Words of a Fether

I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father except through me. ~Jesus

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Are You A Gymnast?

Some people think that if you go beyond taking the words of scripture as what a young child can understand, you are engaging in gymnastics to get some other meaning from them. To be fair, there are people who twist like a pretzel to make the words mean what they don’t, but not all instances of digging deeper must be attempts to twist scripture. So it’s important to define the difference between gymnastics and legitimate exegesis, and we must apply this definition consistently.

If you write a letter to a friend, you don’t write in a cultural and linguistic vacuum. There are many influences to cause you to write what you do, including family upbringing, culture, time, language, subject, and recipient. For anyone else to read that letter without considering all those things is foolhardy-- especially when anyone else is a thousand years in the future and speaking another language in another part of the world. This is all about context, and it is vital for understanding any given writing.

Is it gymnastics to ask questions about any given scripture? Of course not. We have to ask who, what, when, why, and where to know what the writer meant by what was written. In fact, it would be irresponsible not to ask such questions. Reading comprehension is not just an academic curiosity! You can’t say you understand a text if you merely read the words and give their dictionary meanings. Language is more than its words; it involves various forms of expression and is influenced by current events and cultural views.

But exegesis and comprehension cross the line into twisting when context is ignored. In other words, it is not those who consider all the contextual issues who are the gymnasts, it is those who refuse to consider them. It’s like taking a phrase such as A bird in hand is worth two in the bush as meaning birds who can be held in your hand are worth twice as much money as those that are found in bushes! In the same way, for example, people take repent and be baptized out of its cultural and dispensational context to mean people must be baptized to be saved, in spite of all the explicit scriptures to the contrary.

So I cringe whenever I see the gymnast label applied to people who go to great lengths to examine context in order to support an interpretation of scripture. This charge is nothing more than a red herring, a distraction to take away attention from the argument being presented. And it is inconsistently applied, depending upon whether the person doing the exegesis happens to share the listener’s particular views on a given subject. For example, if anyone argues in detail for women’s full equality in the Christian community, that person is accused of gymnastics, but if they argue for male supremism they are just rightly dividing the word. Or if someone presents evidence from the Greek for rejecting a KJV rendering of a particular verse, the KJVO follower will accuse them of gymnastics as well.

Don’t be one of those who refuse (or are afraid) to dig deep into the Bible. Rest assured it can hold up well under the most intense scrutiny, as it has for millennia. If you think someone is twisting instead of exegeting, prove it. Show how their argument is not warranted by context. If you can’t prove such a thing, then don’t accuse them of engaging in gymnastics.

Posted 2007-04-01 under Bible, hermeneutics, exegesis