I just completed a class on the History of the Interpretation of the Old Testament. It was fascinating and surprisingly very edifying. The class was a weeklong intensive from 8 to 5 with a lot of reading in preparation of the class. When I told people about the class I received blank stares or pats on the shoulder as if to console me in a time of mourning. I haven’t gotten my grade back yet so I might need the consoling pat later, but as for now I am still encouraged by what I learned.
When I came to seminary I wanted to learn what was right. I wanted to open the Word and come to the right meaning. I took a class on hermeneutics (interpretation) and thought this would train me well enough for that purpose. What I found in me, however, was more of a desire to be right than in knowing the Author of Scripture. Finding the correct or orthodox meaning of a text is of the utmost importance but it cannot stop there.
The person who came to help me the most was the African Bishop of Hippo, Saint Augustine. It is insane to think about how much he accomplished and how much he influenced not only Christianity but philosophy in the West for hundreds of years. Augustine is known mostly for his theology, but my boy was even a Baller in hermeneutics.
Augustine’s “method” of interpretation is not all that original and he employs allegory, which leads to crazy conclusions to the modern eye. What is beautiful and freeing about Augustine is to see this man with the most brilliant mind be affected so much by his pastoral heart. When he came to Scripture his main goal of expositing a text was to promote charity (or love) to God and to his fellow man. Echoing the beautiful twofold commandment given by Jesus Christ he extended it to every aspect of his life, particularly interpreting the Bible.
Here are some Money Quotes regarding his interpretation of the Bible:
“All of Scripture concerns love; it is the upper part of the heavens because the heart that loves ascends to God. The work of interpretation has one task. Out of the holy page has no other end than love”
“So if it seems to you that you have understood the divine scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not yet understood them”
If I am only extracting a certain truth from Scripture without stirring my affections for the LORD and for others then I am incomplete in my task. I have not reached the goal of hermeneutics. When Augustine opened the Scriptures he did not look to find himself, but he looked to find His Savior. It was this fervent pursuit to find God that Augustine was stirred to deep affectionate love for his Creator and fellow man.
This has changed the way I have viewed my hermeneutical goal. I have a new and deeper goal. I pray that the Holy Spirit will not only show me the truth in Scripture, but that He will stir me to charity.