D. Dixon Sutherland -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 10:1 (Fall 1992)
Article: D. Dixon Sutherland
Author: Anonymous


D. Dixon Sutherland

Stetson University

Hermeneutics, the Bible and ethics cannot be separated. For pulpit and pew alike they function in trinitarian tandem. How a person interprets the Bible affects their stance on important ethical issues. Likewise, a person holding a particular stance on an ethical issue can be influenced by that stance to approach and interpret the Bible in a particular way. Hermeneutics stands between ethics and the Bible, functioning as the fulcrum between text and interpreter.

In our case, the text is specifically the Bible. The primary task of hermeneutics is to set out methods and conditions that allow the biblical text to be responsibly understood by a contemporary audience. Hermeneutics is the business of getting from the ancient biblical text to us—from then to now.

Ethics is concerned with the question: “What ought we do?” Christians often appeal to the Bible for support for ethical positions they might take. Evangelical Christians especially admonish each other to uphold “a biblical ethic.” So pastors and lay persons alike search diligently a text that is a collection of writings separated from ourselves by hundreds of years and lightyears in cultures to find endorsement if not authorization for ethical judgments.

Doubtless problems exist. How do we get from “then”—the world of an ancient, even if biblical, text—to “now,” the twentieth century? What connections can those people, events, religions, and cultures have with contemporary, technological, “future-shocked” Americans? Even if it can be agreed that reference to ethical judgment has been found in the ancient text, how can this ethic relate to us? How can we filter an ancient ethic conditioned by customs and standards to be an ethic “for us?” Enter hermeneutics. The means by which we make this transition, consciously or unconsciously, is our hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the bridge between the text and meaning for us. It is the middle term between the Bible and ethics.

The way we interrelate the Bible and ethical judgment making can be viewed through three rather distinct hermeneutical processes. I have discussed these three: Prescription, Historical, and Social hermeneutics. I will give a brief orientation of the logic of each hermeneutic and how it functions to link the Bible and ethical thinking. As a means of clarification, I will attempt to provide an example of the way that each hermeneutic is applied to a biblical text.

Prescriptive hermeneutic

The prescriptive hermeneutic makes the relation between the Bible and ethics simple: All contemporary ethical questions are resolved by appeal to the Bible.

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