Differentiate!

Scripture is not all of the same ilk.  It is not all conceived the same, as though God were saying, to each biblical author, “Write X, and it will be a scriptural directive” for each sentence in the Bible, with equal weight.

The last post listed a few slogans that relate to scripture.  Another slogan I waited until now to mention is “command, example, and necessary inference.”  The implications of this phrase are a) substantial and b) numerous.  I’ll return to this saying below, but for now, please notice that it refers to different types of scriptural (supposed) injunctions.  I think this general idea of differentiating is very important.

It takes but a cursory look at, for example, a Psalm and a parable, to realize that the two are very different.
Compare an epistle and a passage from Exodus or 2Kings.
Then stroll over to Ezekiel, and compare it to a narrative in Mark’s gospel — which is quite a hike away, although a few apocalyptic images might be shared.

The following passage is taken from Book 2 of Greg Fay’s monograph about scripture and its mishandling/handling in the current day:

As you read and explore books of the Bible, it becomes obvious that the Bible contains different types of literature.  This is becauseP1160236, like a small library, the Bible is a collection of writings from a span of 1,500 years.  Containing such types as historical and theological narratives, legal and genealogical documentation, songs and poetry, proverbs and wisdom sayings, prophecy and oracles, parables and short stories, letters and speeches, among others; the Bible incorporates a wide variety of literary styles and types.  We call these differences in type of literature “genre.”  The genre naturally affects the way you read a particular book or document — if you  are familiar with the type, that is.  You don’t read an internet blog in the same way you read a published autobiography.  You don’t read a romance novel the same way as you do a medical textbook.  They are just different, and we make natural mental adjustments to get what we’re supposed to from the different kinds of texts. 

Because the Bible is full of different genres and sub-genres, and some of them are unfamiliar to us, it’s important to appreciate the impact of the literary type on the shape and content of a book.

Greg Fay, PhD, Inkblotitis:  Christianity’s Dangerous DiseaseBook 2:  Rediscovering the Books of God (2013), p. 124.

Above, I mentioned a tripartite quasi-slogan that became the marching orders of some hermeneuticians of the American Restoration Movement:  “command, example, and necessary inference” (CENI for short).  The common application of this trifecta, based on my observation of certain writings as well reactions to those writings, is that every command, every example, and every inference (that someone deems “necessary”) is to be read and acted upon equally.  In other words, if . . .

  1. Jesus said to John, “Love one another,” and
  2. John went fishing, and
  3. Something John said seemed to imply that something else was false, . . .

. . . then each of those items was to be treated with equivalent follow-up actions.  Now, #1 is a command (imperative).  #2 is an example.  #3 involves an inference.  So, as these hermeneuticians had it, I must love others, and I must go fishing, and I must “necessarily infer” what John was viewing as false,  labeling that same thing false, in the here and now.

But problems with the CENI paradigm occur right away:

  1. Not every command is equal.
  2. Not every “example” appears to be intended for following.
  3. Not every implication leads to the same inference.  (Not to mention that the “necessary” of the “necessary inference” is prepended by someone, and I don’t trust all the someones to determine what is necessary and what isn’t!  Neither should anyone else.)

Differentiation among various types (types of statements, types of genres) is important.

In seeking to interpret scripture, we need to understand and differentiate among literary genres experienced in all the books/documents, and we also need to discern, for instance, the difference between a command and an implication — and whether that implication might or might not be culturally/historically transitory.

Brian Casey, 2/2-10/15

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2 thoughts on “Differentiate!

  1. John Eoff 02/19/2015 / 6:54 am

    Interesting, and accurate, Brian. The three fold hermeneutic( above), which I was taught at an early age, is useless. The impetus for it was an effort to discover and understand exactly what laws believers are obligated to teach and follow today And this for a people who have been freed from law!! Any law derived from such effort has the same effect as any other law. It condemns—–nothing else. Jesus preferred that we should be free, so he set us free—-not only free, but free indeed! Totally free! All things are lawful. No admonition to not abuse such freedom in any way restricts the freedom that actually exists. Nothing which does not exist can be abused.
    jde

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    • Brian Casey 02/19/2015 / 11:11 am

      Sometimes (and I’m not saying this in your case — because I see evidence to the contrary from your life!), the notion of freedom can be little more than an empty rallying cry. I’ve seen folks sit around and bask in being free without really doing anything with that freedom. If we’re talking Galatians (and even the parts of Romans I understand), I’m all about freedom. I’m not sure how much freedom-thinking I need in my own life, though. I think I could probably use more doulos and diakonos thinking, if you know what I mean. 🙂

      Inasmuch as C/E/NI can be set up as a legislature, I think you’re right that it’s probably theologically abusive. If I’m not completely against the KJV, though [wink], I wonder if you could say that you’re not completely against C/E/NI. I think that it might still have some value, if not used a sledghammer to bludgeon unsuspecting, less educated babes. I think that if people really believed commands were commands and inferences were inferences, etc., there wouldn’t have been as many interpersonal and body-wide fights in congregations. Also, I think it would be good for us to differentiate or attempt to differentiate between commands that seem to be more universal and commands given in a more localized situation. All this could still be within the bounds of good, contextual Bible study. For instance: if Paul says “live a sexually moral life” to the Thessalonians, that has demonstrably specific meanings in that historical and literary context. But it might also be viewed as a more general command from Jesus through Paul. Then we have to differentiate a bit more sometimes, too, like on the few occasions when Paul says something like, “not I, but the Lord says this . . .” 🙂

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