Dear Church Family,
I recently saw the movie Guardians of the Galaxy. I don’t have any special insight into the redemptive nature of this story which is based on Marvel characters. To be honest, the plot is not all that unique; however, what makes the movie particularly entertaining is the characters, their interactions and dialogue. There’s also a certain flippant swagger of the main character, Peter Quill, which is endearing – not to mention a pretty cool soundtrack.
As I say, I don’t have any keen insight into the story line, or any deep theological thoughts concerning the overall plot. It’s an entertaining movie – and that’s enough. What I do want to highlight, though, is the communication and interpretive skills of some of the characters. How they speak and how they understand each other, serve as good illustrations for how people sometimes interpret (or more often, misinterpret) the Scriptures.
By the way, ‘biblical hermeneutics’ refers to the study of the principles of interpretation of Scripture. Everyone has a biblical hermeneutic, and some are better than others. So, let’s talk about Guardians of the Galaxy and biblical hermeneutics.
Rocket Raccoon & Groot
Consider the character named Groot – a walking, talking tree of sorts. The only line that he utters during the entire movie is, “I am Groot.” At the end of the movie, he does say, “We are Groot.” But that’s it; his vocabulary is quite limited. In the words of his friend, Rocket Raccoon, “…he don’t know talkin’ good like me and you, so his vocabulistics is limited to ‘I’ and ‘am’ and ‘Groot,’ exclusively in that order.”
What’s interesting about Groot’s limited vocabulary is that his friend, Rocket Raccoon, seems to be the only one who is able to understand Groot’s varied meanings. Other people hear only, “I am Groot.” But, Rocket Raccoon understands Groot to be saying, “Yes,” “No,” and various other things – even complex statements.
This got me to thinking about how some people think that there is a special mystical gift of interpretation of the Scriptures. The words of a particular text say one thing, but like Rocket Raccoon, there is some special knowledge required to interpret the real meaning that lies behind the text of Scripture. This way of thinking has its roots in Gnosticism in which it was believed that a ‘special knowledge’ was required to understand truth. It’s no accident that these groups are often referred to as ‘mystery cults.’
The truth is, however, that “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them” (WCF 1:7).
The meaning of Scripture may be plainly understood without some special, mystical, insight. But, when one adopts the mentality that you need a Rocket Raccoon to interpret for you, then the words of Scripture become subject to strange and unknowable methods of interpretation.
So, Scripture is plain in its meaning. There is no ‘special knowledge’ or mystical gift of interpretation required to understand God’s Word.
At the same time, interpreting and applying Scripture is complex in that we must take into account the various stages of redemptive history in which the Scriptures were written, as well as the complexities of our own lives. In our Men’s Discipleship Group, we have been reading and discussing an essay by Ken Myers called Christianity, Culture, and Common Grace. In the first chapter of this essay, Myers writes, “Applying Scripture is difficult for every individual, often as much as we fail to understand the significance of our own situation, the context in which we are applying it, as because we fail to understand the original, objective meaning of the text. We live in complex patterns of need, of opportunity, and of sin. The inference we really ought to draw is often the most difficult to see, because of the complexity of our lives and because of the sin in our lives. This is why we need teachers and the fellowship of the saints.” (p 12)
So, while Scripture is plain and those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation may be easily understood, at the same time, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all” (WCF 1:7). The same paragraph in the Westminster Confession of Faith that speaks of the simplicity and clarity of Scripture, also speaks of the complexity of Scripture.
Here, we may consider the character from Guardians of the Galaxy named Drax – a very strong, yet simple-minded alien. In one of my favorite scenes in the movie, Drax is confused by the metaphors and symbolic language used by some of the other characters. Speaking of Drax, Rocket Raccoon says, “Metaphors go over his head.” To which Drax responds, “NOTHING goes over my head! …My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.” Obviously, Drax doesn’t understand the definition of a metaphor as is evident by his inability to not take everything literally.
This got me to thinking about how some interpret the Scriptures in a very wooden fashion, not taking into account various literary devices such as metaphors, typology, symbolism, parables, chiasms, leitworts, etc. For those who interpret the Scriptures in such a wooden fashion, the rules of reading and literature don’t apply to Scripture. This is a mistake, and leads to a Drax-like method of interpretation: it’s well-intentioned, but way off base. In the past, I’ve referred to this way of interpreting Scripture as the “Amelia Bedelia hermeneutic.” If you’re familiar with the Amelia Bedelia children’s books, then you may remember the scene where Amelia’s teammates on the baseball field yell for her to “Run home!” Misunderstanding what they mean, and interpreting their words in a very wooden fashion, Amelia runs to her house.
Principles of Interpreting Scripture
In the adult Sunday school class this coming Sunday, we will be examining some of the basic principles for interpreting the Scriptures. We will look at things like understanding the importance of context, redemptive history, the unity and diversity of Scripture, the intent of the original author, some literary devices employed in the Scriptures, and how to make proper application.
Basically, we will try to provide some principles that will protect us from thinking like Rocket Raccoon and Groot – as if we need some special mystical insight or secret knowledge to understand the Scriptures. And, on the other end of the spectrum, we will try and provide some principles that will protect us from being like Drax or Amelia Bedelia – reading Scripture as if the rules of literary interpretation don’t apply to God’s Word.
I look forward to seeing you in class this Sunday! And, as a reminder, this Sunday, the adult Sunday school class will meet at 9:30 am in the chapel room, just off the fellowship hall.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch