Three-year-olds and Hermeneutics

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“I’m scared daddy.” These were the words that my three-year-old daughter surprised me with this evening. She was sitting at the table with her one-year-old brother and I was in the kitchen making dinner before our church’s Christmas celebration service. Mommy was doing some shopping at Hobby Lobby and I was trying my best to keep the trains running on time in her stead.

“Why are you scared?” I retorted as I took dinner out of the microwave (hey, at least I heated it up, right?)

“I don’t know,” she said in a timid voice.

Without thinking too deeply—being preoccupied as I was with my culinary endeavor—I said to her from the kitchen, “What do the angels say? ‘Fear not!'” While this may seem like a strange way to address a three-year-old, let me explain that as a family we have been reading a children’s book that beautifully illustrates the Christmas story found in the Gospel of Luke as recorded in the King James version of the Bible. Which explains why the line sounds like it is straight out of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

“But the angels said that to Mary!” my bright little disciple responded. She has a better hermeneutic at three than most Americans over 18. With this comment, she demonstrated that she understands the basic hermeneutical principle that context is key to any biblical interpretation. That is, to rip a passage out of context and quote it in favor of or against an argument that the larger context is not addressing directly or in principle is disingenuous at best and demonic and heretical at worst.

However, this is not the direction our conversation went from there (I’m pretty sure it was for the best). Instead, I responded, “You’re right, sweetie, but when the Bible tells Mary to ‘Fear not’ it is also telling us to ‘Fear not.'”

How could I say this to my daughter? Was I dishonest with her? I think not. In fact, I think that what I was modeling for her was a deeper hermeneutic.

Yes, the Bible is a record of historical events. Even more, as Geerhardus Vos said, without history, the text is empty. However, the Bible is so much more than a record of historical events. It is a living document (Heb 4:12). When we hear God’s Word, the Word of God is speaking to us. I’m not trying to write a tautology with that last sentence. When we hear the Bible (reading or otherwise), Jesus is relating everything that the Father has entrusted to him through the Holy Spirit, and Jesus means to change us into his image by the intake of this Word.

Our hermeneutic needs to be able to handle this reality.

Did the angels really tell Mary to “Fear not!” 2000 years ago? Yep. And did the Bible really speak the same words of comfort to my three-year-old daughter tonight? Absolutely.

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