the weblog of Alan Knox

Mutual Hermeneutics

Posted by on Aug 30, 2008 in discipleship, scripture | 12 comments

I’m in a PhD seminar in Hermeneutics with Dr. Andreas Köstenberger. Hermeneutics is the science and art of interpreting the Bible. In this particular seminar class, we were discussing historical narrative – primarily, historical narrative in the Old Testament. We talked briefly about discovering normative principles within historical narrative.

Dr. Köstenberger suggested that one of the reasons that people have a hard time determining what is normative from narrative is that people do not practice biblical interpretation. Instead, they leave interpretation up to their pastor, teacher, favorite author, etc. This started a lively and informative discussion concerning how the church can help all members practice biblical interpretation.

There were many, many suggestions, from having training sessions for teachers to individual discipleship, from explaining our method of interpretation from the “pulpit” to allowing others (not seminary trained) to teach “from the pulpit”.

There seems to be a tendency in the church today that leaders are responsible for interpreting Scripture for everyone else. 1) Do you agree that this is a tendency? 2) If so, should something be done about this? 3) What can leaders do about this? 4) What can others (non-leaders) do about this?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-30-2008

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. a. Stop doing sermons that pluck passages out of context to make points. Instead teach in a way that model a simple hermeneutic that anyone can use at home.
    b. Teach it as a part of discipleship. I have a 12 week curriculum that I used with new and young believers and we spent 12 weeks not just learning, but each time we met they were given passages that we worked through together to learn how do read and apply.
    c. Pastors should switch to a teaching team approach that models communal learning instead of individual achievement through study.
    d. Stop using Greek from the pulpit. Greek is fine for personal study, but when pastors keep referring to the Greek it makes people feel like hermeneutics is only for experts.


    If they must use it, use it sparingly and offer simple tools that people can use to make Greek accessible.

    e. don’t use languages to win arguments when people ask questions for the same reasons as above.

    f. recognize that good teaching comes from the Spirit not from superior wisdom. Education is good and I am not suggesting leaders should reject study (otherwise I would not be a Doctoral student), but these things are only good if we recognize that the Spirit is our teacher and the Spirit can teach everyone regardless of education or position in the Body.

    4. “non-leaders” as you put it can…
    a. Take the initiative and start reading.
    b. Find churches and leaders who model good hermeneutics and encourage learning, discussion, debate and disagreement.
    c. participate in community where the leaders model humility and submission to the Holy Spirit in their teaching rather than tout their education or credentials as a PhD, DMin, MDiv, etc….

    Okay, that is off the top of my head, but I am sure there is a lot more to be said.

  2. 8-30-2008

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. In many cases I don’t think
    that leaders want anything done about it. Because I think that they like the control that it gives them. The leaders who do want change in this area, I think should encourage and equip others who feel led to teach and preach the Word. Then the Body of Christ might begin to get the message that all Christians are valuable and should be heard.
    4. I think others (non-leaders) who feel called, should begin to seek the Lord for equipping and open doors to teach and preach the Word.


  3. 8-30-2008

    This will always happen when their is a “professional” in the group. I remember being in a small group while I was in seminary. I was always looked at as the go to guy for the “right” answers.

    My practice now from the pulpit is to not only explain what the text is saying, but like high school math I do my best to show my work. Obviously you can’t lay out your entire preparation process. It is possible to show people how they too can understand Scripture’s meaning and be able to make application.

    One other way we demonstrate this is in our adult Sunday school class. I do not lead the discussion, one of our lay leaders does. Although I am in the group I stay quiet much of the time. When I do speak up it is to help guide our discussion back if it has gone off track. However it is always in a spirit of “let’s think this through together” rather than “here’s the right answer”.

    There’s a lot that can be said about this but it’s a start.

  4. 8-30-2008

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. As leaders, start encouraging basic bible study as the foundation to being able to interpret scripture for oneself. There are several books written in a popular style that people can read ( I think of Living by the Book by Hendricks or How to Read the Bible For All its Worth by Fee as examples). People have to be taught how to study the bible before they can learn to interpret or apply it.
    4. As a non-leader, take your pastor off the pedestal and put him back in the pulpit. Listen, heed what he says and go back and study the Word for yourself. Use a book like I mentioned to learn bible study skills and dig in on your own. And ask your pastor to encourage that. A pastor who does not exhort his flock to get into the word on their own is not doing his job.

  5. 8-30-2008

    I agree that this is a problem and needs to be examined. I agree with much of what was already said.

    I think that another helpful component would be if leaders take genuine interest in the lives of people. Leaders can foster learning, studying, and discussion of Scripture if people know that their thoughts, concerns, and opinions about their lives and life in general are also respected.

    I guess it comes down to relationship. I think the leaders (as we’ve positioned them for hundreds of years) bear the greater burden, in my opinion, of nurturing a sense of community and genuine relationships. My desire for the others (non-leaders, as we have positioned them for hundreds of years) is that they would see that they are not stupid sheep, are just as loved and accepted as the leaders are, and have the same access and mind of Christ as anyone else.

  6. 8-30-2008

    3)I think if leaders traded a polished rhetoric for a more Socratic discussion I think it would help.
    4)I think that non-leaders should take more responsibility in teaching outside of a formal context. In other words, I think that everyone needs to learn to apply and teach the Bible whenever the opportunity arises. Now that I think about it this could just as well fit into the previous answer too.

  7. 8-30-2008


    I am excited and overwhelmed by the response to this post – on a Saturday of all days!

    I am going to write my response to my questions in a new blog post that will be published Monday.

    Please continue commenting and discussing this issue here. Apparently this is a very important issue for many of us.


  8. 8-30-2008

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. Stop preaching sermons as a normative and as the “center” of the “worship” service. My arguement is that the current system perpetuates this mentality. Better preaching isn’t the answer I believe anyway. Maybe what we consider preaching/teaching is the problem.

    As someone else said, teaching those who God has placed in your care to study the bible in a way that they can bring a word of encouragement and exhort not just in small groups or bible studies but when the Church gathers is the key. And not just exhort others but those who are in leadership. Again this would be mutuality at is purest form.

    4. They should pray, but I will say this carefully in most churches where “expository” sermons are the centrality of the meeting it will take a work of the Spirit. That would mean removing the pulpit/stage and leveling it so that all are eye level. This is my opinion anyway Alan.

  9. 8-30-2008

    1) Yes
    2) Yes, absolutely, please

    The next two could start a long rant or thesis…but instead I will offer a few rambling comments.

    3) First, I would say that the leaders need to know how to interpret Scripture. I’d like to think that this is a given, but my experience tells me otherwise. There is probably some training that needs to happen here. Then leaders need to encourage, model, interact, and engage others in reading, studying, discussing and applying Scripture. I like Eric’s idea of showing your work. I would also teach the folks some basic hermeneutical principles.

    Leaders also need to realize it is not “all about them” and should seek to engage others in the body. They need to make disciples (proclaim, explain, demonstrate and live the word together) and not just feed customers at the Sunday Word of Life buffet. Leaders need to understand that they are not all-knowing.

    Leaders may also have to think outside the box a bit. If what we are currently doing is not teaching our people to interpret, live, desire, long for, thirst for, starve for, love the word of God, then maybe we ought to think about changing it. Who cares if it is not the way we have always done it, or the way First Baptist Big City Southeast US is doing it.

    4) “Non-leaders” – I once read that Jews at the time of Jesus considered study of the word of God that leads to obedience as the highest form of worship. All of the folks within the body need to engage together in this corporate worship. They must not allow their “preacher” to be their priest. With this they should desire to interact with their “teacher’ and others in the body so as to make disciples. Again, it is not all about you and that interaction with others is key.

    They need to know and understand that the Sunday morning sermon, while maybe a great way to impart information, is not the best at making disciples. (Lionel is right; our current system perpetuates the problem.)

    We all need to understand that the most liberating prayer is “thy will be done” and then understand that the scriptures are God’s word telling us what that will is. With this in mind, would we not want to study, interpret, understand and obey those words?

    Sorry, the ramble became a rant.

  10. 8-30-2008


    My answer to your questions, and comments, would agree with most of the responses.

    God holds the future of His Family in His own hands, but He has given you younger men and women the insight to see the terrible mistakes of the past, some which, I’m sad to say, I helped perpetuate in my earlier days of ministry.

    Once we see the mistakes, dare we not change our ways?

    Teach those who hear you,and read your writings, the importance of personally taking responsibility for their own spiritual life. Each one claiming to be in Christ must personally seek the leading of His Holy Spirit, and study the Scriptures for themselves, under the only true Shepherd and Pastor, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    For many years it has been my strong belief and consistent advice to those whom I had the privilege to teach, that the most abject fool is the one who takes any teaching on board, including mine, without checking it for themselves.
    Acts 17:11.

  11. 8-31-2008

    1. Yes.
    2. Yes.
    3. Stop being leaders and let Jesus be leader. Step down from and leave their power positions, pulpits, salaries, titles etc.
    4. Begin reading the Bible together and discussing what they read in a way that makes everyone participate and in a group that have a common life and a common intention of following the Lord together and obeying the words of Jesus.
    /Jonas Lundström

  12. 9-3-2008

    Alan, just to note that I’m making these notes BEFORE I read the follow up post to this on Towards Mutual Hermeneutics, so if these points should coincide with views you’re about to make you’ll understand why. In any case, thanks for the opportunity to engage with these issues as they have a very real bearing for the sort of stuff I’m a part of at church.

    1) Do you agree that this is a tendency?

    • I remember growing up in a church where the elder of the church was in charge of all proper interpretation of scripture. Other commentaries and literature were vetted through him on the spot and seen to be in line with his own beliefs. There was little room for personal exploration and understanding of the principles of biblical interpretation. Even then something appeared to be very wrong with that approach.

    • Today in my own context to an extent the teacher or church leader is still referred to as the expert in that area. This is due, however, to our church having people who are either new to the Bible or have come from backgrounds where taking on board hermeneutics were not stressed. For all that though, the ethos of the church is to encourage people to ask questions of the text and of the teacher/preacher/leader and not just take things on the surface. The desire of the church is to gradually work towards mutual hermeneutics, but it’s the necessary long process of establishing core values.

    2) If so, should something be done about this?

    • Evidently something should be done about it. If discipleship is following the example of Christ and if Jesus left His disciples capable of understanding the Word (and the Road to Emmaus episode proves that His desire was not the exclusive class of the 12) and passing it on, then it behoves every believer to have a hunger and desire for the word and thus have that desire met with an ability to understand how to interpret that word.

    3) What can leaders do about this?

    • Leaders need to place this as part of the larger project of addressing church culture that meets the aspects seen in the ideal that Paul highlights that you’ve identified. If servant leaders look to empower all members to see themselves as fellow-labourers in the work, not the recipients of a service, then they can see their responsibility in taking hermeneutics seriously. As I said though, it’s part of a larger process and to some extent could be easier for new church plants with such values to be embedded, rather than established churches which have years of culture already set in the members.

    4) What can others (non-leaders) do about this?

    • This might sound fairly harsh and I appreciate that if you don’t know it then you don’t know that you don’t know (if you get me). However, there is something about being a follower of Christ that should move someone beyond intellectual or emotional drivers to a deeper desire to know Christ completely and how that impacts their whole life. Anyone starting a journey with Jesus and led by His Spirit should be encouraged to that end to really get to that place where the intellect and emotion are fed by that deeper desire rather than determine whether we have that desire. I’d like to think from there that the road to mutual hermeneutics can be travelled on at times slowly but surely.

    da man cd