Biblical Hermeneutics: An Alternative Paradigm

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Dr. Brian Allison

Biblical hermeneutics is critical and foundational to the whole theological (and apologetical) enterprise. One's view of Scripture and one's interpretive approach to Scripture directly determines the nature of one's theology (and apologetics). Further, the paradigmatic framework which one assumes for the interpretation of the Scripture defines and shapes the actual means and tools adopted in the actual handling and treatment of the Scripture. Theological paradigm determines interpretive methodology. Paradigm has priority. Paradigm serves to inform, delimit, and thus determine, methodology; and methodology governs and regulates how the data, or object of inquiry, will be treated, as well as necessitates the kind of conclusions or findings eventually achieved.

The cultural-historical paradigm

The theological paradigm typically assumed by many evangelical interpreters is a cultural-historical paradigm (fig. 1). On the one hand, we have the Modern world of the contemporary Christian and, on the other hand, we have the Ancient world of the early Christian community. There (obviously) exists a cultural and historical 'gap' between the Ancient and Modern worlds. There exists a gap between the 'then' and the 'now' that must be bridged. The practices, customs, institutions, and language of the Modern world are far removed from those of the Ancient world. Accordingly, the supposed task or object of the Biblical interpreter is to seek to bridge this cultural-historical gap by 'entering into,' or by recovering, the cultural-historical mindset and understanding which characterized the Ancient world in order to know and determine the real meaning or truth of the Scripture which was originally written in that remote context. Grant Osborne states, "By the very nature of language the Bible's univocal truths are couched in analogical language, that is, the absolute truths of Scripture were encased in the human languages and cultures of the ancient Hebrews and Greeks, and we must understand those cultures in order to interpret the biblical texts properly...It is the task of bridging the cultural gap from the original situation to our day that is complex, not the resultant meaning... Hermeneutics as a discipline demands a complex interpretive process in order to uncover the original clarity of Scripture." Again, Moises Silva argues, "The history of biblical interpretation during the past century or two – whatever objectionable features it has had – must be understood primarily as an attempt to bridge this massive linguistic and cultural gap between us and the original text. The development of highly specialized critical tools may appear to create a wall between the simple believer and the Bible, but in effect it facilitates bringing the two together ...Furthermore, modern critical approaches should not be viewed naively as completely neutral with respect to the question of faith."

The cultural-historical paradigm requires the understanding of 'horizons;' the understanding and social context of the Biblical interpreter (the inner horizon), and the understanding and social context of the Biblical writer (the outer horizon). The Biblical interpreter must attempt to recover the original intention or intended meaning of the author in his particular socio-cultural historical setting, which really becomes a psychological project. The implication is that the true and objective meaning of the revelation of God is intricately bound to the socio-cultural historical setting in which it was given, and that one can only know that true and objective meaning by first understanding the socio-cultural historical context. Henry Virkler claims, "The meaning of a text cannot be interpreted with any degree of certainty without historical-cultural and contextual analysis." This paradigm thus justifies and validates the methodology of extrabiblical and critical studies and research, as well as the legitimacy of the 'hermeneutical circle.' Accordingly, attaining the true meaning of Scripture is thus ultimately dependent upon scholarship or the Biblical 'expert.' As Silva affirms, "In spite of such qualifications, we can state unequivocally that modern biblical scholarship has helped to open up the meaning of innumerable passages of Scripture, sometimes in very dramatic ways."

Bankruptcy of the cultural-historical paradigm

The cultural-historical model is a self-defeating one. It can never achieve its intended goal. It is a paradigm that ultimately leads to skepticism. One can never be certain that he or she has secured the truth or real meaning of any given passage upon which extrabiblical material bears and is required. In the final analysis, 'truth' is ultimately determined by personal preference and bias. Though the subjective hermeneutical approaches of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur are fundamentally wrong, some of their observations reveal the bankruptcy and futility of the cultural-historical model. Walter Kaiser has summarized Gadamer's and Ricoeur's methodological views. Gadamer contends that the securing of (interpretive) truth cannot reside in the interpreter's attempt to recover the author's original meaning or intent because the interpreter has a new and different knowledge of the text as determined by his or her own historical moment or framework. One's historical moment inevitably informs one's perspective and understanding. One is always, and necessarily, viewing matters from a biased and remote position. Two of Gadamer's affirmations are: 1) prejudice in Biblical interpretation is unavoidable. The interpreter addresses the text from a personal preunderstanding; 2) the meaning of the text extends beyond the understanding of the author. Thus, interpretive understanding is a productive activity, rather than a reproductive one. The subject matter, not the author, is the determiner of the text's meaning.

Ricoeur claims that a text is semantically independent of the author's intention. The text may mean something different than what the author intended. Further, he claims that once texts have been written down, their meanings are no longer determined by the original audiences' understanding of them. The meaning of a text may be freed from its original situational limits once it is written down. Practically and realistically speaking, the cultural and historical gap can never be completely bridged by any rational-empirical methodology. Accordingly, we may be left in uncertainty concerning the real meaning of a text. God's Word ultimately becomes a closed book. The inability to bridge the gap between the two worlds is, in effect, the loss of the true and certain knowledge of God.

The transcultural-transhistorical paradigm

The theological paradigm that I suggest is more faithful to the nature and intent of revelation is a transcultural-transhistorical paradigm (fig. 2). Admittedly, the revelation of God was given within a particular cultural-historical context. This particular cultural-historical context occasioned and conditioned the character and content of the revelation, but did not determine the nature of it. The revelation given, though identified with the cultural-historical, is not bound to it. In summarizing Gordon Lewis, William Larkin writes, "The inspired writers used their own powers of self-transcendence and received God's transcendent guidance in writing Scripture. Therefore the biblical message is not culture-bound." The Holy Spirit, through His presence and activity, has rendered this revelation (i.e., the Scripture as a whole and viewed as a whole) transcultural and transhistorical. The meaning and truth of the Scripture transcend the bounds and limitations of the original socio-cultural historical context in which it was given. The meaning and truth of the Scripture are intellectually accessible to all cultures and during all historical periods (though any particular culture or historical period may present some challenging peculiarities to accessibility). Carl Henry notes, "Whoever contends that revelation cannot be the carrier of objective truth transcending our social location in history claims a privileged standpoint of personal exemption from that dictum. Nothing in either history or culture precludes transcultural truth...The truth of God can be stated in all cultures; it does not need to be restated in any culture except by linguistic translation and repetition."

The Biblical interpreter does not need first to secure an understanding of the original culture and history in order to attain the true meaning of the Scripture. Through the Holy Spirit, the body of divine revelation has become a closed, self-contained system, operating according to its own laws and principles (e.g. the Spirit infuses spiritual meaning and new significance into culturally and philosophically derived terms, such as the Johanine lÒgoj. The original culture does not play a determinative role in understanding the true meaning of the words of the text, even though such may have been the case for the apostolic writers). The Scripture has assumed a 'spiritual' character – "Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age...but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery...Now we have received...the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining [or interpreting] spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" (1 Cor. 2:6f.,12f.).

Only God can bear witness to Himself. He is His own interpreter. The revelation of God is not dependent upon human skill, erudition, or research for the securing of its meaning and truth. It requires no ab extra source in order to guarantee or establish meaningfulness or veracity. Rather than the need to enter the Ancient world and recover the author's understanding and intention, which was culturally and historically related (not bound), the Biblical interpreter must enter the 'Scriptural world,' – that world of a self-contained system of divine truth – through the presence and activity of the Spirit. Through faith and by the aid of the Spirit, one may enter into the Scriptural world, rendering the Ancient world in which the revelation was given, an ever present world. Through the Spirit, there no longer remains a gap between the Modern world and the Ancient world. The truth given within a particular socio-cultural historical context is now directly accessible to the Biblical interpreter who, by the aid of the Spirit, enters into the Scriptural world (We will say a word about the medium of language below). There is no cultural-historical gap. There is no distinction between the 'then' and the 'now,' but the 'then' is the 'now.' Through faith and by the illumination of the Spirit, modern time, and even modern culture (though personal cultural baggage may remain a hindering and biasing factor), is transcended and the world of the prophets and apostles becomes our world in terms of understanding the truth or real meaning of the revelation given.10 

The original textual meaning of the Biblical writers was occasioned and conditioned by the socio-cultural historical context, but the resultant, ultimate textual meaning is dependent upon, and necessitated by, the Spirit's intention. In a real sense, the apostolic writers 'built better than they knew.' The Spirit's intended meaning was not necessarily confined to the writer's intended meaning. Though the Spirit worked through the rational faculties of the writers within their particular social milieu, the Spirit's activity and design were not restricted by such factors, nor was truth inextricably bound to them.11  So, for example, understanding the first century Judaism, or being familiar with Intertestamental life and practices, is not requisite for securing the truth or real meaning of the New Testament records, even though the thoughts and perspectives of the apostolic writers were shaped and influenced by such historical and cultural factors. Larkin writes, "The Bible as divine revelation has its source a priori outside any given culture...Moreover, the message proclaimed in Scripture is by its very nature intended to be universally and eternally valid...Its message is for every human being, regardless of culture or historical era."12  The Scripture has assumed a supracultural and a suprahistorical character, though the Scriptural content was culturally influenced and is historically based; and in the Spirit, in entering the Scriptural world, we enter God's own transcendent history. In God's transcendent history, there is only one horizon – God's – in which we may spiritually participate.

The danger of a cultural-historical paradigm

A cultural-historical paradigm carries dangerous implications. The most serious implication is a forfeiting of Biblical authority. Intrinsic uncertainty surrounding the real meaning of a text results in a loss of Scriptural credibility, as well as the legitimacy of personal preference and judgement concerning the truth of the text. As Larkin warns, "Most discussions in evangelical circles focused on ways in which background data could help explain the meaning and significance of ancient cultural customs and practices recorded in Scripture, and even of scriptural injunctions. Not many evangelicals recognized the full implications of such a procedure: how the examination and assessment of biblical content in the light of extrabiblical cultural information could lead to the undermining of biblical authority...Labeling certain parts of the Bible as cultural practices had definite implications for scriptural authority."13 

Presuppositions of a transcultural-transhistorical paradigm

The transcultural-transhistorical paradigm is based on certain presuppositions. First, God has given an intelligible, rational revelation which truly discloses His self-knowledge. He has declared His Word. The transcendent God has thus become immanent through and in His revelation; a revelation that is designed for, and suited to, the whole of humanity which bears His image.14  This revelation therefore has universal significance, intent, and scope. Second, God has given a revelation (which has assumed the form of Scripture) which is self-sufficient (which implies that the Scripture is divinely inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative).15  In principle, and ultimately, this revelation requires no external source or aid in order to disclose a proper and complete interpretation. The Scripture requires no outside witness or support in order to verify, validate, or supplement its content of divine truth. All that God desires us to know about His will and ways – 'life and godliness' – is literally in sola Scriptura. The Scripture, in keeping with its divine and spiritual character, is self-defining, self-interpreting, and self-authenticating, and thus one can know the true meaning of a text by remaining within the scope of the Scripture itself (assuming that one understands the medium of communication, that is, language).16  Again, only God can bear witness to Himself, and He does. God does not require human reason or empiricism to guarantee the true or accurate understanding of His Word. This fact, however, does not mean that the Biblical interpreter cannot, or should not, use means (e.g. a lexicon; see below). The point is that in giving His revelation, God has ensured the means by which that revelation may be accurately understood – the inherent ability to bear witness to, and disclose, itself. The truth of God's Word is not held ransom to the dictates of scholarship nor to the subtleties of academia. Through the Spirit, revelation was given; and by the Spirit, through reasoning faith, that revelation must be understood. Third, God has given a revelation which is perspicuous. The Scripture, in terms of intelligibility and knowability, are plain. This does not mean that all of Scripture is immediately and easily understood, but rather that the meaning and truth of the Scripture is personally and directly accessible. It is not enigmatic or cryptic in essence. It is an 'open book' to all Christian believers.

Cultural-historical studies inconsequential

The accurate interpretation of the Scripture is not dependent upon cultural-historical studies and research. The findings of such studies and research may enhance one's appreciation of the Scripture, or may offer a fuller understanding of the situation or occasion for the actual writing of the Scripture, but such findings will not determine or establish the truth value of the Scripture.17  They will add nothing in terms of the true meaning which God desired and intended for us to have. Scripture's non-dependence upon cultural-historical studies and research for the securing of true meaning does not mean that language study and research is inconsequential and irrelevant, as if knowledge of the truth of the Scripture is automatic and immediate by simply reading the translated text; energetic intellectual effort is required (The first century Christians of the Biblical world knew immediately and directly the linguistic form and meaning of the text, though spiritual understanding of the text may not have been immediate and direct. All things being equal, they obviously did not require any external aids; but because the language we use is different from the original language of the Scripture, external aids are required; but this does not necessarily imply a cultural-historical dependence for Biblical interpretation, though language usage is associated with, and rooted, in culture.18  For further details, see below).

Scripture's non-dependence upon cultural-historical studies and research does mean that the Biblical interpreter does not need to understand the historical customs, the ancient cultural practices, or the past societal institutions in order to understand the truth value or real meaning of the passage or text.19  Again, these studies and research may enhance appreciation of the passage or text, but will not aid in any way in securing the accurate interpretation of the passage or text. As mentioned, by the nature of the case, the Scripture is a closed, self-contained system of truth. Accordingly, in studying a passage like 1 Corinthians 11, which deals with headcovering, one should not import a cultural hermeneutic (e.g. the practice of pagan prostitutes, or the customary practice of dress) in order to interpret it. Such an approach denies the fact that Scripture is self-contained and self-sufficient truth. The Scripture must be interpreted according to itself, and within itself. As Hans Frei observes, "The meaning of the text remains the same no matter what the perspectives of succeeding generations of interpreters may be. In other words, the constancy of the meaning of the text is the text and not the similarity of its effect on the life-perspectives of succeeding generations. No reference to the situation of the interpreter is necessary in understanding the text."20  The introduction of a cultural hermeneutic results in an interpretation which is arbitrary and personally preferential, and thus there is distortion of the truth. Any foreign intellectual intrusion into, or academic interpolation of, the Scripture, which alters the divinely intended truth value or real meaning of the Scripture, creates a noetic hybrid, which is essentially religious idolatry (In one respect, the cultural-historical paradigm is a distant child of the Enlightenment). The only safeguard to accurate interpretation is to allow Scripture to speak and stand according to its plain statements. Again, in studying a passage like 1 John, one need not first understand the 'in and outs' of incipient Gnosticism (which apparently occasioned this writing) in order to secure the truth value or real meaning of the Biblical text. The Biblical interpreter need only address the plain statements of the text, being assured that a true and sufficient understanding is possible by simply working within the scope or parameters of the Scripture, that is, the Scriptural world, as God Himself bears witness to His own revelation.21  Again, it would be interesting, no doubt, to study the teachings of the Stoics and Epicureans as background preparation for interpreting Acts 17, but, regardless of the enhancement of understanding afforded by this historical background, such a preparation is unnecessary to secure the truth or real meaning of the passage that God desired and intended. The truth value of the Biblical text is not determined or established by the findings or conclusions of extrabiblical studies and research in the areas of ancient cultures and histories.

The need for language competency

Now, though the Biblical interpreter is not dependent upon cultural-historical studies and research, he or she is practically dependent upon linguistic studies and research, simply because his or her native language is not koine Greek (or classical Hebrew or Aramaic). Again, the first century Christians understood the linguistic form and meaning of the text immediately and directly; and thus, in principle, the Biblical interpreter was not dependent upon external aids or sources (that is, the nature of God's Word is that it should be self-interpreting – all things being equal). However, for the 20th century Christian, a practical dependency upon language aids is inevitable.22  The Greek language must be understood (by us or by someone who can provide us with a translation) in order for one even to have the possibility of interpreting and understanding God's revelation; but this fact does not necessitate a dependency on understanding cultural practices, customs, lifestyles, etc. One is not so much dependent upon cultural insight and appreciation, as upon language acquisition and competency – it is simply a matter of emphasis – though language is culturally related. It is true that scholars, practically speaking, may have to consider the cultural setting in order to determine accurately the meaning of certain words (e.g. paidagwgÒj), but much of language study and research depends on the historic preservation and continuity of language meaning and usage – e.g. Clement, Tertullian, Jerome, Aquinas, Tyndale, Erasmus, Calvin, Owen, etc. knew and used the original languages of the Scripture – and on the linguistic heritage which has been successively passed down from generation to generation, long after the original socio-cultural historical milieu has disappeared. For instance, once a word has become a part of a culture, having arisen out of that culture (e.g. 'drug-pusher'), that word, in being defined or documented (and thus assuming a 'permanent form'), may continue to be used and understood, absolutely independent of its cultural roots and context (assuming that one possesses the cognitive ability and didactic means to entertain or reconstruct the concept). It has become a part of a linguistic history and legacy. The cultural basis thus may be deemed obsolete and irrelevant.23 

Understanding language

Language may be understood from at least three perspectives. First, language form is the way or manner in which a language is written and spoken. It concerns the shape of the written symbols and the sounds of the spoken words. Language form is 'linguistic expression,' which has a relative quality. Second, language content is the subject matter which language conveys or communicates. It concerns the particular idea that is expressed. Language content is 'linguistic meaning or sense,' which has an objective (and often a universal) quality. Third, language precondition is the transcendental conceptual basis that provides the possibility and ground for language itself. It concerns the inner structure and possibility of language meaning and expression. Language precondition is 'linguistic foundationalism,' which has a universal quality. Language form is certainly culturally related (e.g. the word 'Stoffwechsel' is peculiar to the German language; or, England, 1539 - 'Byble;' England, 1611 - 'Bible'). Language content is not exclusively culturally related (that is, the content has universal relevance and significance; e.g. 'death,' 'love,' etc.). Language precondition is not culturally based at all. Language precondition is dependent upon the way human beings think.24  The structure and intellectual categories and propensities of the mind necessitate a certain way of perceiving and understanding the world (e.g. the notion of relations or movement - 'up,' 'down,' etc.). Language precondition is rooted in rationality itself.25  Language precondition concerns how the world is perceived and apprehended, in keeping with the reality that God has created and the rationality that He has created to answer, and to correspond, to that reality.26  Language precondition has universal significance because God is rational and communicative. God's rationality and communication are original; human being's rationality and communication (being the imago Dei) are derivative (being dependent upon the very fact of God's rationality and communication).27  Because language content and language precondition have a universal character, the reasonably accurate translation of one language into another language is possible.28  Yet, because of the need of translation in order to have access to the meaning of the original languages, the contemporary Biblical interpreter requires lexical and linguistic aids; but, again, he or she is not herein dependent upon understanding the original socio-cultural historical context.29 

Linguistic-spiritual approach

Thus, with a transcultural-transhistorical paradigm for Biblical hermeneutics, the appropriate hermeneutical methodology is a linguistic-spiritual approach. The cultural-historical paradigm typically demands a grammatico-historical or a synthetic-theological approach.30  If the Scripture comprises a closed, self-contained system of truth, which is self-interpreting and self-defining, then the proper methodology must entail a mere concentration on the language usage and meaning. The Biblical interpreter need only concern himself with the meaning of words, the grammar and syntax of the sentences, and the sense and significance of the ideas or concepts within their context. Pink writes, "The task of the interpreter is to determine, by strict exegetical investigation, the exact import of the words used by the Holy Spirit, and, as far as he possibly can, give forth God's thoughts in his own language...Scripture must be allowed to speak for itself, and it does so only so far as the [interpreter] sets forth its genuine import."31  Given the fact that he or she understands language usage, the Biblical interpreter or, for that matter, the Christian believer,32  can know sufficiently and completely the real meaning of the Scripture as intended by the Spirit – rather than that of the apostolic writer, though these two intentions may have coalesced and been similar; the point is that the Spirit's intention has exclusive and determinative priority – unaided by extrabiblical studies and research in the areas of culture and history. Pink provides us with the right perspective for interpreting the Scripture, "It is at the feet of God that the [interpreter] must take his place, learning from Him the meaning of His Word, waiting upon Him to open its mysteries, looking to Him for his message. Nowhere but in the Scripture can he ascertain what is pleasing or displeasing unto the Lord."33

1 Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1991, pp. 7,9f.).

2 Moises Silva, Has the Church Misread the Bible? (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1987, p. 90).

3 Henry A. Virkler, Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981, p. 77).

4 Silva, Misread the Bible?, p. 90.

5 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. and Moises Silva, "The Meaning of Meaning," An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, pp. 28-30).

6 William J. Larkin, Jr., Culture and Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988, p. 94).

7 Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, Vol. IV (Waco: Word Books, Publisher, p. 53).

8 In this connection, Arthur Pink helpfully notes, "The correct interpretation of many passages can be satisfactorily established only by a careful investigation of how their terms are employed by the sacred writers, for not a few of them possess an entirely different force from their dictionary meanings...Each term must be defined in strict harmony with the sense given to it in the Word itself. It is because the average reader of the Bible interprets much of its language in accord with how the same is employed in the common speech of his fellows that he has an inadequate, and often degrading, concept of its expressions. The concordance will stand him in far better stead than the best dictionary." Interpretation of the Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972, p. 78).

9 Noel Weeks writes, "If Scripture is shaped and its concepts supplied by the culture in which it arose, then it is all determined by that culture. Hence all of it, every idea and concept, must be changed to be relevant to another culture. We meet here the basic assumption of cultural relativism...Scripture rejects this view simply because God is God. He is not bound and captive within history...If the truth is not culture-bound, yet is directed to a particular culture, then we can apply that same truth to different cultures and different situations." The Sufficiency of Scripture (Carlisle: The Banner or Truth Trust, 1988, pp. 77f.).

10 Some may immediately criticize and contend that this position advocates mysticism or a subjectivism. I am not advocating a personalistic religion. Revelation is objective, and it should be understood objectively, and not according to experiential or personal criteria. The more accurate operative term is mystery (in the Biblical sense), rather than mysticism. Divine revelation was given 'in a mystery,' and must be understood in the sphere of 'mystery.' The Scriptural world is the sphere of God's mystery.

11 In another connection, Henry remarks, "There is no doubt that revelation is historically oriented or time-related in that it is communicated in a particular language (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) and in the context of certain events and situations and peoples. And some forms in which revelation is set certainly reflect similarities to be found in the cultural milieu...That does not, however, demonstrate historical derivation and dependence, let alone similarity of meaning and purpose...The fact that the forms of divine revelation reflect some similarities to other existing forms of communication hardly supplies a basis for questioning their legitimacy." God, IV, p. 60.

12 Larkin, Hermeneutics, p. 191f.

13 Larkin, Hermeneutics, p. 94.

14 Gordon H. Clark writes, "The Christian view, on the contrary, is that God created Adam as a rational mind. The structure of Adam's mind was the same as God's...Since God is both rational and omnipotent he faced no problem in adequately expressing his truth in words. Because man is also rational, he faces no inherent problem in understanding God's words." Language and Theology (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980. pp. 139,141).

15 Bernard Ramm rightly states, "Because Holy Scripture is given by divine revelation and by divine inspiration, it is in virtue of these two characteristics trasnscultural from its very inception. For this reason it can be translated into the languages of the world, be read intelligently, be properly interpreted, and yield theological truth." Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970, p. 161).

16 This fact, of course, does not mean that Biblical tools, like Commentaries, may not be used. These tools may indeed be a faithful witness to Biblical truth. God has been pleased to bless the efforts and study of various Christians.

17 Some justify the use of extrabiblical materials for the securing of the true meaning of a text on pragmatic grounds, insisting that the materials are illuminating and helpful. But the issue is one of Biblical faithfulness, being true to the nature and intent of the Scripture. I suspect that few proponents of the cultural-historical paradigm realize that such a paradigm results in Biblical compromise.

18 Carl F. H. Henry states, "Yet language was divinely gifted not primarily to provide a basis for culture, but rather to facilitate intelligible communion between man and God and communication of the truth." God, Revelation and Authority, Vol. III (Waco: Word Books, Publisher, 1979, p. 387).

19 In referring to Bruce J. Nicholls' work, Larkin writes, "The biblical message was undeniably conditioned by the author's cultural setting, but not in such a way as to distort or relativize the message. Indeed, the supracultural content of the message transformed the cultural form, even though the form was decisive for the expression of the content; both the form and the content have their own objectivity. God's control over the cultural factors kept them from undermining the perspicuity of Scripture, its intelligibility on its own terms, and its authority." Hermeneutics, p. 183.

20 Hans W. Frei, "Remarks in Connection with a Theological Proposal," Theology & Narrative. Selected Essays, ed. George Hunsinger and William C. Placher (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 32).

21 Even a seemingly cultural phrase like "gird up the loins of your mind," may be understood within the scope or purview of the Scripture (cf. Ex. 12:11). "Gird up the loins" thus essentially indicates preparedness for action. Hence, the exhortation is for one to be mentally alert and serious.

22 Yet, God's truth, though dependent upon language, is not determined by it. God can, and does, equally reveal the same truth through different languages. No truth value is necessarily lost in the communication of any target language. Again, divine revelation is not time-bound, but transcends all temporal barriers. The eternal God has communicated eternal truth, which defies any historical-linguistic reductionism. Entrance into the Scriptural world by the Spirit levels all differences, and opens up all possibilities.

23 It is true that we must recognize and take into consideration that language does pass through developmental stages so that the original meaning is not always synonymous with the resultant or remote meaning.

24 As Henry writes, "That there are fundamental characteristics of human thinking, that they are manifest in the structure of language, that these universal structures rather than being an emergent or distillation of experience are what make human experience possible, are sound and necessary emphases." God, III, p. 342.

25 Henry writes, "All human language depends on a common logic and on identical modes of thought. Nor is the importance of this logicality of language diminished by the fact that people assign different names to the same object, or by the fact that some words are used ambiguously...The gift of human speech and language, in brief, presupposes the imago Dei, particularly rationality." God, III, pp. 239,390.

26 David S. Dockery writes, "As theologians since the time of Augustine have observed, human beings created in the image of God can have memories of the past, considerations of the present, and expectations of the future. To the extent that these potential capacities are employed, persons – contrary to objects – are neither temporally nor culturally bound. The writers are certainly time-related but not necessarily time-bound. Moses and Paul, among others, demonstrated cross-cultural influences and experiences. The writers were certainly not entirely culturally or behaviorally conditioned." "The Divine-Human Authorship of Inspired Scripture," Authority and Interpretation. A Baptist Perspective, ed. Duane A. Garrett and Richard R. Melick, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987, pp. 25f.).

27 Henry states, "In the theistic view, language is possible because of man's God-given endowment of rationality, of a priori categories and of innate ideas, all of which precondition his ability to think and speak. Since every mind is lighted by the Logos or Reason of God, thought stands behind language." God, III, p. 389.

28 Peter Cotterell and Max Turner present ten universals of language: "1. A limited range of sounds is used...2. All languages have sounds grouped together into units which appear again and again, corresponding to our idea of word...3. In all languages comparatively brief sequences of speech are used corresponding to our notion of sentences...4. In all languages there are ways of asking questions, giving commands, making statements...5. There are at least two word categories, the one used to denote objects, corresponding to our notion of nouns, and the other used to denote actions, corresponding to our notion of verbs...6. All languages have word classes which allow for the modification of the nominals and verbals: let us call them adjectivals and adverbials...7. All languages have a class of 'pro-forms', words that stand in the place of other words or groups of words...8. All languages have the means of expressing negatives: of expressing a positive by means of an appropriate negative...9. All languages have some means for the deletion of tiresome repetition, especially repetition of verbal forms...10. All languages demonstrate morphemic structure." Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1989, pp. 19-25).

29 Henry writes, "But if both human language and human thought-forms are culturally conditioned, as Rogers contends, then no enduring meaning whatever either is known to man or can be verbally communicated by or to him; in fact Rogers disowns an intellectualistic view that revelation involves the communication of transcendent truths." God, IV, p. 62.

30 Silva writes, "The description grammatico-historical indicates, of course, that this analysis must pay attention both to the language in which the original text was written and to the specific cultural context that gave rise to the text." "Who Needs Hermeneutics Anyway?" Hermeneutics, p. 18.

31 Pink, Interpretation, p. 38.

32 This acknowledgement, of course, does not preclude the need for competent and qualified teachers. We can greatly benefit from the work of other Christians. The pursuit of God's truth is a communal or ecclesiastical affair. The transcultural-transhistorical paradigm should not imply an independent or maverick, and much less a mystical or subjective, approach to interpretation.

33 Pink, Interpretation, p. 25.