Essential: Literal Hermeneutic, Part 2

Posted by Matt Postiff March 4, 2011 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Creation 

The first essential element of young earth creation is literal hermeneutics. Without this kind of approach to the Scripture, there is no way that young earth creationism could emerge from the text. On February 15, I listed nine factors that inform or constrain the meaning of a (Biblical) text. In this post, I want to list a few other thoughts that are involved in the conclusion that literal hermeneutics is not only necessary to the YEC view, but that it is the only right and proper way to interpret the Biblical text.

  1. Literalism follows from several Bible examples, such as Neh. 8:8, Num. 12:8; Hab. 2:2; John 16:25, 29; Prov. 8:8-9; Deut. 27:8; and Ezra 4:18. These text show that not only in the use of Scripture but also in its production, a plain, literal meaning was intended by God.
  2. A literal approach to the Scripture is implied in the normal use of language to communicate propositions. God created man in His image with the ability to communicate. We expect that when God communicates, He will do so in an understandable, straightforward way.
  3. The doctrine of the perspicuity or clarity of Scripture supports a literal approach. The Bible is essentially clear (Ps. 119:105; 2 Peter 3:16). Some things are hard to understand, indeed, but most of the Bible is straightforward to understand. None of it is in code language.
  4. Literal interpretation is axiomatic. Without it, communication is impossible. It has to be assumed to even speak about it.

With the previous post, these thoughts lead me inexorably to the conclusion that the plainest sense of Scripture is the right sense. Taking a figure of speech as such, for example, is more plain than the "woodenly literal" interpretation. In terms of the creation debate, a day should be considered a 24-hour day unless it is impossible to take it that way. The conclusions of science are in no wise the "impossible" that rules out a 24-hour day. Remember--the meaning is in the text, not in science.

I recently read an interesting article on the U.S. constitution which provided a modified term that I might start using in my discussions on this topic (see Rachael J. Denhollander, "Restoring the foundations" in Journal of Creation 25[1], 2011, pp. 104-110). It is the term originalism. It is distinguished from "literalism" in the following way. Literalism says that a text should "be interpreted only according to its language, without the context of any outside source, including the historical understanding of the language, to interpret the meaning of the terms" (p. 108). This, the author argues, may appear to be less subjective than a "living constitution" theory, but apart from historical context, the words could only then be interpreted in terms of the present-day context. Such could easily distort the original meaning intended.

So, originalism says that a text "ought to be interpreted according to how it was originally intended to be." Original intent is "the contemporary usage and understanding of the language in the document" (Ibid.).

So perhaps we should use originalism instead of literalism. This may help avoid the pejorative "woodenly literal" epithet that is often heaped upon the conservative's understanding of how to interpret the Bible.

In any case, I hope you understand where I'm coming from and how the creation texts should be interpreted using these rubrics. More specifics in the next post.

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