Friday, December 11, 2009

Incorrect Hermeneutics Lead to the Denouncement of Israel

In todays news from Israel is an amazingly clear illustration of the impact of one's interpretation of the Bible on world politics.

Those of us who acknowledge the importance of agreeing with the author's intent for a Bible passage as a principle of assessing validity in interpretation (as in E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation, Yale, 1967) just took a major hit today from some Palestinians who think of themselves as Christians. These Palestinians do not consider it acceptable to allow the Old Testament to speak for itself with its own intent.

Note their position on hermeneutics, clearly stated in the article " 'Christians' of the Holy Land Denounce Israel " (found at . . . "The (Palestinian "Christian') leaders then took aim at Evangelical Christians around the world that support Israel based on biblical precepts. 'Jesus came with a new teaching (Mk.1:27), casting a new light on the Old Testament on the themes that relate to our Christian faith and our daily lives, themes such as the promises, the election, the people of God, and the land. For this reason it is unacceptable to transform the Word of God into letters of stone. This is the precise error in fundamentalist biblical interpretation that brings us death and destruction when the Word of God is petrified and transmitted from generation to generation as a dead letter. This dead letter is used as a weapon in our present history in order to deprive us of our rights in our own land."

Observe that Mark 1:27 does not illustrate, support, or teach the concept that they seem to be trying to derive from it.

The hermeneutical approach they use to justify denouncing Israel is this - Jesus cast "a new light on the Old Testament". This is the same dangerous hermeneutic as proposed by George Eldon Ladd years ago within evangelical, "covenant" premillenialism, namely, "But precisely here is our basic hermeneutic. Jesus, and the apostles after Him, REINTERPRETED the Old Testament prophecies in light of Jesus' person and mission" (see Ladd, "The Last Things", Eerdmans, 1978, p.17).

Those of us who have the principle of authorial intent/single intent in our hermeneutical understanding of the Old Testament find the notion of the New Testament "reinterpreting" the Old to be inaccurate and dangerous. Does the New Testament give further information and clarity of Old Testament passages in light of the progress of divine revelation? Of course. But does the New Testament change the intended meaning of any Old Testament passage into a different meaning, i.e. "reinterpretation"? Absolutely not. For New Testament writers to do so would be to deny or contradict the intended meaning of the Old Testament, which is to say that they would have gotten it wrong, because they would have been using an invalid hermeneutic. Such would, by the model of New Testament writers, set all meaning in any text into a sea of interpretive relativity.

In the Israel Today news article, the result of this "reinterpretation" is for Palestinians to change the meaning of "Israel" to something else (or someone else, namely themselves), and to change the meaning of the land of Israel into something else (namely, "our rights in our own land"). Such "reinterpretation" of the meaning of Israel is the same thing that Ladd designed his hermeneutic to do (see chapter of "The Last Things" entitled "What About Israel?").

Do sound hermeneutics matter? In the world scene of today, more than ever. For both Jews and Christians in Israel today, their lives depend on it.


  1. handling the two testaments in largely different ways was something i was exposed to earlier in life. i must say the most tragic confusion comes in the area of salvation. i understood that i was saved by grace, but was taught such a huge shift happened at the start of the new testament, that it was hard to see that salvation was all of grace from the beginning.

    i thought the OT saints were saved by the law...even though paul (and others!) clearly says that wasn't the case!

    it seems that if you start with a clear consistent hermeneutic regarding salvation (that it is all of grace through faith in a Messiah to be your sin substitute) that it should set the pattern for your heremeneutic...then land divisions and other yet fulfilled prophecies work themselves out. (i say SEEMS because i have many many good friends who see the continuity in salvation, but miss how that could help set the rest of their hermeneutic. guess i have to admit--though not be happy with, and seek to change--that i have those disconnects too.)

  2. Keith,

    I appreciate your post. For many it seems to be unimportant whether the NT reinterpretes the OT or whether it builds upon it, but the ramifications are anything but subtle.

  3. Wow, am I glad to read this.

    For years, I have wondered if I have been misunderstanding Ladd. Guess not! (John Piper declares himself to be a “George Eldon Ladd kind of guy”, which doesn’t help when you admire the otherwise keen insight of a man.) Great article, brother.

  4. To respond to Danny's comment -

    Those who understand the classical dispensational hermeneutic do not teach multiple ways of salvation... unfortunately, many pastors uninformed about the hermeneutic they embraced were confused about the differences between law and grace, and wrongly taught that OT saints were saved by law, and unfortunately this has become fodder to lead people to the thinking of Ladd and others...