In Search of the “Apostles’ Hermeneutic” (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, Tom Hicks wrote a post entitled “Dispensationalism and Modernism.” In this post, Hicks criticizes dispensationalism because “it refuses to accept as paradigmatic and normative the NT’s own hermeneutic of the OT.” He summarizes his criticism by stating that “the problem with dispensationalism is that its hermeneutic is derived from modernist presuppositions rather than from the Bible itself.” According to Hicks, The Bible teaches us how to interpret the Bible.” 

The implication of this argument is that the only proper hermeneutic for today’s interpreter is that which is derived from Scripture because it has been modeled by the writers of Scripture. This is often referred to as the “apostles’ hermeneutic” because it refers to the hermeneutics employed by the apostles when they interpreted the OT in their NT writings. According to proponents of the “apostles’ hermeneutic,” modern-day interpreters have a mandate not only to understand, but also to imitate the hermeneutics modeled by the NT writers in their handling of the OT. In the words of Curtis Crenshaw and Grover Gunn: “Anything else than the apostles’ hermeneutic is based on speculative human reasoning.”  

In response to Hicks—but more specifically to this argument in general—I wrote a post on September 23 where I asked the question, “What exactly is the ‘apostles’ hermeneutic’?” In this post, I challenged the advocates of the apostles’ hermeneutic to provide a list of hermeneutical principles that were modeled by the apostles and that should be imitated by us. After all, I wrote, if we are to use the apostles’ hermeneutics, we need to know what they are, don’t we? 

My point was this: If our hermeneutics are to be derived only from Scripture—after all, any hermeneutical principles derived from somewhere other than Scripture are based on speculative human reasoning, right?—then those who insist on the “apostles’ hermeneutic” should be able to produce a comprehensive list of hermeneutical principles along with the biblical references which clearly model each principle. At the risk of frustrating R. Scott Clark more than I already have, I am still waiting for that list. 

To be fair, I don’t know for sure that I frustrated Clark, but I have certainly amazed him. Toward the beginning of his response to my post, Clark summarizes my concern and then writes, “One throws up one’s hands in amazement and wonder.” (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sure he meant it in an entirely positive way.) Then Clark gets to the heart of the issue, or at least he appears to. In answer to my question about the specific content of the “apostles’ hermeneutic,” Clark writes this:  

It’s [sic] isn’t that complicated. Pay close attention here: The Apostolic hermeneutic is to see Christ at the center of all of Scripture. We’re not reading him into Scripture. We’re refusing to read him out of it. There, I said it. That’s what it is. Perhaps the reason our dispensational friends cannot see it is because they are blinded by their rationalism. They know a priori what the organizing principle of Scripture must be and it isn’t God the Son, it’s national Israel. 

Tomorrow in part 2, I would like to point out what I see as five problems with Clark’s attempt to answer my question, but first let me briefly address his statement regarding the blindness of those who disagree with him. According to Clark, the reason people do not understand and employ the “apostle’s hermeneutic” is because of their assumption that national Israel is the organizing principle of Scripture? Wow. Frankly, words fail me. Has anyone anywhere ever said that national Israel is “the organizing principle of Scripture”? I must not be reading the same dispensationalists that Clark is.  

Either way, this straw man is entirely irrelevant to my original challenge to produce a list of principles modeled by the apostles. I only bring it up to point out something that our own Paul Lamey observed in his response to Clark: The question here is not an issue of covenant theology vs. dispensationalism. It certainly has implications for both of these systems, but as Lamey notes, there are non-dispensationalists who have raised the same concern that I have, and there are dispensationalists who advocate the “apostles’ hermeneutic.” So making fun of the dispensational view of the millennial sacrifices may play well in certain venues, but it gives discerning readers the sneaking suspicion that Clark may be trying to distract people from the real issue.  

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Bobby Grow on October 5, 2007 at 1:02 am

    Here’s a list:


    and that’s just a few. Unless we want to engage in modern day senus plenior we cannot engage these 1st cent. interpretive schemes as normative paradigms for biblical interpretation.

    We need to follow the NT’s interpretation of the OT where it interprets for us, and leave off where it is silent, and engage the OT on its own terms . . . keeping the canonical shape in mind, of course. There is a dialectic that takes place between the OT/NT.

    I was very surprised to read Clark’s post on this, it is very rhetorical, and engages in caricature that you wouldn’t think an Oxford grad wouldn’t have to engage in if he in fact had something substantial to say on this.

    Furthermore, I had correspondence with Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, and asked him about this issue (i.e. the “Apostles’ Herm.”), and he told me I was thinking too much about this—wow.

    Here are some related articles I have penned on this issue:

    Hope that’s ok.

    IN Christ

  2. Posted by Bobby Grow on October 5, 2007 at 2:57 am

    Here’s one more article, I wrote in prompt to Matt’s article here; hopefully it will complement what Matt is saying, here it is:

  3. Interesting post, as one who would favor dispensationalism I have never considered national Israel to be the focal point of the Bible. Rather Christ is obviously the central theme running throughout all of scripture.

    That being said, I have often wondered how many can spiritualize away obvious literal rendering of prophecy; thanks for the subject.

  4. […] In search of the Apostles’ Hermeneutic (Part I) by Matt Waymeyer […]

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