Sep 26 2008

Assumptions, Presuppositions, Filters

By John Immel

Furthering the discussion of bible interpretation also known as Higher Critical Methodology, I’m going to talk about…well, you saw the post title. And since I am loath to reinvent the wheel, I am once again going to dip into self-plagiarism of my previous literary work from where I took the post Like Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and Karate .

Anyway, read the Like Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and Karate post first and this post flows to this one.


Let me show you the theology secret handshake; your ideas are not your identity. In the Arena of Ideas, it is not personal, though some will always try to make it personal. I have walked this path. Come with me young Jedi and let me show you Theology. Here is a light saber for your protection.

You read about candles under bushels in the New Testament. Your Historical Criticism helps pinpoint that a candle is strikingly similar in use to a flashlight. Now young Jedi, use your questions. Jesus is talking to a bunch of everyday folks, trying to explain a spiritual principle. What did they hear? What would be the application today? They heard Candle. But in today’s vernacular, it would be synonymous with Flashlight.

Jesus would tell us not to put our flashlight under a cover.

Aha, very good young Jedi. The resulting cosmetic interpretation yields interesting possibilities.

All right, another test. You have just read Matthew and noticed that he repeatedly says “Kingdom of Heaven,” and you notice that other Gospel writers call it “Kingdom of God.” Is there something to be drawn out here? Maybe. Ask your questions, young Jedi. Once again, your Historical Criticism reveals that Matthew wrote his book to Jews. But what does it mean? Young Jedi, use the force. What would the original hearers have heard? Matthew is making a theological translation because saying “Kingdom of God” would have put off his audience: Jews. The Hebrew for God was never spoken.

Excellent!!!!! Young Jedi, you impress me.

Now, the last test. Get this one right.

When reading Romans 10:4, you encounter “…Christ is the end of the law.” What is contained within these seven words, young Jedi? Is there a sermon here worth preaching? To whom was Paul writing? What would these men have heard? This one is hard, be patient with yourself. Cultural/religious interpretation is needed, young Jedi.

I submit that the rendering should be “ …the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah. Study, young Jedi, and find out why?

Our questions really help us draw out some potent meaning. So, do we know we have the truth yet?

Ah, my young Jedi, we are getting the pith of the issues at hand. We are treading dangerously close to the dark side of the force, the conflict of our story. I first must show you the last part of the secret handshake so that we can fight off the perils ahead. The secret handshake is important because it helps identify those things that skew the process.

Assumptions, Presuppositions, Filters

I’ve never heard anyone else talk about these three things in context to Bible interpretation. So, you may be witnessing a first, an innovation, a wonder of the modern world. Or, maybe I just haven’t read that book yet. I’m sure somebody will set me straight. Anyway, you will remember that I zigged when you thought I was going to zag, right? And you remember that I talked about people’s reluctance to study theology, right? And you remember the reasons for the reluctance: people don’t know what they don’t know, mistake ideas for identity, and fear.

For most people, their beliefs, their ideas and their identities are the same. Deliberately walking into an Arena where people try to change your ideas is similar to walking into a lion’s cage and realizing he’s trying to change you into lunch: to have someone change their ideas is tantamount to death.

As a rule, people believe what they believe just because they do. Maybe they can make a case for themselves about why they believe, but believing for most people is an inexplicit function, that when pressured, is not much deeper than the polish on a dresser. Assumptions, Presuppositions, and Filters go to the root of human conviction, the bedrock of human belief. These words describe the visceral, the human part of the interpretive process and are therefore the stuff of fear, the stuff of ego, the stuff of self-worth, the stuff of intellectual myopia. We must then make ourselves use the tools of Higher Critical Methodology to pull back the veneer and scratch what is underneath. The art of interpretation is learning to identify your presuppositions and checking them against the intent and purpose of the Bible text and God’s revelation as a whole. Can you test your assumptions, young Jedi? Can you separate your presuppositions, your unstated foundational truths? Can you remove your filters from your ears and know that ideas are not identity? Many cannot. They will never be Jedi Masters.

A test on assumptions:

What do you think “Doctrine” is? Can you give a definition? Write it down. It is important to engage this here because we are going to compare notes later. What did you write?

A test on presuppositions:

Every time you read “Doctrine,” you have a nomenclature in your mind as to what the writer means. I am using the word nomenclature to describe your interpretive tradition: all the sources that have molded your understanding of the word. For example, when you read “Doctrine,” you automatically fill in the blank with what your pastor told you doctrine meant, your given bible understanding, and what books you’ve read, and your own personal prejudices. All of these sources get tossed into a pot to simmer, and what comes out is what you think the writer meant. This is the nomenclature of the word “Doctrine.” Now, go back and write down what you think the bible writers meant by “Doctrine.” This is your presupposition about what was in the mind of the writer.

A test on filters:

When you read, how do you process what you hear? Filters are like the lenses of a camera, shading, and coloring, preventing certain types of light from invading the picture.

Christian filters are the combination of assumptions and presuppositions that limit and bend ideas to conform to root/core beliefs. Certainly, you have encountered people who cannot change their mind, even though the product of their thinking is disaster. This is due to the filters on their thinking that bend, shade, and color the words and ideas being communicated.

So, when you read, how does your understanding of the word “Doctrine” bend, shade, and color HOW you hear?

If you worked through this little test, you will start to see your sponsoring thoughts that affect your believing.

Now, young Jedi, you’re ready to venture into the world of Theology; you now know the secret handshake. Go forth and do good. But beware, the subjectivity beast lurks ahead.

‘Cause now I’m gonna mess with your mind.

Boowwaaah ha ha haha hahah!

“I have you now . . .”

You read the bible.

You interpret.

You stand up and tell people you have the truth.

Do you teach rightly?

Do you have Sound Doctrine?

Are you sure?

Why are you sure? Because Paul told you to have it? Do you have Sound Doctrine because you agree with some 15th century thinker?

Are doctrine and theology the same?

Did Paul mean have sound Theology when he spoke to Timothy about sound Doctrine?

“… the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God …”.

-1st Timothy

What did Paul say doctrine was?

Did he say what doctrine was?

What are your presuppositions, Jedi? Look deep because you’ve got some.

Does it mean theology?

What nomenclature pervades your mind, Jedi, when you filter the word doctrine with theology? With that nomenclature in your mind, what does it do to the word “Gospel”? How does it shade the meaning?

What does “Gospel” mean?

Can you look past your filters to see the word “Gospel” afresh? Does it mean literally “Good News” or is it nomenclature for Jesus dead, buried, and resurrected on the third day?

Come on, Jedi, review your notes quickly because the men are coming and they are going to tell you that your beliefs are wrong.


What are the questions to ask and what answers do you get? And when you get the answers, do you have the courage to hear the answers?

Jesus came preaching the Gospel, yes? That Gospel was Good News, yes? That good news was about a new covenant, yes? The New Covenant He brought destroyed yokes of bondage and lifted burdens, yes? So, what is the “Gospel,” Jedi? And how do you know you have apprehended rightly? Justify your doctrine, Jedi.

Did I mess with your mind?

I’m not done.

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    1. 6


      John said: “I want people to have fun so I try to inspire deep thought.”

      Ellie said: “…and you are quite proficient at it.”

      …jest tryin’ to clear things up ’round here….

      (I am INNOCENT, innocent I tell ya!)  :/

    2. 7

      This is a great post. As I read your site yesterday I ended the day with one question that I would have loved to have asked you had you been around last evening. “So, John, If I were to ask you the question, ‘What is the Gospel?’ how would you answer?”

      I just decided to go back from the beginning of your site from my google reader and read from beginning to end. Makes more sense in this order.
      .-= Barb´s last blog ..Home for Sale =-.

    3. 8
      John I

      What is the Gospel?  I am not trying to be coy but it is way more effective if you identify it for yourself …

      However, since it is hard to see obscured under so much historical baggage, I will offer two thoughts:

      What is the definition of Christ?  Find this out and then read every New Testament passage with the translation.  If you have done well with the translation of Christ, I guarantee that the subsequent reading of the New Testament will radically alter.

      What are the Covenants of Promise?  

      When the writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John said Gospel, they were summarizing something inextricably tied to these two concepts.  I will be very surprised if anyone has ever pointed this out to you.  I will be thrilled if I am wrong… but still surprised.

      I have this confidence: you can get this.

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