Kathy Keller on hermeneutics, ladies, and misinterpretation

A number of months back, blogger/speaker/writer Rachel Held Evans shared a number of reasons why she became disillusioned and left the church. I deemed this a helpful list, and even responded to that list here, here, and here,  though I obviously disagreed with her conclusions. Later she shared a list explaining why she returned to the church.

Now she has a book out called A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a liberated woman found herself sitting on a roof, covering her head, and calling her husband master.

Apparently her publicist must have done some good work as Evans ended up on The Today Show. But do not count Tim Keller’s wife Kathy among her fans. I commend her review  called “A Year of Ridiculous Biblical Interpretation.”

Whether you intend to read Evan’s book or not (I don’t unless folks in my church start reading it), do yourself and your friends a favor and read the review, if for nothing else, then its sound, simple, but helpful lesson in hermeneutics. 

Hermeneutics is simply the method of interpreting something, though its use is often employed in reference to bible interpretation. Kathy gives several parameters which will help you interpret the bible. According to Keller, one of Evan’s main contentions with so called “Biblical Womanhood” is that primarily folks are simply picking and choosing which bible verses to apply. Yet Keller wisely recognizes in her review/open letter,In doing so, you (Evans) have further muddied the waters of biblical interpretation instead of bringing any clarity to the task.” Here are a few things we can glean in regards to how to more responsibly interpret the bible.

  • Interpret the Old Testament with the new. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law and so we can eat bacon wrapped scallops now. It is not picking and choosing to not follow dietary or cleanliness  laws (Mark 7:19)
  • Narrative or Prescriptive? Is the author telling the story to condone/approve/teach evils (prescriptive) or does he include the “dirt” of God’s people to show everyone that even the “heroes” need a savior. Is Abraham’s passing off his wife as his sister to save his butt something the bible approves of/instructs us to do (prescriptive), or is it a display of a lack of faith ultimately displaying our need for Jesus? The writers no more condone or approve of evils perpetrated on women than a newspaper editors approve of a rape or murder they report. Nice one Kathy!
  • Intended meaning in context. What is the writer trying to communicate? She gives two examples. One includes a misapplication of proverbs as she literally stands on the corner of the street with a “Dan is great” sign when the text of proverbs reads, “Her husband is respected at the city gate.” It just means the husband is generally respected in the community. The 2nd is when Paul explains to Titus that even one of the Cretans own prophets declares that they are lazy. Paul isn’t being a racist, but instead reminding Titus that he his work cut out for him and their own prophets agree!

While Evans espouses a how will we pick and choose bible verses to apply, this is not how, even the bible writers, assume one should interpret it. In the end, hopefully one of Evans “gifts” to the community will be a heightened awareness that each person needs to  examine his heart when coming to any subject matter addressed in the bible. We should do all we can to make sure we aren’t picking and choosing which ones to apply. Unless of course, Jesus tells us specific ones (ceremonial law) not to apply in the ways they were first intended.

Like I said earlier, read the review, if only for the hermeneutics lesson. It’s well worth your 5 minutes or so.

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