What hermeneutic do we use to ensure we have the right hermeneutic?'
All Scripture is ... profitable for...
All good then, we know what scripture is profitable for. Firstly, it's for teaching. But teaching about what? Physics? Cosmology? History? Hygiene? Religious ritual? Because for sure it seems to refer to all of these and more... Well, no. None of the above. That's clear because it goes on to say what else it is good for: Reproof (pointing out when we made a wrong choice), Correction (showing us the way to back to the right route when we made a wrong choice) and training in righteousness (how to make right choices).
In short, scripture is useful when we use it to show us the way, to train us in how to identify and courageously choose the right way and for pointing out when we did neither. Which probably means it's not very useful for science, or history or archaeology or fixing the Dacia Logan.
All Scripture is Inspired....
If we don't think that's what inspired means, then the tools and framework will be different. What if God didn't control the authors in quite that precise way? What if He used fallible people, themselves on a journey towards wholeness and understanding? What if He inspired them to write in the sense that he gave them the encouragement, the sense of urgency, the subject matter in general? But yet gave them the freedom to express the thoughts and words out of their own knowledge of God, and through their own personality? What might be an appropriate means of interpretation then? Well, along with language and culture, now we need to know what biases the individuals might have brought to their writing. We need a mechanism for sorting out what is true from God's perspective as opposed to what the writer thought was true from His growing but flawed understanding.
Well, which is it? The first is very attractive. It takes account of God's omnipotence; for sure he could have done it that way, he is powerful enough! It's also very attractive in that it should lead to certainty. Once the words and their meaning have been agreed, the way should be unambiguous. It appeals too to the 'modern' worldview which many of us oldies still have an affinity for; scientific, logical, certainty.
However, that doesn't seem to be the way the Bible was written.... detailed analysis supports what most people sense when they read it. The author's personalities shine through. There are human differences of perspective as well as differences of fact. It sounds for all the world like Godly people (for the most part) got inspired and wrote down their best recollection or their best research, or their best understanding of what was true. But like the rest of us, they were on a journey, had a heap of baggage and tradition, were somewhat trapped by their own pain / worldview and prone to mis-remembering.
Of course God could have overwritten those bits and for sure he has guided the collection of the writings we have to be the best, least problematic set possible. But to have taken control of people in order to write specific words, or even to so inspire them that they had in effect no choice as to what to write would be to contradict the clear things that the Bible says about Him! It says He is love and love it declares 'does not insist on its own way' (1 Cor 13). Indeed the Bible says that control is like witchcraft. It calls us to be self-controlled, but never to control others.
The evidence, I suggest is that the Bible is not a hand-written by God document, but rather a God inspired collection of fallible documents written by fallible people. Woah! Where does that leave us then? Anyone can make it say what they want, just leave out the bits they don't like, major on the bits that suit them... that's crazy! Well, sorry to say, but isn't that what happens anyway? Isn't that why we have 66 books including two distinct histories and three synoptic gospels plus a fourth to keep us in line with what they mean? Isn't that why we have The Holy Spirit to 'guide us into all truth' rather than a library of commentaries? And ultimately, isn't that why we have Jesus?
When the disciples were trying to work out what was true - their traditional 'Biblical' understanding or the radical new interpretation Jesus was living, they asked Him: "Show us the Father". And here in my view is the key. He said "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. In other words, our view of what God is like is embodied, not in a series of texts, but in the person that they point to. The answer to Brian's erudite question I think is this. We need a Christo-centric hermeneutic. A Christ centred interpretation of scripture. We can't truly understand it without understanding the person of Jesus. If the Bible is a jigsaw puzzle of thousands of pieces then we need a good picture on the box to tell us how to put it together. The picture is Jesus.
Ok, I know, I can hear the avalanche of 'woolly liberal' epithets headed my way... please do comment, but keep it clean, yeah? Now, where's that Dacia Logan manual, I need to understand Revelation 2...