Posts Tagged ‘analogy of faith’

Hermeneutical Principles: The Error of Illegitimate Totality Transfer

August 18, 2011 7 comments

Through regular Bible study and sermon listening, come several hermeneutical principles for handling scripture.  These principles can be applied not only in our own study but also in discussions with others.  A few basic principles I’ve learned are called the “checking principle” and the analogy of faith.  The checking principle comes up in cases where one person has a unique interpretation, one that no one else upholds: in humility that person must consider carefully the reasons for his different conclusion.  The “analogy of faith” is more common, and comes from one’s understanding of all scripture:  scripture does not contradict itself.  If one passage has a meaning, that meaning must not disagree with other scriptural teaching.

I learned a third principle recently, the error of “illegitimate totality transfer,” a case of taking the meaning — the sense or concept — from one part of scripture and lifting that idea and wrongly applying it to another scripture that may have some of the same words but totally different usage.  In a recent online discussion, for example, someone brought up the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25.  Because all ten virgins had oil, and because oil elsewhere represents the Holy Spirit, this person concluded that all ten virgins had the Holy Spirit and were saved.

In this case, the person certainly had a unique interpretation (the “checking principle”), and also that idea contradicts other doctrinal teaching  (“analogy of faith”):  the perseverance and preservation of the saints.  People don’t lose their salvation.  Since the five virgins are later turned away, when Christ says He never knew them, they represent unbelievers, those who never had saving faith to begin with.

But going beyond these problems, comes the “illegitimate totality transfer” with that person’s improper concept of “oil,” which in some parts of scripture is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, but does not fit the case of this parable in Matthew 25.  Mike Riccardi well spoke to this particular Bible discussion with some great observations:

Jesus is employing an illustration, and in this case the oil just means oil. The point is right there in the text: be ready for Christ’s coming; don’t be spiritually lazy, because He’s coming any minute.

Not to mention, pressing the details in parables is (1) insensitive to the genre, and treating it more like allegory, and (2) often ridiculous, like here. What would we conclude? That some of us can store up “more” of the Holy Spirit, so that when Christ comes, we don’t have to go get more of the Holy Spirit from somewhere, and, as a result, miss His coming?

Better to let a parable be a parable, oil be oil, and the point of the passage be stated by the passage itself (Mt 25:13).