If one adopts THAT hermeneutic, then Romans 13 isn't as much of a problem.

Jefferson simply disregarded everything Paul said as "corruption."

When Brad Delong first commented at Positive Liberty (after I linked to a posts of his on the matter), he wrote:

I would cut St. Paul considerable slack here. He’s trying to keep his tiny churches scattered across the Mediterranean functioning and making converts so that as many people can be saved before the imminent, really imminent coming of the Kingdom. And he wants to keep some of the Romans alive so that the church in Rome can continue to preach. And if to keep them alive he has to say that it’s God’s will that Nero reigns, and you shouldn’t interfere with God’s will, and throwing your life away on some anti-Nero gesture is interfering with God’s will… well, I can see why he would say that. And I can see how he would say “But I didn’t mean it to go so far” if we generalize from it…

Nino Scalia on the other hand… much less slack. He wants to get to the conclusion that Martin Luther King and other civil disobeyers are not just criminals but sinners. And he rushes to that conclusion so fast he forgets what this country is, or how it was founded.


Brad DeLong

Or one could, like Jefferson, argue as Pete Guither does:

First of all, Paul is a putz. He’s not a very good interpreter of Christ’s message to the people, but he’s great at organizing church dogma. Second, he’s in an occupied land sending messages that could be intercepted by the government - of course you throw in some pablum about respecting authority just to be on the safe side.

Finally, its this kind of blind obedience to text instead of to God’s message that ends up causing so much damage in this world.

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