Hermeneutics–Weight of Historic Interpretation

This post is just to raise a question about hermeneutics. How much weight should be put on the historic interpretation of a passage by the church, when you are trying to ascertain it’s meaning? In other words, does it matter if no one in the early church interpreted the passage the way you do? What if your interpretation first appeared at the 1600s, or in the early 1900s, or maybe even in this millennium?

For example, some argue that the “coming of the Son of Man” language in the eschatological discourses of the Synoptic gospels (e.g. Matt 16:27-28; Matt 24:27,30,37; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27) refers not to the “second coming” of Jesus, but rather to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. Obviously before coming to a conclusion we would want to perform all the usual and proper hermeneutical steps, checking that we have correctly translated the passage, considered its context, examined Old Testament allusions and parallel passages etc. But suppose you came to the conclusion that the preterist interpretation was the most plausible exegetically. Would it matter whether or not there was any record of the early church expounding these texts to say that these prophecies had been fulfilled in AD70?

The actual exegetical issue I am currently considering is a different one, but it illustrates the problem. How much of a red flag is it that your interpretation is a novel one? Let me know what you think in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Hermeneutics–Weight of Historic Interpretation

  1. Novel is ok, though it raises questions – am I just reading this because of my culture and context. But, I guess if you can clearly argue it from the text for your interpretation it’s probably not that novel, and probably viable… Case by case.

  2. For me it depends on why it’s a novel interpretation. We have a much better understanding of the historical and cultural background of both the OT and the NT. If the background opens up a new interpretation I think it’s ok. Otherwise I am a bit more hesitant, though I wouldn’t rule it out all together just because it is new.

  3. thanks Marcus & Dave, I guess there are some issues in which we might be privileged over the early church in our ability to interpret a passage due to the greater accessibility to research on historical & cultural background. Having said that as you point out Dave it is very easy to be blind to how our own cultural context is affecting our judgment.

    I do sometimes wonder with novel interpretations “did _anyone_ ever understand this correctly”? If so, what factors caused the early church to then lose this right understanding, and if not, doesn’t that indicate a monumental failure of communication on behalf of the biblical writers?

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