Modern biblical hermeneutics has become increasingly sophisticated and complex. Yet with all of the subtlety of the “science of hermeneutics” it is easy to forget that the Bible is its own best interpreter. I do not advocate throwing contemporary hermeneutics manuals into the trash; I have benefit from many of them, but I do believe that we can blindly follow these manuals and not take thought for some of the simple lessons which Scripture presents us with. I think this is true because we all have a tendency to ignore the obvious (or what should be obvious), and to think that when we are getting more intricate and using more brain cells we are getting closer to the truth. But I suspect that quite often the opposite is true. The truth is staring us in the face. Indeed, although good things have been gleaned, we have perhaps been traveling interpretive paths which we have forged for ourselves only to discover that we are in the thick of the weeds, stickers and brambles of contradictory ideas and uncertain fads.
One Christian philosopher has well stated,
“Hermeneutics as a discipline is as wild and woolly as it has ever been, and its future shape and even its existence are impossible to predict.” – Greg Clark, “Contemporary Hermeneutics,” in Scot McKnight & Grant Osbourne, editors, The Face of New Testament Studies, (Apollos, 2004), 115.
I completely agree with that estimate. I have previously presented some work I have done in classifying the relationships between doctrines and their supporting texts (see The Rules of Affinity), where I demonstrated that, among other things, the fundamental doctrines of Christianity all possess strong affinity with the texts of Scripture that are commonly used to support them. The favored doctrines of different theological “cliques”, not so much.
But there is an important fact about the words of God Himself in Scripture that deserves a great deal more reflection and analysis. It is this:
God’s Actions Always Follow His Words
It may seem almost too basic for some people to swallow, but the God who tells us “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no'” (Matt. 5:36; Jam. 5:12), actually practices what He preaches. More than that, with rare exceptions owing to a show of repentance (like in the case of Ahab or in the book of Jonah), if God says He will do something then He does it. This can be sampled in any number pf places. I’ll start things off in Genesis 1, but before I do I want to present a basic hermeneutical triad:
A Theistic Interpretive Triad:
GOD SAYS – GOD DOES: God announces what He will do, then He does what He says. His thoughts equate to his words, and His words equate to His works
GOD SAID – GOD DID: God predicted something, and He brought to pass what He predicted
GOD VOWED – GOD OBLIGATES HIMSELF TO DO: God covenanted something, and later writers still say He is covenanted to fulfill the specific terms of the covenant
OLD TESTAMENT – The Early Chapters of Genesis
N.B. Please be sure to READ these passages so that my point hits home.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light (Gen 1:3 NAS)
Simple isn’t it? Too simple? One thing’s for certain, modern hermeneutics books would be totally pointless in creation week.
Let me drive it home:
Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so (Gen 1:6-7 NAS)
Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth”; and it was so. And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:11-12 NAS)
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. (Gen 1:14-16 NAS).
All through creation week this is the way God operates. He states His intention and then He carries it out to the letter. Now the creation of everything according to God’s will is no trifling matter, but this pattern of God doing what He said He would do is repeated all through the first chapter of the Bible.
The same pattern continues in Genesis 2 and 3. God commands man not to eat from the forbidden tree. When he does he dies (in the real sense of being alienated from his Maker). Then he signals His intent to make a companion for the man:
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him. (Gen 2:18 NAS)
And what did He do?
And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. (Gen 2:22 NAS)
What about Noah and the flood?
And the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD (Gen 6:7-8 NAS)
Notice that the “But Noah” clause makes no sense unless the Lord really meant to do what He threatened to do. Well, did God destroy all life from the face of the earth except for Noah and those in the Ark? That would be a yes. What about the Ark itself? Noah could not have had anything approaching the experience that the Lord predicted to him, and the construction of such a huge craft on the basis of what God said was a real act of faith (Heb. 11:7).
Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch. “And this is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. “You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. “And behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish. “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark– you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. (Gen 6:14-18 NAS)
If God is not in the habit of meaning precisely what He says Noah would have had cause to question God about how literally he ought to take His words. After all, there was a great deal at stake!
Other Old Testament Examples
I could cite many more examples from the Pentateuch, but let me move on to other books. Here’s one involving Elijah:
But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Now therefore thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” Then Elijah departed. – 2 Kings 1:3-4
Then he said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron—is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of His word?—therefore you shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but shall surely die.’” So Ahaziah died according to the word of the LORD which Elijah had spoken. – 2 Kings 1:16-17
There would be little point in God giving a word to a prophet and then not following up on it. Hence with Elisha’s instructions to Naaman (see 2 Kings 5:10, 14).
We will continue with this pattern next time. In the meantime I encourage you to do this for yourself. Find a place where God says He will do such and such (e.g. bring the Assyrians or Chaldeans), and then find the fulfillment of God’s words. You will see this pattern of God’s actions equaling God’s words.
Sometimes the profoundest truths don’t dawn on us because we fail to meditate sufficiently upon them.