What is the “New Hermeneutic”? by James R. Lewis

What is the “new hermeneutic”?

      In recent years we have heard of that which has been called a new hermeneutic.  Hermeneutics, by definition, is simply the art or science of the interpretation of literature (Webster’s New World College Dictionary).

     The Bible is literature, but not of the ordinary kind.  The Bible is inspired of God, meaning the words of the Bible were written by select men of God as they were directed by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

     Since the Bible is God’s word, and not man’s, wisdom teaches us that we must be careful how we handle it.  We are not at liberty to design our own method of hermeneutic.  In fact, God warns against adding to or taking from His word, either literally doing so, or by changing the meaning of it.

     Death exists because Eve and Adam developed a new hermeneutic about God’s word (Genesis 2:17; 3:1ff).  They tried to change the meaning of what God had said, but God’s word did not change.

     However, disobedience to God’s word did change Adam and Eve.  The same is true for Cain who failed to offer unto God as he has been directed (Genesis 4:3ff; Hebrews 11:4).

     The entire population of the earth (except for eight souls) was destroyed from the earth in the universal flood when “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  It is obvious they chose to interpret God’s word to suit their way rather than follow God’s way.  We know God’s word was present in that day because Noah was “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5).

     We are further reminded that Israel’s blessings depended on their not adding to or taking from God’s word (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32).

     The same is true for God’s people today.  His blessings for us depend upon our faithfully hearing and obeying His word.  His word is that by which we live (Matthew 4:4).  They are the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68), and they are the words by which we will be judged in the last day (John 12:48).   We are not to “think of men above that which is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6); and, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God” (2 John 9).  Adding to the Scriptures or taking from them brings the greatest of consequences, even the removal of one’s “part of the book of life and out of the holy city” (Revelation 22:18-19).

The Example of the Instrument

     When men begin to talk about a new hermeneutic, they are talking about a new way of interpreting the Scriptures.  For the purposes of this article we can use the example of the renewed digression advocating the use of mechanical instruments of music in the worship service.  Their arguments suffice to provide an example of the new hermeneutic at work.

     The current day digression asserts, among other things, (1) that the Bible says nothing about not using the instrument in the worship, (2) that using examples such as Cain and Abel, and Nadab and Abihu to oppose the use of the instrument is not good hermeneutics, and (3) using mechanical instruments in worship is merely a matter of opinion, or choice, and is not a salvation issue.

That Silence is Permissive

Not Prohibitive

     These three assertions are easily exposed as being false.  In the first place, the fact that the Bible does not mention using instruments of music in worship service of the church is not a permission to use them, but rather a prohibition.

     Since God has not authorized the use of the instrument in worship, then it must be a doctrine which comes from men.  Jesus says, concerning worship which is authorized by men, “But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).  The introduction, by men, of instrumental music into the worship of the church is vain worship.

That Old Testament Examples Do Not Apply

     Secondly, the Hebrew writer specifically used Abel as one who offered to God “by faith” (Hebrews 11:4); this is in contrast to Cain who offered by choice.  Here is explicit Bible hermeneutics of using Old Testament examples which demonstrate prohibition of offering in worship to God that which God has not commanded.

     Furthermore, Nadab and Abihu indeed stand as a supreme example of two worshipers who “died, when they offered strange fire before the Lord” (Numbers 26:61).  The record in Leviticus 10:1-2, specifically says they “offered strange fire before the Lord, which the Lord commanded them not.”

     Mechanical instruments in New Testament worship is no less strange that the fire offered by Nadab and Abihu.  It is offering that which the Lord commands us not. The Bible teaches we must worship God “in truth” (John 4:34), and there is no truth in adding instruments of music to the worship services of the church.

     Bible hermeneutics (principles of interpretation) requires we do not add that which God has not authorized (see above references), and instrumental music in the worship services is not authorized.

That It Is Not a Salvation Issue

     In the third place, the addition of that which God has not authorized most certainly is a matter of salvation.  It was with Eve and Adam, with those who perished in the flood of Noah’s day, with Nadab and Abihu, and with those who worship according to man’s doctrines and and not Christ’s doctrine (Matthew 15:9; 2 John 9).

     Again, instrumental music in worship is a doctrine not authorized by Christ, and Christians are neither to receive those who advocate such doctrines nor bid them “God speed” (2 John 10-11).

In Conclusion

     In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, men who sought to add instruments of music to the worship services failed miserably in attempting to offer Bible authority for such additions.  Their failure to respect God’s word brought great division and the loss of many souls who were pulled away by self-pleasing doctrines which are unauthorized by the Bible.

     In contrast, those who truly love the Lord are those who keep His commandments (John 14:15, 1 John 5:3).  Let us “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11), and rejoice in the Lord, not in the things which the Lord prohibits.