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The Western Wall at the Haram esh-Sharif (traditional Temple mount) is an important religious site. Are its traditions consistent with archaeological data? This remains an open question. A BIBARCH™ Photo.

Do not minimize the importance of biblical archaeology in scriptural study. Scriptural study requires the establishing of scriptural context so that a given text can be understood in terms of the lifeways of its writer and its original audience. Nevertheless, understand that the Scriptures were not written for confirmation by archaeology.

Archaeology is a science, sure, but it is not a sure science. Biblical archaeology is somewhat of a guessing game. Archaeology can illuminate the Scriptures but archaeological findings and conclusions have to be reevaluated constantly. You can't depend on archaeology as archaeologists read and interpret the data from their own perspectives.

Coming to know the meaning of a scripture in its own timeframe, explication, requires knowledge of the history, geography, and culture at its time of writing. Knowing culture helps the exegete avoid reading his or her own understanding, that is his or her bias, into a text (eisegesis) to discern the meaning that is there (exegesis). Eisegesis is subjective. Exegesis is objective (in a theoretical sense anyway).

Exegesis, by means of explication, deals with what a scriptural text meant to its author and intended reader in their sociocultural context. Hermeneutics, a pseudo-science, involves the interpretation of a scriptural text to provide meaning for the present-day world. Keep in mind that the explication or the interpretation of a text in isolation from its cultural and literary context leads to distorted, and sometimes harmful, results. At the very least it does violence to the text. Theologians, by the way, have a continuing love affair with hermeneutics accounting for thousands of differing interpretations of God's word. A biblical text can never mean what it did not mean in its original context to its human author and anticipated reader except as inspired by God. Less than this humanizes the Bible and denies its divine inspiration.

Be aware that there is a significant difference between exegesis and hermeneutics. It is a difference between the meaning of a scriptural text in its original context and its later interpretation. The starting point of interpretation normally is exegesis. A person's exegesis begins with an assembly of assumptions and biases. These factors compromise objectivity. The principles we follow are:

  • The Bible is the inspired word of God.

  • Every scripture must be understood in its immediate context.

  • Any interpretation of scripture must be understood in the context of all other scriptures.

We must avoid taking scriptures out of their context. Isolating scriptures by stripping them from their context leads to a distortion of their meaning. Nevertheless, the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament provide many prophetic statements about the same nexus of events even though many centuries have passed between the writers of this material. This represents our belief in the divine inspiration of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament which we argue must be taken as a whole.

We agree that a scripture cannot mean what it has never meant, but there is an important, usually overlooked, caveat. Divine inspiration of the Bible means that the ultimate lesson is what its divine author had in mind not necessarily the mindset of the human instruments who wrote the material. For example, Daniel did not know the meaning of the prophecy of Daniel 11-12 even though he was the writer. The angel's comment to Daniel was that the material was locked until the time of the end (Daniel 12:9). Hence, those who come to understand Daniel 11-12 in the end time will know the meaning of these scriptures in a way that they never meant before to human readers. The implication is that we have to accumulate various parts to assimilate the whole scenario.

Standards of Proof

  • possible [the general standard in hermeneutics]

  • probable [prevailing practice in exegesis]

  • plausible [seemingly worthy of approval or acceptance]

  • more probable than not [the standard in civil court proceedings]

  • most likely [intermediate standard requiring clear and convincing evidence]

  • beyond a reasonable doubt [the standard in criminal proceedings]

  • acceptable, statistical, certainty, that is, high probability [the standard of the scientific community]

  • beyond all doubt, that is, absolute certainty

Clergy, philosophers, and theologians, relying upon their particular versions of exegesis and hermeneutics, expound and rely on the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament and other ancient texts to make sense of the world. However, there is no inherent standard of proof in these methods, so explications and interpretations abound, and debate, suspicion, and controversy are inherent to such work. When comparing scientific, exegetical, and hermeneutic methods one of the first issues that surfaces is the issue of an acceptable standard of proof in these matters. There are at least eight immediate choices presented in the chart at the right see Standards of Proof for more details).

The point is that in scientific methodology "acceptable, statistical, certainty", that is, high probability, is the established standard for a proffered fact to be accepted as evidence. However, in hermeneutics even a "possible" fact may be accepted in evidence by some because every possibility is relevant to the analysis. All relevant evidence necessary to provide a complete picture is imperative in either scientific or hermeneutic methods.

Archaeologists and other social scientists see exegetical and hermeneutic methods and such approaches as inferior means of advancing knowledge inviting mere speculation rather than developing facts. For example, those people who believe that human life began with Adam and Eve about 6,000 years ago, based upon their reading of the Hebrew Scriptures, share an objective reality quite different from those who view humankind from an evolutionary perspective. Those who believe in a worldwide deluge destroying all human life, except for Noah and his immediate family, see history and geology entirely differently than those who do not recognize such an event.

Much of what we have come to know as history is essentially the interpretation of clergy, theologians, historians and the authors of their sources not the factual record of actual events. This makes so-called "proof texts" and arguments from textual material suspect. This does not mean that social scientists reject exegesis. On the contrary, the exegetical method is quite helpful in their research but the standard of proof social scientists require is that of explication free of reasonable doubt.

Page last edited: 02/09/09 10:33 AM

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