Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hermeneutical Errors

In Old Testament Exegesis, Douglas Stuart gives a list of frequent hermeneutical errors. These errors come from the violation of hermeneutics principles. I think this list can be useful for ex-members of abusive churches and cults in order to find out the errors made by the leaders of their former groups and in order to avoid errors in their personal Bible study and biblical interpretation.


Personalizing: Assuming that any or all parts of the Bible apply to you or your group in a way that they do not apply to everyone else. ("What Balaam's ass says to me is that I talk too much.") Also known as individualizing.

Universalizing: Assuming that something unique or uncommon in the Bible applies to everyone equally. ("We all have our Gethsemanes.") Also known as generalizing.

Spiritualizing: Assuming that events or factors have their real application in some religious truth beyond what they actually say. ("The lovely structure of the Jerusalem Temple encourages us to have our own lives well in order.")

Moralizing: Assuming that principles for living can be derived from all passages. ("We can learn much about parenting by noting how the father of the prodigal son handled his wayward child.") ("The Egyptians drowned at the Red Sea because they had vacillated. You can't vacillate and expect to succeed in this life.")

Exemplarizing: Assuming that because someone in the Bible did something, it is an example for us to follow. ("To learn how to tell stories in sermons, let us examine Jesus' storytelling.") ("Let's see how Jesus called disciples and let that be the model for our evangelism.") ("What can we learn about adversity from how the Israelites endured their years as slaves in Egypt?")

Allegorizing: Assuming that the components of a passage have meaning only as symbols of Christian truths. ("The 'lover' is Christ; the 'beloved' is the Church; the 'daughters of Jerusalem' are the Scriptures.")

Typologizing: Assuming that certain real biblical characters or things are mentioned in order to foreshadow other real-and more important characters or things. ("Joshua has the same name as Jesus; as a conqueror he points to The Conqueror.") ("Ezra came to his people from afar; entered into Jerusalem on a donkey; prayed before crises; taught what was to many a new law; purified the nation, etc. His life points directly to the Savior.")

The Root Fallacy: Assuming that the/an original meaning of a word always attends its usage. ("To be holy means to be set apart.") [cf. terrible/ terrific/ terrifying]

Genre confusion: Assuming that the interpretational rules for one genre apply to another. ("Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard contains seven helpful perspectives on the value of hard work.") ("The Twenty-third Psalm teaches us how to care for those under our authority.") ("According to Deuteronomy 33, if we trust God we'll never lack anything.") ("But Proverbs promises that if we honor God we'll be well liked by everyone!")

Totality transfer: Assuming that all the possible meanings of a word or phrase go with it whenever it is used. ("Head [kephale], of course, means 'source' here, just as it does in Xenophon's reference to the source of a river.")

Argument from silence: Assuming that everything relevant to an issue is mentioned in the Bible every time that issue is mentioned. ("Notice that Paul does not explicitly condemn premarital sex anywhere in his letters.")

Argument from authority: Assuming that the views of "experts" or a preponderance of them must be correct. ("Smith, who has devoted his life to studying Ruth, may be trusted ...") ("Since this is held by few scholars, it does not seem tenable.")

Israel-Church confusion: Assuming that things that apply to biblical Israel also apply to the church. ("We can learn how to discipline troublesome kids from this law about stoning disobedient children.")

Israel-modern nation confusion: Assuming that things that apply to biblical Israel also apply to modem nations ("According to 2 Chronicles 7:14, if we pray and repent God will heal America.")

Israel-modern Israel confusion: Assuming that the modern, secular state named Israel in the Near East is the Israel referred to in the Bible. ("How can we support the Saudis when they're the enemies of God's chosen people?")

False combination: Joining two statements or passages in such a way as to produce a hybrid conclusion. ("In Matthew 25 Jesus calls hell both outer darkness and also fire, so hell fire must be some kind of special divine fire that doesn't give off any light. You can feel it but you can't see it.")

Figure of speech confusion: Failure to understand any of the many nonliteral expressions in human speech, especially metaphors. ("Imagine the massive scale of Canaanite dairy farming and beekeeping that led to Canaan's being called a land flowing with milk and honey.")

Equivocation: Confusing a term or concept with another term or concept, thus misunderstanding its meaning. ("1 Thessalonians 5 says to 'abstain from all appearance of evil' so you can't even ask directions from a prostitute.")

False presupposition: Basing all or part of an argument or conclusion on incorrect assumptions. ("The Hebrew mind thought concretely; the Greek mind abstractly. This is why the Old Testament has more rituals and the New Testament more symbols.")

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