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Dec 19 2012

Gospel Hypothesis 4: Hermeneutics

Yesterday we looked at how the Myth Hypothesis implies the emergence of some kind of authoritative revelation, either oral or written, as the optimum way to claim divine authority while avoiding accountability when you’re wrong. But once you have “divine revelation,” what then? What do the Myth Hypothesis and the Gospel Hypothesis imply with respect to how the Scriptures and/or Church Tradition will be applied to everyday life? The answer to that lies in the field of hermeneutics, “the science of Biblical exegesis.”

Once again, we have a very clear distinction between what the Gospel Hypothesis implies and what the Myth Hypothesis implies. The Myth Hypothesis denies the existence of any actual God or Holy Spirit to guide the believer in understanding the true, original meaning of Holy Writ, which in turn means that believers will either have to rely on some authoritative body of men to tell them what the Bible means, or else will have to adopt whatever interpretation of Scripture seems right in their own eyes.

Interestingly, though the office of prophet is more or less displaced by the authority of Scripture and/or canonical Tradition, echoes of prophetic authority still will remain in the form of a priesthood who are caretakers of the officially correct interpretation of divine revelation. We see this today both in the Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies, but also in the denominations and in individual megachurch pastors and evangelists. Even in sects that proclaim the necessity of sola Scriptura, the rank and file pew sitters still get their understanding of God’s will from what someone tells them from behind a pulpit.

Those who don’t get their understanding of divine revelation from someone behind a pulpit will have no alternative but to read the Bible themselves and come up with their own interpretation. In the absence of any real God to illuminate them and explain the Bible’s true meaning, they’re going to have to fall back on interpreting Scripture by Scripture, and letting the clear and obvious parts explain the meaning of the obscure and difficult parts.

The catch is that different people are going to have different ideas about which parts are the clear and obvious parts, as well as about what those clear and obvious meanings are. Each person brings his or her own personal background, biases, personality, goals, education, and other subjective factors with them whenever they open the Bible, and consequently they’re each going to build a slightly different foundation. Different groups of people may share a common approach to Scripture, just as they also share common personality traits, presuppositions, culture values, and so on, but they’re still building a unique, personal understanding of the Bible based on whatever interpretation seems right in their own eyes.

If the Gospel Hypothesis Myth Hypothesis is true, therefore, we ought to see Bible-based believers each convinced that their own personal interpretation of Scripture is its true and original intended meaning, and that everyone who disagrees with them is actually rejecting the plain and unmistakeable revelation of God. We should also see that these people will fail to agree with one another about what the plain and unmistakeable revelation of God is really saying, since they have no real God to guide them into a common understanding. In God’s absence, they would have no objective standard by which to decide whose interpretation is closest to the correct understanding, and thus religious debates would have to be settled on the basis of the sheer persuasiveness and charisma of the individuals doing the arguing.

Meanwhile, the Gospel Hypothesis presumes the existence of a God Who is perfect in love, goodness, wisdom, knowledge, and power, which implies first of all that He won’t need any written Scriptures, since He’ll be present among us to teach us and lead us Himself. If He did feel like writing a book, though, the Gospel Hypothesis implies that He won’t be satisfied with letting us get it wrong. He Himself will explain it to us, as we are ready to understand it, and will let us know how well we’re doing in obtaining that understanding, so that we don’t go around preaching nonsense and thinking that we’re only doing what He has told us to do.

The Gospel Hypothesis, thus, implies that there will be a remarkable absence of disagreements over the meaning and application of Scripture, and it further implies the lack of any need for any priesthood or pastorate to explain the Bible to us in God’s absence. What we see in real life, however, is a picture that is exactly what the Myth Hypothesis implies we ought to see: men bickering over the “true meaning” of God’s Word in His absence. You can invent a million excuses and rationalizations designed to make the consequences of the Gospel Hypothesis look indistinguishable from those of the Myth Hypothesis, but the Myth Hypothesis gets the right answer without any extra excuses. That means the Myth Hypothesis is a better fit for the facts.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Kilian Hekhuis

    “If the Gospel Hypothesis is true, therefore, we ought to see Bible-based believers each convinced (…)” – I think that should be “If the Myth Hypothesis is true (…)”, right?

    1. 1.1
      wholething

      I had to read that a couple of times also.

    2. 1.2
      Deacon Duncan

      Yes indeed, I mistyped. Thanks for pointing it out so I could correct it.

  2. 2
    davidmc

    I really enjoyed this series DD, I hope there are more.

  3. 3
    davidct

    I had the same problem making sense of your argument as Kilian. I think you need a minor edit otherwise a good post.

  4. 4
    smrnda

    Just thought I would add that believers (particularly Christians) have a way of weaseling around this. In light of conflicting interpretations of scripture, they add the idea that the Holy Spirit is an accessible being or force, and that all those led by the Holy Spirit will interpret the Bible correctly. If someone is incorrect, they have just failed to heed the Holy Spirit.

    Obviously this is an unfalsifiable sleight of hand and looks like a desperate move to outsiders, but it gets cited a lot by insiders.

    1. 4.1
      Deacon Duncan

      Yup—and it’s one more excuse that has to be added to the Gospel Hypothesis to make it work. So the Myth Hypothesis is still closer to the truth, because it doesn’t need any extra excuses to make it fit the facts. Plus the believers aren’t done yet, because the Holy Spirit is God, and as such He ought to be accessible to all His beloved children, so believers now need to make excuses for why He is unwilling or unable to speak equally clearly to everyone. And then when they’ve added that excuse, they need to explain why God doesn’t make a public appearance to declare which of the many believers, each thinking they’re meekly listening to God’s voice, is really hearing Him correctly. And so on and so on.

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