The next part of our bible study series is about how we interpret the Bible, or using the fancy term, Biblical Hermeneutics. Tyler and I will be taking this in two parts. He’ll be discussing Modern Biblical Hermeneutics known as the Historical Grammatical Method. In others words, how we discover the original intent of the biblical author. I’ll be discussing how the early church (including Jesus and the authors of scripture) interpreted scripture otherwise known Second Temple Hermeneutics.
WARNING: This post contains explicit language, and therefore is not for the faint of heart.
To begin with, I find that examples help us understand hard or unfamiliar concepts. The modern approach to interpreting the bible is all about what the author’s intention was, or what the text is saying in its historical and cultural context. The early Church however didn’t have the resources that we do to figure out what the original context of a passage was. And frankly finding out what the author was trying to say in their historical context wasn’t their biggest concern. To them the practical necessities of living out faith in their moment and in their time and place demanded, so to speak, that they ask not “What did this mean to the author and their original audience?” but “What does this mean to us?” And this meant getting creative with how one interpreted a passage. This hermeneutical method is called (at least for the first century church and prior too) Second Temple Hermeneutics. (Second Temple designates the time from the beginning of the second temple period 530 CE to the destruction of that temple by the Romans in 70 CE.)
My first example will be an actual bible passage that Paul interprets. And my second one will be a song from a 2014 album that I have personally interpreted in a similar fashion to Second Temple Hermeneutics.
In the first century, Jewish interpretation (Second Temple Methods) regarding the passages of the rock that Moses struck at the beginning of their journey in the desert and at the end of their 40 year journey is that the two rocks are actually one rock. And this rock followed them around in the desert for 40 years like a portable water fountain. Now Paul being a first century Jew (spoiler alert, all the first Christians were Jews, including Jesus) held this same interpretation. In 1 Corinthians 10:4 Paul writes, ” and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.”
Now modern biblical scholars who look for the historical context and interpretation of a passage won’t find this in the story of the struck rock. But this is how second temple interpretation works. For a further and more detailed explanation see https://peteenns.com/that-rock-was-christ/
Now for our second example. During my years in college I was introduced to a Metal Core Band named The Amity Affliction by one of my college roommates. This band which does not consist of Christians, mostly Atheists I believe, became for me my worship music. I had become disillusioned with Contemporary Christian Music as it seemed to me to lack any real raw emotion and authenticity. I found that authenticity in this band. Now how in the world did I take music that wasn’t about God (in its historical context) and find any significant meaning in it that allowed me to connect with God? I gave the lyrics a new meaning, I reinterpreted them. In a sense I recreated them to speak to me in the way that I needed it too. I took something that wasn’t originally about God and made it about God. Without knowing it I was, in a modern way, practicing Second Temple Hermeneutics.
The following is a song from that band that I reinterpreted creatively. (Taylor Swift’s song “you belong with me” is also a great one to do this with) Most of the songs from this band are about their struggle with drug addiction, depression, and suicide. The actual historical context of this song was written about the lead singers drug overdose that almost killed him, and the strength given to him from the community around him to overcome death. The following that is in parentheses and is italicized is my interpretation of each verse of the song. For the sake of brevity I have left out some of the redundant verses from the chorus, and other parts of the song. The following is a modern appropriation of second temple Jewish interpretive practices.
Can’t keep my heart from beating (This stands for the blood that Christ spilled on the cross)
Can’t keep my throat from screaming (This is a reference to the truth that Christ has spoken and could not refrain from speaking)
There has to be another way for me to keep on living (This has a double meaning. The first is an allusion to Christ’s prayer that this cup may be taken away, and the second is a cry from humanity)
I held death’s hand this evening (This has a triple meaning. The first is humanity declaring the hold that Death has had on them, and the second is that Christ suffered on the cross and therefore held the hand of death, and the third meaning of this is that God in Christ is standing in solidarity with humanity by experiencing Death himself )
Closed my eyes now I’m dreaming (This is humanity dreaming of hope that Christ will overcome death)
I promise I won’t leave here (This has a Triple meaning. The first is a declaration of God, that God’s-Self will not abandon humanity. The second is a declaration from God to Christ that He will not be abandoned by him. The third is that Christ will not abandon humanity.)
Don’t let me die” I’m fucking screaming (This also has a double meaning. The first is a cry from Christ in the garden to be rescued from death and the second is a cry from humanity to be rescued from death)
‘Cause I’ve got more life to left to live. got some promises to keep. (This is Christ in the garden saying that he will not run away from death from the cross but will keep his promise to overcome death and ransom humans)
To all the hearts that carried me. out from the ocean deep. (This also has a double meaning. The first part of this is Christ referencing to the strength given to him by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and the second is the Church referencing to the strength given to them by the Trinity.)
I’ve had to do some searching to understand the reasons
For every selfish feeling. I held Death’s hand this evening. (This is Humanity searching within itself)
Now my lungs are failing (This is Christ on the Cross dying)
And my heart is fading (This is also Christ dying on the cross)
My mind is taking me, So far away I’m dreaming (This is Christ losing of Hope, My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?)
For every selfish reason (This stands for all the times we have rejected God)
I tipped the bottle drowning (The meaning of this is that as we have rejected God we have drowned ourselves in our own misery that we have chosen)
I’ll pour my heart out To stop you from leaving (This is Christ declaring that he will die for His friends, that he will die for humanity)
You’re the ones that kept me going
I owe you this much
You gave me the strength to say, (These three verses also has a double meaning. The first is that Christ is declaring that The members of Trinity, The Father and Holy Spirit are the ones that gave Him Strength to rise from the grave. The second is a declaration of the church that The Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit gave them the strength to overcome death.)
“Hey Death, get fucked!” (This has a double meaning. The first is a declaration of Christ to Death, and the second is a declaration of the Church to Death. “Oh death where is your sting?” This also holds the meaning that as we’ve mentioned before of Christ standing in solidarity with humanity by experiencing death himself. Another layer of meaning is that as we shout the declaration of defeat towards death we as the church stand in solidarity with Christ and the work he has done)
If you want to read more about this topic for yourself, check out “The Bible Tells Me So” by Peter Enns; “The Bible and the Believer” By Marc Zvi Brettler, Peter Enns, and Daniel Harrington; “Inspiration and Incarnation” by Peter Enns; The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture” By Michael Graves; “Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers” By Christopher A. Hall; “Early Biblical Interpretation” By James L. Kugel and Rowan A. Greer; and “How to Read The Bible” By James L. Kugel.
Here’s the link to the song on Youtube