Friday, June 30, 2023

More Helpful Hints in Hermeneutics (Deuteronomy 4:1-14)

"You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it" (Deut. 4:2).

When reading Scripture, watch for the presence of parallelisms. A parallelism is a relationship between two or more sentences or clauses that correspond in similarity or are set with each other. There are three types of parallelism: synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic. Synonymous parallelism occurs when different lines or parts of a passage present the same thought but in a slightly different way: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” (Ps. 95:6). Antithetic parallelism occurs when the two parts are set in contrast to each other: “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Prov. 13:1). In a synthetic parallelism, the first part of the passage creates as sense of expectation which is fulfilled in the second part. For example, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7).

Recognizing parallelism can help clear up difficult passages. For example, “I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil” (Isa. 45:6–7 KJV). Does this passage make God the author of sin? No, not if you are faithful to the antithetic parallel structure. Light is contrasted with darkness. Peace with what? “Evil.” But what kind of evil? The kind that is opposite of peace, not the kind that is opposite of goodness. The NASB rightly takes the parallel structure into account and translates this passage, “Causing well-being and creating calamity.” The point of the passage is that God is the one who brings blessing and peace, but also creates calamity when He acts in judgment.

Another rule of interpretation is to recognize the difference between a proverb and a law. Proverbs are catchy sayings designed to express practical truisms. They reflect principles of wisdom for godly living. They are not, however, absolute laws. If you make a proverb an absolute rule you can encounter many problems, even contradictions. For example, Proverbs 26:4 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.” Verse 5 says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Sometimes, it is foolish to answer a fool, and other times it is wise to answer a fool with foolishness.

Read Proverbs 16:7. Why can you not take this proverb as an absolute law? If Proverbs 16:7 were an absolute law, how would you explain Matthew 10:16–22? How would you explain Saul’s hatred of David? David was a man after God’s heart, yet his enemies were not at peace with him. How should you apply the proverb?