I've mentioned this before but there's a scene in Fiddler on the Roof that always makes me chuckle.
Perchik, the Marxist student from Kiev is staying with Tevye the milkman and his family. This all takes place in the fictional shtetl of Anatevka around the turn of the 20th century. Perchik receives room and board with Tevye's family and his task is to teach his daughters who otherwise would not have educational opportunities.
Sitting along the riverbank Perchik is having a Bible lesson with the younger girls and though we come in part way, it's obvious they've been looking at the story of Jacob and Laban, the years of labour ending with Jacob's acquisition of Rachel and Leah as wives. If you recall Jacob got tricked into working an additional seven years.
Wrapping it up, Perchik concludes...you see the moral of the story is, never trust your employer!
We always chuckle at the Marxist hermeneutic at work. Undoubtedly many meanings might be extrapolated from the Genesis narrative, but I'm quite certain the Marxist interpretation is not a valid option.
It's a case of the culture milieu driving the hermeneutic....thankfully in this case for a comedic purpose.
Recently I was perusing Scott Hahn's book describing his conversion to Romanism. He had been theologically Reformed and after converting to Rome has become something of a marketing tool for them, a poster child for Protestant proselytism. At one point in the story he was challenged by someone regarding the rosary. He was accused of praying to Mary. He replied that was silly, they merely 'venerated' her. After all, he added in all seriousness, the Scriptures say that all will call her blessed. And in the rosary, that's all they're doing. It's perfectly Scriptural.
For those interested, you might enjoy delving into the terms doulia and latria. Latria means worship and we get our word idolatry form it. Doulia (or dulia) means service. They don't offer 'latria' to Mary, but they do practice 'doulia' with regard to her. Actually Mary is special. She gets 'hyper-doulia,' so make sure you get it right. (wink)
This would be another example of system categories being created in order to make the system work. It also reminds me of the same kind of creative arguments I find in American Evangelicalism to justify their innovations.
These are fairly obvious hermeneutical errors, but another that to my astonishment, I keep encountering comes from conservative and often Reformed circles. It concerns Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12.
If you recall, Rehoboam ignored the advice of the older men and followed the advice of the younger men and rather than relieve Solomon's heavy tax burden, he sought to increase it. This led to the division of Israel into the ten northern tribes, still referred to Israel and the small but more faithful kingdom of Judah and Benjamin. We read:
16 So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents.
17 But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them.
18 Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the tribute; and all Israel stoned him with stones, that he died. Therefore king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem.
19 So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day.
20 And it came to pass, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again, that they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel: there was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.
21 And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin, an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.
22 But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying,
23 Speak unto Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and unto all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the remnant of the people, saying,
24 Thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They hearkened therefore to the word of the LORD, and returned to depart, according to the word of the LORD.
Now, it's clear that God wanted the kingdom divided. Providence guides the hearts of kings and Shemaiah makes it clear that is was part of God's plan to divide the kingdom.
Why? Probably several reasons. There are many lessons derived from the division...the apostasy of the north, idolatry, judgment, the remnant in the south, the kingly line/the seed, preparing for the lessons and typology of the exile, setting the stage for the Messiah to come, etc...
But I keep encountering variations of this argument:
Since Rehoboam was increasing taxes.
Taxes are bad because the Bible teaches limited government.
Rehoboam wasn't allowed to pursue the rebellious northern tribes, he was forbidden by God to do so.
Therefore, tax revolts are legitimate, vindicated, and God honouring.
I'm sorry but that's right up there with....never trust an employer. Some of these folks are trying to find principles from the Bible to apply to all of life. While that's commendable on the surface and certainly the Bible instructs the Covenant People...the Church, this provides an excellent example of how skewed this way of thinking is when applied to modern politics.
And rather than honour God, they're actually demeaning and degrading the Scriptures and the Old Covenant people. Israel was not a nation like the United States or any other. It was the Covenant People of God, analogous to the Church in this age. We shouldn't treat Old Covenant Israel like they were just some other nation...like the Amorites, Syria, Egypt, or the United States.
This is just completely missing the fact that 2 Corinthians 1 says:
19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.
20 For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.
Israel was a picture of Jesus Christ as were all the promises of the Old Testament. It wasn't about the land. It still isn't. It wasn't about Israel being some kind of geo-political pattern for so-called Christian nations.
It was about Jesus the Christ.
Is it applicable in some sense to a modern nation? No. Modern nations are not analogous to Israel...they're Babylon's, Rome's, in fact anything BUT Israel.
The culture of our day drives this political interpretation. Maybe we should call it the Tea Party hermeneutic? It's every bit as bad as the Marxist or Roman versions. It completely misses what the passage is actually about and forces an interpretation that isn't there...all to serve a political and cultural agenda.
This is a failure to rightly handle the Word.
If we want to understand the Old Testament, we need to first turn to the clear didactic passages in the New Testament, passages that aren't clouded by apocalyptic imagery or prophetic typology, passages that aren't poetic wisdom, or even parable contained within narrative. We should first turn to the clear passages, like the Epistles. There we can safely derive principles and definitions which will help us go back and visit other less clear passages of Scripture. Or in the case of Old Testament narrative, but rightly understanding what or more particularly who Israel represented, it will help us understand the scope and limits of application.
Also we should be careful of blatant contradiction. I'm not referring to dynamics or perspectival difficulties that might arise when trying to reconcile metaphysical concepts with physical manifestations, or eschatological and temporal tensions.
The above example would be a case of deriving a moral principle from Old Testament narrative that blatantly contradicts a moral imperative from the superior New Testament/Covenant. We are told to pay our taxes. We may not like what they're used for. If you don't like paying them, then by all means take legitimate action. You can vote, sign a petition, or whatever as a private citizen. Protesting taxes is not really the task of the church, but as citizens of common grace kingdoms if there's a means to do that...fine. In a worst case scenario, you can leave to avoid paying them.
But we're never told it's alright to revolt against taxes we don't like...even ones that are immoral. Paul was well aware in Romans 13, as Christ was in Luke 20, that Rome would use the taxes to fund the murderous legions, pay for bread and circuses...the Roman welfare programme, as well as fund idolatrous temples.
Were they upset about this? No. Were Christians to protest these taxes? No.
For those unfamiliar, the counter-argument is....they just didn't have the means to. Roman government had no democratic voice. If it did, then they should have.
Arguments from silence are usually a bit shaky and in addition this one is not true. The office of Tribune still existed though certainly by Imperial times it had lost some of its weight. Nevertheless, the Tribunes wouldn't have been interested in the grievances of Jewish sect. But you know what? That was alright. There's no dilemma...unless you're a Sacralist.
Then, you have constructed what you believe to be a 'christian' version of the state. And like it or not, your own cultural history is bound to affect and shape how you look at the issue. Or to put it another way, since the Scriptures don't really provide a blueprint, and the Israel analogy is fraught with difficulties, you have to fill in the gaps. Consequently, I think this is an example of Tea Party hermeneutics hunting for Bible passages to support their presuppositions. This is a distinctly American hermeneutic, and unless you believe hermeneutics to be subjective and situational...then it is patently wrong.
This is the same kind of error that has led Christians to vindicate Total War. The Israelites did it in the conquest of Canaan right? So we...Christian America don't have to feel bad about Iraqi civilians getting killed.
Or, since the land belongs to the Jews, they're justified, maybe even mandated to treat the Palestinian Arabs the way they do.
Sometimes this hermeneutic can have some pretty serious implications. In the case of taxes, it's bad enough, but revolt and/or oppression can leave the Church with blood on its hands. It's the story of Church History....which is often something quite different than the story of the Church.