her⋅me⋅neu⋅tics [hur-muh-noo-tiks, -nyoo-]
–noun (used with a singular verb)
1. the science of interpretation, esp. of the Scriptures.
2. the branch of theology that deals with the principles of Biblical exegesis.
Got to thinking about the way the Bible gets interpreted and taught today.
There is a stream of interpretation and teaching that I’m calling Homer Hermeneutics.
The television cartoon character Homer Simpson has a habit of listening to others but hearing what he wants to hear. When this happens Homer says: “Mmm…”, then either repeats or misrepeats a word or phrase that has just been spoken. This is oft-times followed by Homer drooling. These jokes emphasise Homer’s obsession with food.
An example: Multi-millionaire Montgomery Burns is playing golf with Homer. Homer’s ball ends up in a sand trap. Burns tells Homer to “use an open-faced club. The sand wedge!” At this point Homer’s gaze glazes over and he says: “Mmm… open-faced club sandwich.”
Homer Hermenuetics occurs when someone reads a section of the Bible, a sentence, a phrase or even a word and fails to try and work out what it means, but simply responds in terms of what that phrase or word means to them.
Biblical hermenuetics involves trying to identify what the section in question was intended to mean to its initial audience. The question of the author’s intent needs to be addressed. It is also necessary to determine whether the text occurs in anticipation of the Lord Jesus Christ or in response to His life, death and resurrection. Having arrived at an understanding of these factors then an attempt at understanding the relevance of the passage for us today can be arrived at.
Homer Hermeneutics dispenses with all of these steps and simply runs with the first thought that enters the mind. It’s sort of post-modern I guess. Deriving meaning from the text instead of allowing the text to dictate its own meaning.
Jesus says “I am the bread of life.” Homer Hermenuetics might focus on fluffy white bread, filled with pockets of air and imagine that those are a picture of Christians. The sturdy crust can then be Jesus Himself surrounding and protecting the church. Consideration is not given to what Jesus actually meant, that life can be sustained by Him alone. Consideration is not given to the fact that no original reader of the text ever saw anything like a loaf of Baker’s Delight White Bread.
God is often described as a “rock” in poetical metaphor. No-one had rock and roll music or rocking chairs in mind. Nor did they ponder that the shifting perspectives created by light passing over the rock during the day portrayed a changability in God that encourages to think about how God can fill the God shaped hole in each of our lives. The idea that God can be understood as enduring, unchanging and a place of secure shelter (think caves and clefts) doesn’t need to get a look in. These are the images that the writer and his audience would have called to mind.
Homer Hermeneutics is rife in the church. This is not the same as two different individuals struggling to understand the text and arriving at different conclusions. These sentimental and self-centered modes of interpretation fail to engage with the Scripture and impose the reader’s ideas upon the text.
Ultimately the text won’t be needed at all. That will mean the the unique message of the text will go ignored. People won’t be listening to God because they’ll be too busy listening to themselves.
P.S. It occurs to me that this practice should be called Homerneutics. A google search does not turn it up, so it’s mine.