“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

If you were to search the meaning of the word “hermeneutics,” you would undoubtably find yourself bombarded with an avalanche of definitions; therefore, for the purposes of this post, I will keep it really simple and define “hermeneutics” as the process of interpreting Scripture. One of the fundamental questions that is always present in hermeneutics is the role the interpreter plays in the interpretive process. Just as students of the Bible find themselves in the midst of their own personal circumstances and situations, we must also realize the biblical text arose within personal circumstances and situations as well. Consider the phrase “white as snow,” which might hold a different meaning for someone living in Colorado, where snow is common, than for someone in Kalimantan who has never seen snow.[1] Each person’s interpretation of the expression would invariably be influenced by their own presuppositions or preunderstandings, which describes the body of beliefs the reader brings to the task of interpretation;[2] therefore, an objective of hermeneutics is determining which presuppositions are adequate and appropriate for biblical interpretation and which are not.

Presuppositions and preunderstandings can be helpful in how readers interpret the Bible, for example, studying Scripture with the presupposition that the Bible is God’s authoritative word to humanity, trustworthy, and true is constructive. On the other hand, presuppositions where the reader brings a theological agenda already formulated, allowing all future understanding to be dictated by their familiarity, and being influenced by their cultural background, including one’s upbringing, educational, and religious instruction not so much.3 Consequently, it is the responsibility of the interpreter to not only identify and take into account their own preunderstandings but to adjust or revise them. Though adopting effective methodologies is only one side of the interpretive coin, referring to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in which the apostle states that the ability to understand God’s word, in its fullest sense, belongs only to the spiritual person: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (2:14, ESV).4

Although the traditional (24 hour, seven days) interpretation of the Genesis 1 creation account is typically referred to as “literal,” I have in recent years come to appreciate that principle: “total objectivity is not our goal;” instead, “we want objectivity within the framework of evangelical presuppositions.”5 But even still, “evangelical presuppositions” can be a source of bias, depending on the particular presupposition one ascribes. Much of the creation debate, for example, is framed around literal verses figurative, traditional verses nontraditional, but I have come to view this juxtaposition as misleading. Indeed, the Bible acknowledges a literal Adam and Eve, and the Bible presents a creation sequence of six consecutive days, but there is a lot here that the Bible does not literally say. The Bible does not literally say that each day consisted of twenty-four hour durations, despite the linguistic arguments. In fact, the sun and moon, which Genesis literally states are purposed to separate the day from the night, did not come into existence until day four per the text. Likewise, Genesis 1 does not account for the time period associated with Genesis 1:1-2, while Psalm 90 and 2 Peter 3 do literally state that to God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.

Although many might find faults in these arguments, even pick them apart, the fact that Genesis 1 remains a source of legitimate debate within credible, evangelical scholarship means that they cannot be dismissed out of hand. My point for bringing up Genesis is not to try to persuade anyone to a particular view about how creation unfolded, but instead, to demonstrate just how easily presuppositions, even traditional evangelical ones, can creep into our understanding, whether for the good or the bad. In light of such interpretive obstacles and the care with which we as believers are called to handle Scripture, I find a classmate’s recent observation apt and sobering: “The Bible was written by kings, fishermen, tax collectors, shepherds, and other men who would be seen as common. With this in mind, I am also thinking of how God used these men to write to an audience of people who were also common and were farmers who had a simple perspective of life.” Navigating the baggage and bias we bring to the Bible requires prayer and honest self-reflection, as well as the development of good hermeneutical practices.

[1] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2017), 46.

[2] Ibid., 226.

3 J. Scott Duval and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2019), 139.

4 Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version.

5 Duval and Hays, 145.

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