the weblog of Alan Knox

Pick and Choose?

Posted by on Oct 22, 2007 in gathering, scripture | 23 comments

Hermeneutics is the study of interpretive methods. A person’s hermeneutic will determine how that person will interpret and apply a biblical text. There are many different hermeneutics, and, thus, many different interpretations. Certainly, some methods of interpretation seem to be more valid than others. I think the best hermeneutic is one that is consistent.

Consistent? Yes, consistent – meaning, the best hermeneutic is one that interprets and applies Scripture similarly across the same genre. A poor hermeneutic, then, would be a hermeneutic that picks and chooses how to interpret and apply the biblical text.

For example, most churches meet together on Sunday. Why? Because in Scripture, we see an example of the church in Troas meeting together on Sunday. In fact, this is the only instance where Scripture indicates the day of the meeting:

[I]n five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:6-7 ESV)

According to this passage, the church in Troas met together on the first day of the week – Sunday. And, every possible reading of this passage should agree with this statement: when Paul visited Troas, the church met together on the first day of the week. Thus, if a church wants to model the example given by the church in Troas, then it would be valid to meet on Sunday, the first day of the week.

Most churches agree with this, and most churches meet together on Sundays. Sure, many will agree that it is not necessary to meet on Sundays, but this remains the common practice.

The question that I have is this: Why do we stop interpreting this verse as normative when we read, “On the first day of the week…” There is more to this passage. Specifically, Luke tells us why the church met together. He give us the purpose of their getting together.

The church in Troas met together for the purpose of breaking bread. They listened to Paul speak, but this was not the purpose of their meeting. Many other things may have taken place, but these were not the purpose of their meeting. The church in Troas met together on the first day of the week specifically to break bread.

The phrase “break bread” is used to indicate eating a meal. Perhaps this meal included the “Lord’s Supper” or perhaps there is no distinction between the Lord’s Supper and the meal, but these questions are beside the point. The point is, the church in Troas met together in order to share a meal together.

Why do we pick the first part of this passage to follow, but choose to ignore the later part of the passage? Why do we decide follow the example of Troas and meet together on Sunday, but ignore that the purpose of their meeting? Could we be missing something by focusing on the meeting day but ignoring the meeting purpose?

Is your hermeneutic consistent? Or, do you pick and choose which parts of Scripture to follow – even within the same verse?


23 Comments

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  1. 10-22-2007

    Once more, I argue for potlucks as normative for Christian meeting.

    Although, interestingly enough, we had a potluck just over a week ago, and we had I Corinthians breaking out. Some of the members (high schoolers) were rowdy and gluttonous (and they’re exchange students training for missionary ministry, normally reverent and prayerful). So we’re rethinking the rules to the whole potluck thing, to keep order, and to make sure that everyone gets fed.

    I really believe the upshot is that the way we operate as the church has developed for the reason of keeping order. The key is not to baptize our logistics.

  2. 10-22-2007

    i hate to alway be the one who disagrees, but i don’t think any of that verse is normative other than the fact that the church needs to gather together regularly.

  3. 10-22-2007

    David,

    I thinks meals during the meeting is important as well. Have you thought about discussing the problem with the ones who were rowdy and gluttonous? Perhaps that has already happened.

    Mike,

    It sounds like your hermeneutic is consistent with regard to this passage. I also don’t think this passage is normative for either meeting on Sundays or sharing a meal while we meet. Unfortunately, my current practice does not match my hermeneutic.

    -Alan

  4. 10-22-2007

    One of the few things that I disagree with many of my house church brothers on is the idea that NT apostolic *patterns* are to be normative and obligatory for what the church does today. This is a classic example of the “is-ought” fallacy. In other words, what is descriptive in Acts is not necessarily determinative of what is prescriptive for the believer today. For example, the early believers broke bread together daily from house to house (Acts 2:46), and many of them lovingly practiced a form of “Christian communism” (Acts 4:32-35), but does that mean that we absolutely *must* do those same things today? Of course, we have the freedom to do these kinds of things, but are they mandated in the Law of Christ?

    I agree with Mike Aubrey above, what is commanded is the regular gathering together of believers (i.e., Heb. 10:24-25), whether it be on Friday, Tuesday, or Sunday.

  5. 10-22-2007

    Yes, we addressed it with the leadership of that group (they are a congregation that meets in our facility, and many don’t speak English).

    This meal thing really seems to be a big issue with you. Any reason you pick and choose this particular practice? There are lots of issues at stake in the church these days. I’m just curious.

  6. 10-22-2007

    Dustin,

    For the most part, I agree with you. In fact, there’s nothing in paricular that I disagree with. In some cases, all we have are the descriptions and examples that we see in Acts. I’m concerned when the modern church disregards those examples.

    David,

    Actually, the meal is a secondary issue in this post. I was having a discussion with someone who told me that because of Acts 20:7, the church should meet on Sunday – thus, Acts 20:7 is normative. When I asked about the meal in Acts 20:7, I was told that was not normative. It was this type of inconsistent hermeneutic that I’m addressing in this post.

    That said, I do think that eating together is important for believers. But, as Paul tells us in 1 Cor 11 and as you said in your earlier post, eating together may reveal sin as much as it creates fellowship among believers.

    -Alan

  7. 10-22-2007

    I think we all do it, at least to some extent (pick and choose), but if we’re serious about our study of the Bible I think most of us will try to be consistent with how we interpret the Bible.

    A huge example of how I see the church being inconsistent is with the Sermon on the Mount. I hear people quoting and teaching only certain parts of it (picking and choosing), but yet skipping over other parts.

    Examples of what I’ve heard taught include: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you… first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt 5:23-24). We teach, “do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them, otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (see Matt 6:1-4). Entire sermons, and series’ of sermons, are given to teaching The Lord’s Prayer. (Matt 6:8-15). We teach, “whatever you want men to do to you, do also for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12). We teach all these words of Jesus, essentially as principles for New Covenant/Christian living.

    However… do we teach the following words of Jesus, from the very same ‘sermon on the mount,’ as principles for Christian living?:
    “…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:20). Do we teach, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out… if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off… for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (Matt 5:29-30). Do we teach, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:48). (Actually, I know for certain that we don’t teach this. Instead, we put bumper stickers on our cars that say, “Christians aren’t perfect, they’re just forgiven”)!

    What I’m saying here is that we’re not consistent with our interpretation of all of Jesus’ words in Matt 5-7. I personally have my own interpretation of it all… which is consistent… but my hermeneutics don’t always fly with other Christians so I won’t get deeply into it right here and now. :)

    I will say that one major factor in my own attempts at being consistent with hermeneutics has to do with separating and discriminating between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. I believe that the New Testament epistles (especially Paul’s), made the differences between the Old and New as clear as day. I believe the two Covenants are separate and cannot be joined together, and I believe that Jesus had specific and separate reasons for teaching both at different times. But yet we somehow think that everything Jesus taught is a New Covenant teaching. I’ll be slightly ambiguous here, although I’m not that hard to figure out, but I’ll just say that I don’t believe Jesus was going back and forth between New Covenant and Old Covenant teachings in the Sermon on the Mount…

  8. 10-22-2007

    Alan, you wrote:

    According to this passage, the church in Troas met together on the first day of the week – Sunday. And, every possible reading of this passage should agree with this statement: when Paul visited Troas, the church met together on the first day of the week.

    First of all, let me say that I understand the main point of this post, and I agree.

    My question, though, is a bit tangential with regard even to this interpretation of Acts 20:6-7.

    Luke says that they went to Troas and stayed there for seven days. Then, he says, “On the first day of the week…”

    Maybe I’m missing something grammatically, but does this even have to be a reference to Sunday? Could Luke be simply referring to the first day of the week (seven days) in which they were in Troas?

    Is there anything grammatically or contextually (either here or elsewhere in scripture) that requires the phrase “first day of the week” to be Sunday in this verse?

    I fear that perhaps this is simply another area where we have read our traditions back into scripture, thinking that it says something that it may not even say.

  9. 10-22-2007

    dusman,

    I find it interesting that even in your reference to meeting regularly, you seem to assume that “regularly” means “weekly”.

    Did you mean to imply that? You referenced Hebrews 10:24-25, but that verse doesn’t even say “regularly”, let alone “weekly”. It just says that we shouldn’t forsake the assembling.

  10. 10-22-2007

    Joel,

    Yes, I think the Sermon on the Mount is another passage where we usually pick and choose. More importantly for me, if the Sermon on the Moun was presented by Jesus in one sitting, as Matthew presents it, shouldn’t we consider the Sermon as a whole instead of breaking into little parts?

    Steve,

    I knew when I wrote, “Every possible reading of this passage should agree with this statement”, that someone would call me on it. That was meant hyperbolically for emphasis.

    That being said, yes, literally the phrase is “the first [day] of seven [days]”. However, I think this phrase is an idiom for “the first day the week”, instead of the first day of the seven days that Paul was in Troas.

    If you want another interesting study, look into exactly what times during the week was considered “the first day of the week”. From a Jewish understanding, “the first day of the week” would be from sun down Saturday night until sun down Sunday night. From a Roman perspective, “the first day of the week” would be from sun up Sunday morning until sun up Monday morning.

    The way that you interpret “the first day of the week”, even if you agree that its Sunday, can change, and will affect your interpretation of this passage. For example, when Paul preached spoke until midnight, when did he start and which midnight? I know this wasn’t your question. Its simply another interesting question regarding this passage.

    -Alan

  11. 10-23-2007

    Alan,
    could it be that those who use this passage pick out the Sunday thing because they really didnt get it from the text? they got it from tradition instead. they ditch the meal part because that isnt really relevant to defending the tradition.
    this is a consistant hermeneutic. it’s the “use the bible to defend traditions” model and consistantly uses passages that support traditions and ignores some that might invalidate those traditions.
    -Dan

  12. 10-23-2007

    Hi Steve,

    Great to interact with you a little. Your blog is much appreciated my brother!

    You asked,

    I find it interesting that even in your reference to meeting regularly, you seem to assume that “regularly” means “weekly”.

    Did you mean to imply that? You referenced Hebrews 10:24-25, but that verse doesn’t even say “regularly”, let alone “weekly”. It just says that we shouldn’t forsake the assembling.

    To answer your question in short, no. I do not believe that the command of Hebrews 10:24-25 can be quantified. Actually, it seems from the command of Hebrews 10:24-25 that a church/Christians can meet anytime they decide to, whether that meeting together is for the whole church or, throughout the week in smaller groups of people fellowshipping together and fulfilling the “one-anothers” of Scripture. Our church has decided to meet on Sunday mornings because it is the expected cultural norm, but we don’t believe that we’d be in sin if we decided to meet on Fridays or if we actually had to skip a week, or met every other week. In short, we believe that the new heart given to the New Covenant believer in the born-again experience will cause them to love Jesus and other Christians, so meeting together will be a naturally occurring “fruit” of that regeneration.

  13. 10-23-2007

    Hi Alan,

    Yes I fully agree that we must look at the sermon on the mount as a whole, and not just in parts. For all intents and purposes, that was really my point. The way that I go about “hermeneuticizing” ;) this passage (and others) would be to look at it as a whole. Who is Jesus speaking to? Is He speaking to Jews? To Gentiles? What is His overall point? Is He laying down a set of New Covenant principles that eventually Christians will be expected to follow? (If so, why do we pick and choose which ones we teach and follow?) Is He teaching Old Covenant principles, magnifying them in such a way as to help people who are under the OC to understand the full extent of that Covenant? If so, do any Old Covenant principles and teachings apply to Christians? As I said in my last comment, I think the NT epistles clear that up.

    Was Jesus serious when He taught, “You shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect?” Dead serious, I would say, because we truly cannot enter the kingdom unless our righteousness matches that of God’s. But through reading the NT epistles, we find the revelation that perfection isn’t something we can perform or achieve. It’s only something we receive as a gift, through the blood of Jesus. We also find that cutting off our hand or plucking out our eye won’t really be of any benefit to us in the way that Jesus said it would. These particular words of Jesus seem obvious for us to understand in relation to Jesus fulfilling the Law for us and becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

    So, being consistent with hermeneutics, is it possible that the rest of the sermon be interpreted in the same way? Is it possible that the whole sermon is an Old Covenant teaching, with the intention of leading people to the end of themselves (as that whole system was meant to do), finally understanding that in their Adam nature these things are impossible to live by, so they give up trying to do these things and simply come to God by faith alone?

  14. 10-23-2007

    Hey ALan,
    Just rereading Pauls letters now. On your topic of herm, I just read 1 Cor. It seems as though 1 Cor 14 seems to be more on the purpose of gifts being edification as opposed to the purpose of the church. Just curious as I know you are in this section a lot. Not trying to be argumentative but wanting to understand your view more, which I like.

  15. 10-23-2007

    Ohhhh, the wars fought over consistent hermeneutics!

    Does this brother of yours say that Christians should only meet on Sundays? And where’s our scriptural reference for Wednesday night AWANA?

  16. 10-23-2007

    David wrote:

    “Ohhhh, the wars fought over consistent hermeneutics!”

    Good point!

    I came back here just now to admit my bias to my own method of hermeneutics, and to say I fully realize that I went off on my own ‘tangent’ in regards to a certain passage… But really I fully understand that we’ve all come from different backgrounds and different places of understanding things, and one “consistent” thing (among many) you’ve stayed true to here, Alan, is that we can all learn from each other. Hermeneutics is truly a worthwhile discussion.

  17. 10-23-2007

    Dan,

    Yes, absolutely! I think you’re onto something. In fact, the brother who was using Acts 20:7 to say that churches should meet on Sundays did not know that Acts 20:7 said that the church in Troas met to “break bread”. Why? Because he was using the passage to justify his beliefs. He was not studying the passage itself.

    Dustin,

    I appreciate your reponse to Steve, especially your tone. Thank you for the great example!

    Joel,

    I’ll respond to both of your comments. Yes, I think you are onto something with the Sermon on the Mount. And, yes, we have to be careful because all of us are passionate about certain things, and we tend to think along the lines of our passions. And, yes, that includes me. :)

    Ed (tenjuices),

    In 1 Cor 14, I think Paul is talking about exercising spiritual gifts in the context of the church meeting together. For example, “Whenever you come together…” (1 Cor. 14:26).

    David,

    Yes, he suggested that Scripture says that Christians should only meet on Sundays. Christians can meet other times, but Sunday is the most important time, and is somehow more “church” on Sundays.

    -Alan

  18. 10-23-2007

    dusman, thank you for your kind words, brother. And your answer is excellent. I thought that’s probably where you were headed, but wasn’t positive and wanted to clarify. I think we are in agreement on this.

    You made a good point, too, about a “expected cultural norm”. I haven’t really given that aspect much weight in my thinking, and so I appreciate you bringing it to my attention.

    Alan, I’m not opposed to “first day of the week” being an idiom. My question would be if you could provide any sources or other evidence for supporting the assumption Luke was using it as an idiom.

    Tradition says it is an idiom. I just think that if someone says “seven days” and then immediately says “the first of seven”, it would be more logical to assume they are not speaking idiomatically.

  19. 10-24-2007

    I like the difficult hermeneutic of the Holy Spirit. :)

  20. 10-13-2011

    I only read a few comments above (due to time this morning). But, I would guess many churches began eating together regularly, but probably stopped due to practical reasons. Those reasons could be numerous depending on context. My church used to eat together each week, but now for practical reasons we do not eat all together, but much of our church life is spent in the restaurants or houses after our corporate gathering. We are thinking of going back to a once per month meal where we eat all together. We found that time very special.

    As far as biblical interpretation of the passage, I would have similar thinking as Mike in his first comment. Neither are required (day or meal), only gathering together regularly.

  21. 10-13-2011

    It seems to me the problems addressed in the blog and in the following comments is really caused by taking our focus off of Jesus, His way of life, and what He taught. We get caught up in the petty little things rather than staying focused on our Savior and our Teacher. Jesus taught a much simpler way to live. He taught the importance of a trust and close relationship with God, and a love for each other as He loved us. But we keep thinking there must be more and then create rules and get hung up on the petty little things. Just give God ALL of yourself and love each other!

  22. 10-13-2011

    Agreed Sandra

  23. 10-13-2011

    Don’t those tiny white communion pellets count as “breaking bread”?

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