Robert A. Herrmann, Ph.D. 21 Aug. 2005. Last revised 26 JAN 2016.
In theology, there are theories of how words should be interpreted. Although I attempt to avoid technical terms whenever possible, this is the subject area of the discipline many call Biblical hermeneutics. When rules are presented for what are claimed to be the correct approach, the human traditional approach to interpretation, I don't recall in such a list of principles the only method that should be used that will assure one that the interpretation is correct. I place this at the top of my list. I am not certain that a translation is certain unless I apply 1 John 2:27. When this occurs and the translation is verified, I am very emphatic when an interpretation is employed. I attempt not to use qualifying terms like, "might be, could be, possibly, etc."
Obviously, certain words used in a Biblical language as well as most other languages can have distinct meanings. However, it is now known that the meanings of Biblical terms are the same as commonly understood when first transcribed. There are further traditional methods that allow one to select an appropriate meaning for an interpretation. A basic method stems from the laws of linguistics. A major one is the Law of Reciprocation.
Every thought symbol, the moment that it is placed in connection with others, both influences the meaning of its neighbor and is itself modified by them.
This obvious rule describes the fact that the meaning of word is often contextually driven. As far as the immediate context is concerned, there are various forms called figures of speech. They have various names, but the most important aspect is to recognize that passages are figures of speak and, thus, some of the words tend to loss their strict (i.e. common) meanings. For these passages, interpretations can vary and, indeed, there are controversies as to whether the passages are indeed figures of speech.
The interpretations I use depends upon the historical common understanding. This method is coupled with other rules such as consistency and figure of speech determination. I use the Concordance Method and other sources, where a fixed meaning for a word is consistency assigned. Using the most ancient extant manuscripts and semantical analysis (i.e. etymology), a word is assigned a meaning that I consider as "close" to the common meaning as would be understood at the time the word was originally transcribed and presented to a particular audience. Then if slight alterations appear to be necessary, the various contextual nuances are determined without application of any doctrinal requirements.
Historically, the major example for the notion of the figure of speech is the Bible. I use this same approach for the figure of speech. Of significance to much creationary science interpretation is the notion of the shadow and as much later stated by Paul the enigma. This word is employed in Paul's famous admission that he and all of us are "seeing through a glass darkly" (1 Cor. 3:12). That is, we have only partial knowledge about many things relative to the Scriptures. The actual Greek term that appears in the oldest extant manuscripts is ai'nigma, meaning a perplexing, baffling or seeming incomprehensible group of statements relative to a matter and even an absurdity. Throughout Scriptures these point to our present day notion that an event occurs or will occur "some-how-or-other." But, we have not yet been given the concepts and terminology that gives more complete knowledge as to the methods or concepts employed to achieve a result.
Paul assures us that we will be given more complete knowledge about the matter being described once we are "glorified." His remarks are rationally justified by the GGU-model's "our lack of knowledge" prediction.
Consider that during early Old Testament times, God's attributes were greatly differentiated from those of the human being. I have no doubt that it was not necessary that the early Hebrews understand the concept of the "infinite." Their notion of "for ever and ever" refers to a collection of finite time periods associated with the physical world. It was much later that they might have been exposed to the Plato notion of an unbound time, an idea that Aristotle replaced with the increasing finite time notion.
God is an invisible Spirit entity. But, in Old Testament times "The term spirit is never used for that higher quality of man that distinguishes him from the beasts." The Spirit associated with man is expressly called the Spirit of God and can "come mightily upon a man, . . . cloth him . . . descend upon him . . . all of which indicates the powerful operation of God upon man, enabling him to perform some ecstatic, supernatural deed, . . . . (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. III, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. 1971, p. 691.)
The New Testament improves this human spirit concept although there are those that attempt, for doctrinal purposes, to weaken this concept. The human sprit still retains all of its Old Testament qualities in that God "works through it" but it also has the property of being an immaterial entity given to God's originally created humans and their descendants and is the means that He and even other spirit entities interact with the human being. This spirit becomes strongly associated with God's Spirit when an individual "acquires" the Holy Spirit. "The spirit itself is testifying together with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:17) (Concordant Version) This is particularly emphasized by Paul relative to the influences God and other spirit entities have upon our "minds." They communicate via an associated immaterial aspect of human thought.
Paul states a "law" that "evil is present within" (ROM. 7:21) even when he tries to "do good" and that the "god of this world," in some manner, tries to control human behavior. He writes (underlines added) "the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not" (2 Cord. 4:4). He also states, "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (ROM. 8:7). Paul sees that this "law" is warring against the law of his mind and "bringing me into captivity to the law of sin" (ROM. 7:23). Further, an individual can be "vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind" (Col. 2:18). As to what is the "law of his mind," he states, "So that with the mind, I serve the law of God" (ROM. 7:25). Paul also states that indwelled Christians have the "mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). "And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom 8:27). "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2).
In Hebrews, quoting from the Old Testament, we find that for God's laws "in their minds I will write them" (Heb. 10:16). Paul makes it very clear what type of influence he considers paramount, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Php. 2:5). Experience and Paul's observations clearly imply that the war between "good and evil" is within the mind of each individual. When one has knowledge of what constitutes these two categories, then mostly mental arguments lead an individual to choice one behavior over another.
Then there is the "shadow." This is a vague representation for something unseen or a future reality. Then there is the important type of figure of speech a type of "association." These are statements that are not to be taken literally but give "relations" between events or matters were such "relations" are applied more to literal events or matters.
An alteration in a strict meaning is also indicated when such a meaning conflicts rationally with previous or the surrounding material or when there is a preponderance of evidence that strictness is not the intent. Most probably the audience to whom Genesis was first addressed, did not observe any events that in any manner correspond to a walking serpent speaking to an individual. When first presented it is an "absurd" description as to how Adam and Eve attain the knowledge of evil. Relative to the experiences of the audience, this can just as easily be interpreted as meaning that by some unknown means the Adversary influenced Eve to seek, via her personal choice, knowledge of what the term evil constitutes. The Scriptures imply that this knowledge was, indeed, available to her. Adam followed suit. It took 1450 years of conceptual development before God determined that the time had come that individuals should be presented with the actual method He employs for this purpose.
When it is rather obvious or when these methods fail, I consider the verse to be poetic. The Bible is a very unique document. For this reason, I reject assigning meanings based upon any comparison with other literature within this some specific category. I do not accept alterations in a strict meaning as certain unless I apply 1 John 2:27.
Many, many times we are reminded that all that God Biblically states is "true." He does not lie. For example, Pls. 31:5; 33:4; 33:41; 86:15; 89:14; 100:5; 117:21; 146:6. Isa. 65:161, Da. 4:37, and especially, Nu. 23:19 "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind." Relative to all that is written in the Bible, the word "true" corresponds to the meanings of the words stated. Relative to the physical world, usually, what is "true" corresponds, at the least, to what the vast, vast majority state is perceivable as fact using the standard five senses. The Bible even tells us that it is "true" that God sends deceptions for a specific purpose. If the deception He sends is relative to what certain individuals physically observe, then it is also fact that such observations are not actual fact. If such a restriction is not stated specifically, then what is stated when corresponded to the physical world needs to be considered as fact. To be so classified as fact, then the meanings for the terms understood by the vast majority cannot be different today then when first presented.
Before He makes a recorded statement, God would have little difficulty in developing the original Biblical languages so that misconceptions would not be the result. When Moses presents God's word, it is rather nonsensical to assume that neither he nor anyone else had an idea as to what the symbols he wrote mean. Hence, unless God specifically states otherwise, I do not accept that a particular word or group of words has some sort of hidden meaning to be later discovered by others, especially any philosophers who exist after the death of Apostle John and who consider themselves as "special." What word groups mean to the peoples to whom they were originally addressed must be maintained or "truth" cannot be maintained. This includes all of the notions associated with the figures of speech. Recognizing that word groups are such figures, there many applications and what they signify to the audiences to whom they are first presented is essential. I only accept further "explanations" for such figures as enigmas, shadows and the like if they can be strongly related to other Biblical statements. Otherwise, for me, comprehension can only come via glorification.
The Old Testament does present straightforward predictions of future events. These can be stated by using terms that are known to be somewhat vague as to details, the shadows. The simile is often used for this and other purposes: such and such that has or will occur is "like" something else. In such cases, details may be describable using concepts yet to be developed. If this is the case, then the details cannot contradict other commonly understood Biblical terms.
Any basic alteration in the strictly understood meanings for Biblical terms or the figures of speech that is produced via modern cosmological starlight (and particle) theories should not be accepted since any verifying data has only been obtained within the past 250 years. If such changes were accepted, then this would mean that God has deceived all those individuals who have existed prior to this time - a direct Biblical contradiction. Further, in general, many modern interpretations of the data is very detrimental since it greatly enhances atheism. The Eden Model retains the common historical understanding of the Genesis account and yet satisfies all such present day evidence.
Hence, I repeat, that, unless God specifically states otherwise, I don't accept that the Bible contains any "hidden" meanings, whether strict or relative to figures of speech, that are unknown to those to whom the Old and New Testament Biblical passages are originally addressed. Obviously, this does not preclude newfound knowledge that enhances, but does not contract, the original strict understandings.
The modern man-made rules for interpretation are faulty if they do not include the only true way that the accuracy of a translation and its intent can be ascertained. I use the methodology of Paul as describe in 1 Corinthians 2:13, 2:16, Philippians 2:3 and elsewhere, and, as mentioned, the method described by John in 1 John 2:27 to select the proper meanings. I take very seriously Paul's warning in Colossians 2:8. I am not concerned whether these selections correspond to those presented by others throughout theological history or whether they might not correspond exactly to some constructed interpretation rule that minimizes both God's supernatural power as well as His substantial influences throughout time.
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