Do you believe in the sufficiency of Scripture? At times in history, man has held strongly to this conviction. At other times, he hasn’t. You can tell when he has or hasn’t by looking at the hermeneutics of past eras. Let’s take a brief journey to see the ebbs and flows.
Satan craftily disguised his hermeneutic. Consider his first recorded words, “Did God actually say . . .” (Gen. 3:1). He didn’t deny God had spoken. He didn’t even try to change the words. Rather, he twisted God’s meaning. In effect, Satan asked not, “What do God’s words mean?,” but “What do they mean to me?” He shrewdly sought to remove God as the Author of His meaning and replace God with himself. This strategy–offering a deeper (or different) meaning than God intended–was a direct assault on the sufficiency of Scripture. This is where the problem began. Yet, Satan cleverly masked the strategy through the ages.
The Apostles’ Hermeneutic (Authorial Intent)
Let’s fast-forward to the apostles. Hermeneutically, how did they approach OT texts? Walt Kaiser rightly maintains: “[I]n all passages where the New Testament writers quote the Old Testament to establish a fact or doctrine and use the Old Testament passage argumentatively, they have understood the passage in its natural and straightforward sense.”
This was the problem Jesus, in large part, was correcting in His Sermon on the Mount. The Pharisees had created deeper (or different) meanings for OT texts in their efforts to control people. Jesus was restoring the biblical author’s intent to its rightful place of authority. The apostles, in like fashion, preserved the OT author’s intent, and then powerfully applied it to contemporary situations. The result was a proliferation of biblical, gospel truth that changed the world.
The Patristics’ Hermeneutic (Allegory)
After the apostles died, two schools of interpretation arose: the Alexandrian and Antiochene schools. The Alexandrian school was famous for its hermeneutic called “allegory.” Allegory seeks a deeper (or different) meaning than the author’s intent. Their famous teacher, Origen, taught every Scripture text was pregnant with multiple layers of meanings. To him, every text has three meanings: (1) a literal meaning; (2) an ethical (moral) meaning, and a spiritual (heavenly) meaning. Famously, he rendered the Good Samaritan passage this way:
“The traveler (Adam) journeys from Jerusalem (heaven) to Jericho (the world) and is assaulted by robbers (the devil and his helpers). The priest (the law) and the Levite (the prophets) pass by without aiding the fallen Adam, but the Samaritan (Christ) stops to help him . . .”
The Antiochene school, by contrast, insisted allegory was illegitimate and held to the literal meaning alone. They sought to discover the single meaning of the biblical author. They vigorously challenged the Alexandrians, but the impact of the Alexandrians won the day. For centuries thereafter, most Christian preaching drifted into unrestrained allegories. With no interpretive controls in place to hold it accountable, a plethora of heresies sprang forth: works-based salvation, purgatory, indulgences, and many other false teachings.
The Reformers’ Hermeneutic (A Return to Authorial Intent)
That dark environment gave birth to the brilliant light of the Protestant Reformation. The motto of the Protestant Reformation became, “Post tenebras lux,” which means, “Out of darkness, light.” That motto even was printed on the coins in Geneva where Calvin ministered. The reformers recognized all heresies were directly connected to hermeneutical practices. For instance, William Tyndale (ca. 1494-1536) was the first to translate the Greek NT into English. Listen to the hermeneutical philosophy he personally experienced in Roman Catholic universities: “[T]hey have ordained that no man shall look in the Scripture until he be noselled [nursed] in heathen learning eight or nine years and armed with false principles with which he is clean shut out of the understanding of Scripture” (Practice of Prelates). The reformers marched lockstep in rejecting allegory and embracing the principle of Sola Scriptura, which means, “Scripture Alone.”
Martin Luther, in many ways the face and personality of the Protestant Reformation, said of Origen’s allegorical method:
“He relied too much on this same spiritual meaning, which was unnecessary, and he let the necessary literal meaning go. When this happens, Scripture perishes.”
Luther stated that “allegory is a sort of beautiful harlot, who proves herself specially seductive to idle men.” John Calvin went further, deeming allegory “a contrivance of Satan.” During the reformation, Luther’s common-sense approach took root: “The Holy Ghost is the all-simplest writer that is in heaven or earth; therefore his words can have no more than one simplest sense, which we call the scriptural or literal meaning.” The effect was a complete reformation of theology, ecclesiology, scholasticism, architecture, culture, etc.: a total reshaping of society. God gloriously blessed that golden era in which the sufficiency of Scripture was restored to its rightful and prominent place.
The Post-modern Hermeneutic (Multiple Meanings)
Sadly, that glorious era was short-lived. Over time, Scripture interpretation degenerated into a worse condition than ever. The Reformation gave way to the Enlightenment era (17th and 18th centuries), in which all supernatural events in Scripture were either explained away by science or rejected as mere fantasy. The Enlightenment era shifted into the Modernist movement with Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and others: an era in which scientific and psychological ideas were given the first place of prominence, and then those ideas were integrated into Scripture texts.
Modernism gave way to post-modernism, with its numerous tentacles. Post-modernism no longer limits the text one meaning (as the protestant reformers did) or even three (as Origen did). Nor does it limit the place of prominence to science or psychology. Post-modernism claims the meanings in a text are limitless, and the reader takes first place of prominence. How did they get to that idea?
The German influence of higher criticism taught the author’s original intent is impossible to ascertain. Therefore, it is useless to ask, “What did the author mean?” Rather, we should ask, “What do these words mean to me, the reader?” That transfer of authority had devastating effects. No longer does a text mean what the author intends it to mean. It means what I intend it to mean. The motive was deliberate: To free man from any authority to God (as Author) and to replace Him with every man. Even in 1967, E.D. Hirsch, Jr. lamented: “When critics [readers] deliberately banished the original author, they themselves usurped his place, and this led unerringly to some of our present-day theoretical confusions.” Hirsch recognized where all of this was trending: Every man doing that which is right in his own eyes.
The tentacles of post-modernism kept sprouting. Recently, the idea took a clever turn toward unbridled mysticism. Even in conservative circles, it is common to hear comments like, “God told me . . .,” “the Holy Spirit spoke to me . . .,” “the still small voice whispered to me . . .,” etc. Reminiscent of “inner light” Quakerism, the difference now is the post-modern mindset has stamped each person’s experience with divine authority to his/her own version of truth. This led Oprah Winfrey and others to speak in terms of “your truth” rather than “the truth.” That single seed, once sown, has reaped a whirlwind.
More recently, critical race theory (CRT) has been embraced by post-moderns as a legitimate hermeneutical tool. CRT suggests a worldview in which mankind is divided into two groups: “oppressors” and “the oppressed.” Socially, for instance, CRT claims the social structures in the USA inherently are racist: the laws, judicial system, zoning, tax code, universities, churches, etc. The system becomes a self-perpetuating scheme to keep one race in power. This philosophy surreptitiously (or, perhaps deliberately) seeped into Christian hermeneutics.
Hermeneutically, CRT proponents approach each Scripture text seeking those two groups: (1) “oppressors” and (2) “the oppressed.” The reader, not the author, determines who is in which group, and anyone who disagrees with the reader reveals he is, in fact, part of the “oppressors.” In other words, to hold to the biblical author’s intent—alone—as absolute truth is the ultimate act of racism. Why?
CRT proponents begin from their personal experience, not absolute truth, and logically trace things backward.
They reason, “I have experienced racism because the social structures of the USA are inherently racist. Therefore, the Constitution which gave rise to the country’s social structures must be racist because its framers were all of the same race. Further, those framers largely were informed and influenced by Judeo-Christian ethics found in Scripture. What’s more, those Judeo-Christian ethics emanated from the biblical authors’ single intent.” Therefore, to suggest the authorial intent of the biblical writers is absolute truth is to perpetuate racism. It proves you are part of the “oppressors.” The fact that you cannot recognize this means you haven’t been “woke.” This all might seem far-fetched until we look at what is happening in society. Then we start to realize where the real crisis lies: in the pulpits.
I hope this little journey offers perspective. Satan’s tactics change. His motive never does: To cast doubt on the sufficiency of Scripture. He might mask it through allegory (the Patristics), intellectualism (the Enlightenment), secularism (the Modernists), or the all-out onslaught of multiple meanings (Post-modernism)—now mixed with racially charged innuendos and accusations. It won’t stop there. New, repackaged methodologies will emerge in the future, but they are all designed by Satan to put a mask on his true motive: To assault, challenge, demean, and ultimately deny the sufficiency of Scripture. Remember this: The two glorious eras that unmasked his motive were the two that, hermeneutically, exalted the sufficiency of Scripture. We can do again. Today: Post tenebras lux—Out of darkness, light!
Walt Kaiser, Toward An Exegetical Theology (Baker Books: 1981), 57.
 Origen, On Principles 4.1.8, The Anti-Nicene Fathers (Charles Scribner’s Sons: 1885), 4:356.
 Martin Luther, Answer to the Hyperchristian, . . . vol. 39 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970), 178.
Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology, 61.
 E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (Yale University Press: 1967), 5.