If we’re honest, our hearts are inclined toward this sinful, even paradoxical, disposition—to know but not know truly. Professors can teach and relate to students in a way that reeks of cold orthodoxy. Students can happily exist within their misguided zeal and not even know it. And Christians in general can, strangely enough, profess to love the Bible but fail to love the God of the Bible or His people. Recognizing this proclivity in my own heart makes me so thankful for the gospel of Jesus Christ, who perfectly fulfilled the law, which depends upon the commandments to love God and neighbor (Matt. 22:36–40). It makes me thankful for the church’s union with Jesus, where what is His is ours by faith alone. This means we can receive Christ as a gift, as all of His accomplishments become ours by faith. And only after receiving Christ as a gift can we, as Martin Luther insisted, receive Christ as an example. We can look to the One who lowered Himself for the sake of others, out of love for God and neighbor, and, by the Spirit, find the strength to do the same.
What does this have to do with hermeneutics? Everything. Too often we read Scripture like we fill up our gas tanks. We pull up, put our card in, fill up our tanks with gasoline, and drive away. There is neither a relationship with the owner of the gas station nor with those around us filling up their individual tanks. Our interpretation of Scripture can’t be that way. Studying Scripture, as Kelly Kapic emphatically asserts, “is not the acquisition of information.” It’s not just about filling up our individual gas tanks. It’s not just about gaining knowledge. It “is emphatically and deeply relational.” More to the point, Kapic insists that “faithful theology is relational.” We shouldn’t want merely to be good interpreters of a text. We should want to be faithful disciples who submissively come under the God of the text. As Luther argued, Scripture knows no “masters, judges, or arbiters.” It knows “only witnesses, disciples, and confessors” (Luther’s Works, 26:58). We should not want only a good hermeneutic. We should want to be faithful disciples who know God and love God, who know our neighbors and love our neighbors. We shouldn’t see the study of Scripture as an opportunity to acquire information in order to impress our professors, our pastors, or other believers in the church. We should want to see the study of Scripture as the means of enjoying deeper communion with our triune Lord. And after having come under the cascade of God’s love in Christ, we then overflow with love, grace, and encouragement to those around us, and vice versa. All the while, God receives the glory.
Hermeneutics is fundamentally relational. It is simultaneously an act of interpretation and an act of relating—relating to our Lord by the Spirit, relating to those beside us in the pew, and relating to those brilliant pastoral theologians, such as Augustine, who came before us to help guide our reading and living. Understanding hermeneutics any other way harms the church. May God give us the grace to be challenged and convicted by Augustine, asking ourselves if we have succeeded in understanding the Scriptures.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on June 18, 2018.