The Significance of Preunderstanding

March 7th, 2009

I have often observed that, especially in ambiguous situations, we tend to see what we expect to see. For example, in personal relationships, we tend to interpret a person's ambiguous comment in light of how we expect the person to behave towards and speak to us.

I do not recall considering a similar predilection with regard to Biblical interpretation and theology … until now. As part of my seminary class assignments, I am currently reading Bock's Three Views on the Millenium and Beyond (Zondervan 1999). In Craig Blaising's main piece on premillenialism, I ran across a term, "preunderstanding," that was new to me. Here is an excerpt of what Blaising wrote:

[In certain cases] ideas are already present in the mind of one who begins to research and study what the Bible teaches on the subject. In hermeneutics, this phenomenon is called preunderstanding—the understanding one has about a subject before researching it, or the understanding one has about what a text is probably saying before one begins to study it. …

… Many times we find that our preunderstanding about what Scripture teaches on a subject is confirmed, deepened, and strengthened through further research and study in God's Word. But what if that preunderstanding is wrong? The problem is that we are inclined to favor our preunderstanding. In so doing, we are apt to pass over contrary signals in the text and try to harmonize something of what it says with our predisposed way of viewing it. When we are done, we may falsely declare our view as supported by the text, even bolstered by the illusion that we have grown in our understanding of the matter. (pp. 164-65) (footnotes omitted).

The context in which Blaising was writing was the spiritual vision model of our eternal hope in Christ. However, the point is obviously a general one.

While reading through earlier portions of the book, I had come across instances in which it seemed that a Scripture passage was being stretched and strained to make the desired point. I wondered whether the writer would have reached the stated interpretation of the text had he not already held his particular millenial view. When I read Blaising's discussion of preunderstanding, those instances came to mind, and it "clicked."

We humans tend to get invested in positions that we have long held (or that our parents/pastors/teachers/churches have held and conveyed to us). Once we do, it can be challenging to view a text or topic dispassionately. Yet we need to cultivate the discipline of doing so. Our duty to be faithful to Scripture demands no less.

Christmas 2008

December 24th, 2008

Wexford Carol

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved Son.
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born.

The night before that happy tide,
The noble Virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town.
But mark right well what came to pass;
From every door repelled, alas
As was foretold, their refuge all
Was but a humble ox's stall.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep,
To whom God's angel did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
Arise and go, the angels said,
To Bethlehem, be not afraid,
For there you'll find, this happy morn,
A princely babe, sweet Jesus, born.

With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find;
And as God's angel had foretold,
They did our Saviour Christ behold.
Within a manger he was laid,
And by his side a virgin maid,
Attending on the Lord of Life
Who came on earth to end all strife

There were three wise men from afar,
Directed by a glorious star;
And on they wandered night and day
Until they came where Jesus lay.
And when they came unto that place
Where our beloved Messiah lay,
They humbly cast them at his feet
With gifts of gold and incense sweet.

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved Son.

This is an old Irish carol that is said to date from about the 12th century. I discovered it only last week, when I heard it on a newly purchased Christmas CD. I commend it to you.

May you have a blessed Christmas and new year.

Thanksgiving 2008

November 27th, 2008

A Psalm for Thanksgiving

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.
Serve the LORD with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the LORD Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the LORD is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

The LORD performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.

The LORD has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
Bless the LORD, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
Bless the LORD, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
Bless the LORD, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion;
Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Psalm 103 (selected verses)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Perspective: Elections, Choices and the Gospel

November 4th, 2008
[T]he things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. — 2 Corinthians 4:18

As I write this, today is Election Day. Truth be told, I have been rather discouraged at the prospect, for I am unhappy with the nominees of both major political parties. I do not find reason to believe that either one has an adequate grasp of or commitment to the God-given rights of life, liberty, and property or the fundamental principles of limited, Constitutional government on which our federal republic was founded. Yet some perspective is important.

Full story »

Try Jesus

June 18th, 2008

Riding the bus to work some time back, I noticed a car with several religious bumper stickers, as well as the Ichthus, displayed on the back. The bumper sticker that caught my attention read simply, “Try Jesus.” As I began to consider that short clause, it began to bother me–greatly. As I have continued to think about these issues, my concerns have come to focus on two main areas: (1) the accuracy of the impression that it conveys about Jesus Christ and (2) what such usage says about those who use it.

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