Westminster Assembly

Westminster Assembly

Acts 6:4

"But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word."



1 Timothy 4:6-16

" If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." 1 Tim 4:6-16 (KJV)

"Issues in Hermeneutics" Prof. Herman C. Hanko

Monday, December 13, 2010

  I have read several articles, essays, and books on the subject of Hermeneutics, and in every single one these you will read of the importance of good, solid hermeneutics in the growth of the believer, but this article is different, this article does not deny the importance of Biblical Hermeneutics but rather it clarifies why it exist at all.  This is a section of a much larger article that can be found at http://www.prca.org/articles/issues_in_hermeneutics.html  it is rather long but well worth the read.  

The Need for Hermeneutics

From a certain point of view, the child of God needs no instruction in Hermeneutics. If Hermeneutics is the science of biblical interpretation, it follows from the very nature of Scripture itself that no formal instruction is necessary for a regenerated saint to be able to understand what God is saying in His Word. Countless saints over the centuries have read the Word of God without ever knowing the first thing about Hermeneutics, without even having heard the word. They have read Scripture, understood what God was saying to them with stark clarity, and have taken that Word into their hearts.

It is true that we teach Hermeneutics in Seminary as a required course for prospective ministers of the gospel. Students are obligated to learn the principles of biblical interpretation and to apply them to Scripture. But if they, with their acquired learning, think that by these studies they have gained an edge on God's people, they are sadly mistaken.

It has always been a principle of the Protestant Reformation over against Roman Catholicism that Scripture is easy to understand. Objectively, Scripture is perspicuous, i.e., clear and understandable by anyone who is able to read. Subjectively, the truth of the priesthood of all believers means that all God's people have the Spirit of truth in their hearts to lead them into all truth. Any child of God, therefore, is able to understand God's Word. It makes no difference what his age, education, or station in life is, he can know what the Spirit says to the church. He has no need of anyone telling him in a formal classroom setting what the principles of Hermeneutics are.

Why then talk about Hermeneutics at all? It seems redundant. And, let it be clearly stated that, in a sense, instruction in Hermeneutics is redundant. The child of God, led by the Spirit, knows, as it were instinctively, intuitively, without being able to give an account of it, what the Scriptures teach. If you should ask him what a given passage means, he will be able to tell you. If you should pursue the matter further and inquire of him how it is that he can understand the Bible, what principles of Hermeneutics he has applied to his study, he will not usually be able to tell you. The Bible is, from that point of view, like any other book. If he can read anything written in the language which he speaks, he can read the Bible. If he can understand what is being conveyed by the tongue he uses, he can understand what the Bible says. The Bible means what it says. The literal meaning of God's Word is the correct one, as we are wont to say.

All this does not mean that the Scriptures are not inexhaustible in their truth. They surely are. The perspicuity of Scripture, as we shall notice, does not mean that Scripture is shallow and devoid of content. Perspicuity is part of the wonder of the miracle of Scripture. This can be easily illustrated. One of the simplest passages of Scripture is Luke 2:7: "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." While a very little child is able to understand this passage of Scripture without difficulty, at the same time no theologian has ever been able to plumb its depths, and more books than can be counted have been written concerning this profound truth of the birth of Christ.

Why then do we study Hermeneutics?

The answer is a very limited one. All Hermeneutics really does is crystallize, systematize, and articulate principles which are intuitive to every child of God. When a child of God hears, perhaps for the first time, what the principles of Hermeneutics are, his response ought to be (and will be, if the Hermeneutics is correct), "I knew that all the time." It makes clear and brings to consciousness that which has all along been assumed. Hermeneutics has nothing new to say, no new thing to communicate, no new insights to give information to a man who has been a serious student of holy Scripture.

This is humbling -- as it ought to be. A mastery of a course in Hermeneutics does not give a man a position of superiority over God's people. It does not give him insights into Scripture which the man in the pew cannot gain on his own with careful and diligent attention to God's Word. It does not set him apart in a class by himself, as a possessor of a body of knowledge which God's saints cannot acquire without the same formal course. It does not put in his possession a key to unlock the treasure house of Scripture, which key no one else has who has not taken his postgraduate courses. If he thinks it does, he doesn't belong on the pulpit. He possesses an arrogance which makes him unfitted to be a teacher in Israel.

Every minister of the Word, even if he has gained a top grade in his course in Hermeneutics, had better listen to what God's people say when they tell him of their own understanding of God's Word. They will have something worthwhile to say, something that he can learn, something that will enrich his own understanding of what God has to reveal to the church.

This is especially true when we consider that so often the minister does his exegetical work in the ivory tower of his study and makes his work of explaining the Scriptures the object of intense intellectual activity. The people of God speak of what God's Word has meant to them in their life and calling. The Holy Spirit has sealed the truth upon their hearts in the distresses and sufferings of life. They know, know in a way which only a minister who lives with them, prays with them, suffers with them, can know. They know together, within the communion of the saints as they admonish each other, help each other along the difficult pathway of this life, and join together in praises to the God of their salvation.

    Prof. Herman Hanko was ordained and installed into office in 1955 in the Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Walker, MI.  In 1963 he accepted a call to serve in the Doon, Iowa Protestant Reformed Church. In 1965 he was appointed to serve as professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary in Grandville, MI.   He served in that capacity until his retirement in 2001.

    He continues to lecture widely both in the USA and in the United Kingdom as well as in other countries, including Singapore and the Philippines.  He is instructor of a catechism class in Walker, MI.


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