The Book of Acts Day 6

Monday, September 18, 2006

As part of interpreting Acts, the lecturer gave us a short session on biblical interpretation i.e. exegesis and hermeneutics, which was informative and enlightening for me. I have been doing some exegesis and never really did understand what hermeneutics is until now. It is better to have someone explain things to us. The books and materials that I have been referring to would usually regard hermeneutics as the whole process of exegesis, which made me think of it as similar to exegesis anyway.

Here is the definition he gave us:
Biblical interpretation is the study of theoretical principle involved in bringing out the original intended meaning (exegesis) and the contemporary application (hermeneutics) of the bible and its message.

There is a problem in interpreting Acts. It is because it presents something unique to the bible as the only one of its kind in the NT. It is quite similar to the narratives in OT but we do treat it with a certain degree of difference - we do not take most of what is in the OT as normative because we know that it is written specifically for and on the Israelites. But because Acts is written about the early church, we tend to want to treat most of the stuff in there as precedent and hence the norm. The problem is that there is no other narrative or historical book relating to the church in the NT.

Examples are many: who should be baptised? How should we be baptised? Is baby baptism acceptable? How often should we take Holy Communion? What church government should we have? Should we have 2 baptism, water and spirit? And the list goes on.

Obviously, no answers are given the above controversial questions. What we have are some general principles: we have 3 kinds of statements and 2 levels of statements. The 3 kinds are Christian theology, Christian ethics and Christian experience; and the 2 levels are the primary and the secondary. Primary theological statements include: God is one, all Scripture is God-breathed. And secondary statements being the derivative of the primary would include those pertaining to the Trinitarian God and the infallibility of the bible. But we must be mindful that being secondary statements does not undermine their importance. They are just as important. How we interpret the bible is how we deal with it using the guidelines.

I know, it still sounds up in the sky but for whatever it is worth, at least we all could agree on the basic and fundamental primary statements.

In order to interpret Acts, we should have a good idea what the intention of the author is. Fee and Stuart in their How to Read the Bible for all its Worth gives us an idea. Basically, Luke wants to show how the church emerged as a chiefly Gentile, world-wide phenomenon from its origins as a Jerusalem-based, Judaism-oriented sect of Jewish believers and how the Holy Spirit was directly responsible for this phenomenon of universal salvation based on grace alone. Therefore, in dealing with with Acts as to whether the passages are prescriptive or descriptive, we would need to first ascertain the intention of the author. And that is easier said than done.

Unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is merely narrated or described can never function in a normative way. (97)
~ Fee and Stuart

Picture by Jesper Noer

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3 comment(s)

  1. Excellent.

    Thank you for the distinction between exegesis and hermeneutics. One of these days, I hope to do one on the importance of eisegesis.

    Amen on Acts! It's tough!

    There are SOOOO many things in Acts that we just gloss over, but that I think were higher and better than anything we have today. The problem is that everyone else thinks that what we have today is better. I protest that today's church is merely familiar, but I may as well be selling chess sets to Nintendo gamers.

    Acts is hard.

  2. Eisegesis - the lecturer did mention it but said it is just a made up word, but with a relevant meaning. You think it is a proper word after all?

  3. I have no idea whether it exists in Greek.

    The idea is that you find in the scripture that for which you are looking. You read into it whatever you want to read into it. And I believe that this is a good and important thing.

    Joh 5:39
    Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.