05 Dec Biblical Hermeneutics and the Indian Christian Student-II
Continued from the previous issue july-August 2015
To find the meaning the student can do two things. He can first read the context of this difficult passage. He will soon find that this act of self-emptying was an expression of “the mind (attitude-TEV) of Christ”; that his mind is the example of the “one mind” and “lowliness of mind” for which the apostle pleads in vv. 2 and 3.
In the second place, the student can check other versions. He will immediately discover that the grammar of v. 7 is different from AV in ASV and RSV. In those versions the sentence reads, “but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made (or, born) in the likeness of men.” This sentence structure, of a main verb followed by two participles, may suggest immediately that what the self-emptying meant (or is meant to teach) is that Christ’s humble mind led him to take the form (or mode of being) of a servant, as a human being.
The student may then think again of the context he has just noticed, and realized that his meaning of the emptying fits in with it. His understanding of the practical force of the verse is confirmed, and a definite knowledge of the passage is gained.
If the student then consults the commentaries, he will find that he has come to the same conclusion as, for example, R.P. Martin in the Tyndale Commentary, says that the verse “teaches that his ‘kenosis’ or self-emptying was his taking the servant’s form.” The student may not be able to back up his conviction with a discussion of the Greek text, but has all the support needed by comparison of English versions and study of the context. His conclusion is precisely that of the Greek scholar. That seems to be the thing that matters.
The objection may be raised that much of this is relevant mainly for those who can study in English, so with the aid of different versions, etc., but will not mean much to others. But as we shall see, the basic principle of interpreting the Bible is to see a thing in its context. There are principles of study and interpretation that are useful in any language. The versions help but they are not essential.
Some will question whether this is the “precise knowledge” of the Bible to which Dr. Fuller revers. But can the most profound scholarship fathom the person of Christ? And if not, is it likely that this passage was given by God to enable anyone to do so? But if this passage was given so that Christian students (and scholars) might have the mind of Christ, then the student who gets that meaning from the passage (and enters into that meaning by submitting to Christ) can surely be said to have the precise knowledge that God intended him to have.
The point of this discussion is not to decry reverent and thorough biblical scholarship, nor to say it has no place in the church. It has a very important place. The church needs its scholars who can clarify, expound, and defend the faith. Scholarship can throw much light on many passages of Scripture. Historical or cultural allusions often are made clear by the work of the scholar. Nevertheless, it still is true that valid knowledge of the Scripture is not dependent on the exact understanding of such allusions. Or, simply: the Indian Christian student can know the Bible.
A statement of Donald Macleod, writing in the Evangelical Library Bulletin, Autumn 1968, is very apt, “But we must not institute a priesthood of the expert, nor imbibe that habit whereby men despair of understanding a particular passage simply because they have no commentary in hand. Every such tendency must be met with a firm emphasis upon the Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of the Word.”
– To be continued