Hermeneutics is Always Inferential

Below I summarize the point of Searching for the Pattern: My Journey in Interpreting the Bible.h

Growing up in Churches of Christ, I embraced and practiced a hermeneutic that sought an implicit blueprint for the work and worship of the church in Acts and the Epistles. Through a filter of generic/specific distinctions, coordinate associations, the law of silence, and expediency (among other rules for authorization), I shifted through the commands, examples, and inferences within the New Testament to deduce a blueprint, which then became the standard of faithfulness and a mark of the true church.  And if everyone agreed upon and practiced the blueprint, we would be united! Part I of my book tells this story.

The inadequacies of this approach as well as its subjectivity (every conclusion and most steps along the way were inferences) created doubts. This is not how the apostolic witness called people to gospel obedience. They did not read Scripture or write Scripture with a blueprint lens. Something different was going on. This is described in Part II of my book.

The problem is the location of the pattern. The pattern is not found in an implied blueprint in Acts and the Epistles. Paul does not call people to obedience based on a blueprint located in the practices of the church. Instead, he calls them to obedience based on the pattern manifested in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus. This is the gospel we obey—the story of Jesus—rather than a blueprint we have inferred from the text but is not explicitly there. This is my point in Part III of my book.

Hermeneutics, even a theological hermeneutic which I promote in the book, always involves inferences. We cannot escape them; every application is an inference. But here is the significant point: the pattern is not an inference. On the contrary, it is the story in which we live. It is the narrative air we breathe. The pattern of God’s work through Christ in the power of the Spirit is clear, objective, and formative. It is the story told in Scripture; it is an explicit pattern.

We will find unity when we confess the same pattern, and the shame of our division is that we already confess the same pattern.  Our pattern is God in Jesus through the Spirit, or our pattern is Jesus. Here we are united, and our hermeneutics (whether blueprint or theological) must not undermine that unity but provide ways to embody it.  That is the point of Part IV of my book.



2 Responses to “Hermeneutics is Always Inferential”

  1.   Dwight Says:

    John,
    And inferences do indicate patterns, which then indicates command.
    Jesus went towards the boat, we all know by walking, but anybody else would have been swimming and this would have normally been inferred, because people just don’t normally walk on water. But here we have an exception, because he was God in the flesh. But all other people “in the flesh” cannot walk on water.
    Moving on…the Jews understood commands as how to derive Law, but they didn’t understand examples or necessary inferences, simply because they had commands and they were told to follow the commands.
    In regards to Jesus as a pattern, He was, but He also was an example and more than that He was the expressed Son of God, by God Himself and by the fact only God could have done the miracles He did. And even then, people didn’t see it, because they didn’t want to.
    Such is the problem with man: they see things that aren’t there and won’t see things that are there, because they already “know” how things should be.

  2.   Dwight Says:

    Sorry, it should read “And inferences do not indicate patterns, which then indicate command”.

Leave a Reply