Thursday, December 8, 2011

More on Biblical Chastisement and 'Paideia': Hermeneutics Effects Everything

In the wake of recent deaths which have been associated with his child discipline and corporal punishment program, Michael Pearl appeared on Anderson Cooper's daytime talk show to discuss what Pearl prefers to call “Biblical chastisement.” 

Because we draw religious meaning and systems of belief from a document that was written in a now ancient culture in several foreign languages that are no longer commonly spoken, special care and consideration must be paid when discerning the meaning of Biblical text. This process and academic discipline is called “hermeneutics,” a consideration of great importance and discussion on this website. Concerning Michael Pearl, perhaps nothing draws more attention to his own preferred hermeneutic or lack thereof more clearly than does his authoritarian-style focus upon and interpretation of the term “chastisement.” It is also a demonstration of how language can manipulate thought. (Read about the term “Biblical” as a thought-stopping clique.)

Of course, there are different approaches to hermeneutics within Christianity. Some traditions teach a literal interpretation of text to which the reader or their religious authority ascribes their own understanding which may not accurately capture the true meaning of the text. Some approaches identify one translation of a text as more accurate than the language in which the original text was written (common with the King James Version of the Bible), paying little attention to the concerns of language translation limitations, colloquial understanding of expressions, the historical context, and the cultural practices of the day when the original work was created. Author Jocelyn Andersen even terms this type of limited view of Scripture as “English Translation Theology.”

Without giving proper consideration to the principles of hermeneutics, we can easily miss the originally intended meaning. The interpretation and application of the term “chastisement” offers us an excellent example of the significance of hermeneutics and how such considerations drastically change how we may understand what a Biblical text means to communicate to us today.

An Example of the Profound Effect of Hermeneutics

One of my favorite examples of this captivated me when I was a seminary student concerning John 14:6. My professor who was raised in Orthodox Judaism before coming to faith in Christ mentioned that when Jesus said that He was “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” it was not just a poetic way of stating that he was the sole means of approaching the father, the most obvious meaning ascribed to the passage by most English-speaking Protestants. This reflects only a peripheral understanding of the text. Jews of that day when Jesus spoke these words would readily recognize this as a reference to the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Temple of Solomon. The Way was the entry way into the outer court where men offered sacrifices on the altar to atone for the sins of their families. The Truth referred to the entrance to the inner court, and the Life referred to the Holy of Holies.

This would become the first example of many which I learned from that professor, and I became amazed at how many of the things Jesus said were outright blasphemous to the Jews. Nearly everything He told them in the Gospels was a direct reference to His identity as YHWH and how His identity was synonymous with the Father's identity. (This is another reason why I reject ESS doctrine, but that's a discussion for another day.) Hermeneutics mean everything when you seek to understand the full meaning of a Biblical text, particularly when you interpret it to formulate doctrine.

Understanding Chastisement

In a recent post, I referenced Jeri Massi's explanation of the full meaning of the term “chastisement” (paideia in the Koine Greek of the New Testament) that she included in a podcast a few years ago, applying the principles of grammatical historical hermeneutics (described HERE). Just this week in a rather timely post that falls so soon after Pearl's recent TV appearance, she has expanded a bit on the concept.

Pearl referenced Hebrews, Chapter 12 as a justification for his use of corporal punishment, specifically citing the term “chastisement” which is the Elizabethan English translation of the Greek paideia. But rather than depending upon an appropriate hermeneutic to derive a proper understanding of the verse, Pearl interprets the term from the English translation only, very likely relying upon the superficial and convenient interpretation of his own Bible teachers. Pearl fails to consider the primary use of the term in the context that the author of Hebrews used it (as did the Apostle Paul in reference to raising children). Pearl fails to appreciate it in the language and culture of the day and in the full counsel that these considerations provide. In contrast, Jeri Massey notes them well.

Regrettably, “doing wrong” takes on an elastic meaning, and stories of children who are beaten for spilling milk. . . .Christian Fundamentalism fails to take into account that the parent holding the rod of correction is also a sinner: entirely as sinful as the child, in fact. . .

Paideia as “chastisement” or “chastening,” the translation has lost the original sense of the word.

The teacher (or father) in the tradition of Paideia viewed himself as passing on something vital to his child. The heritage of Athens, the first democracy in a land of tyrants, the home of great heroes and brilliant minds, was glorious and unequaled. Paul is making this comparison consciously. Alone of all religions and nations upon the earth, we know that God has loved us so much that He became a man and died for us, His people. Our kingdom is a noble and glorious kingdom, which we pass on to our children. Proponents of harsh and continual corporal punishment teach that the aim of discipline is to break the will of a child (a remedy not found in Scripture and condemned by Paul in Ephesians 6:4), but Paul is saying that you raise a child by appealing to him as a future ruler with Christ, calling upon him or her to show the great virtues of one who will receive a noble kingdom. . .

[Continue reading HERE.]

Please visit her blog and read the entire entry which is rich in detail, describing the New Testament's intended meaning and usage in several passages under the New Covenant, passages used by Fundamentalist Christians to develop and justify child discipline practices and corporal punishment. These interpretations focus on punishment as opposed to process of nurture and rigorous training that the original usage of the term conveyed within the society of that day. They miss the deeper meaning of the noble and stately aspects of the Christian Faith, a tradition that far exceeds understanding of chastisement as merely striking a child for mistakes and wrongdoing in the pursuit of performance and a works-based perfection through the traditions of men.