In a recent blog post entitled “Dispensationalism and Modernism,” Tom Hicks writes that one of the biggest problems with dispensationalism is its refusal “to accept as paradigmatic and normative the NT’s own hermeneutic of the OT.” According to Hicks, the hermeneutic we use should be derived from the Bible itself.
This criticism of dispensationalism is often articulated in terms of an exhortation to imitate the “apostles’ hermeneutic.” In other words, rather than coming up with our own hermeneutic, we should seek to discern the hermeneutic modeled by the apostles in the way they handled the OT, and then we should use that same hermeneutic to interpret Scripture.
As often as this argument is repeated, it is interesting that nobody actually sets forth exactly what they believe the “apostles’ hermeneutic” to be. I find myself waiting for a list of hermeneutical principles, each one with biblical references from the OT and NT which show clearly where this specific principle is modeled by the NT writer’s use of the OT. Something along the lines of this:
- Principle #1: _______________________ (OT/NT)
- Principle #2: _______________________ (OT/NT)
- Principle #3: _______________________ (OT/NT)
- Principle #4: _______________________ (OT/NT)
- Principle #5: _______________________ (OT/NT)
And so on. Of course, any principle which cannot be proven clearly from Scripture would not be allowed on the list and should not be used by the one committed to using the “apostles’ hermeneutic.”
In case you can’t tell, I’m not very optimistic that such a list could be produced. As I wrote in a previous post here at Expository Thoughts, whenever I hear about the need to use the “apostles’ hermeneutic,” I find myself with questions like these:
What exactly is the “apostles’ hermeneutic”? What exactly is this pattern that modern-day interpreters are to follow? What specific hermeneutical principles are modeled by the NT writers that should guide contemporary interpretation? Can they be stated propositionally? If so, what are they? If not, why not? Should these hermeneutical principles be applied consistently to all of Scripture, or only certain parts of it? If only certain parts, which parts, and why only those parts?
I realize that these questions may seem designed to badger more than inquire, but I think they highlight part of the problem with exhorting people to avoid the evils of dispensational modernism in favor of a “biblical hermeneutic.” After all, if we’re going to use the so-called “apostles’ hermeneutic,” we need to know what it is, don’t we?