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Pentecostal Hermeneutics: Approach and Methodology

A leading influence both in environment and experience is the theological orientation that a Bible reader holds in his mind. As Kevin Vanhoozer rightly observes, the “reader [of the Bible] is no tabula rasa or blank slate,”[10] no one approaches the text without some presuppositions. The same sentiment, and in reference to Pentecostal hermeneutics, is expressed by Arrington when he states: “The frame of reference and theological orientation out of which the Bible is studied influences one’s interpretation of scripture.”[11] Such an observation advises us that if we are to precisely understand Pentecostal hermeneutics, we must first endeavor to rediscover their theological premise.

At the centre of Pentecostal theology is the discipline of reading the Bible and the baptism of the Holy Spirit commonly explained through the latter rain motif. Let us tackle each individually for a better view of the basis for Pentecostal hermeneutics and theology.

The Discipline of Bible Reading

The reading of the Scripture is highly esteemed in Pentecostal tradition. Bible reading is interwoven with prayer. The Bible is read until it becomes part and parcel of the individuals thought system and daily expressions. It should however, be observed that the Bible is not studied as an academic work but as a devotional material. As Davies argues, Pentecostals utilize the Bible as a resource for divine encounter. They “read the Bible not to grasp it; but so that God can grasp them through it.”[12] The Bible is seen not only as the word of God but also as the full representation of the mind and plan of God. God is seen to be alive in the scriptures and thus an encounter with the scripture is regarded as an encounter with the living God himself.

The earliest form of Pentecostalism held this divine essence of the scripture to the point that they regarded the human authors of the Bible as passive instruments in the process of writing the scripture. They saw them only as instruments that recorded what God dictated. Such a view led to neglecting the context of the human authors when interpreting the Bible. However, the latter development of Pentecostal interpretation recognized human authorship as part of the process that God used to communicate his will to the people. This later development introduced an “incarnational” understanding of the Bible. The scriptures, like Christ Jesus, were seen to be fully divine and fully human and the two natures as inseparable.[13]

Pentecostals regard the Bible as the primary authority for doctrine. While other church traditions would have the Bible, liturgy books, prayer books, and perhaps catechism books, Pentecostals use the Bible as their only source of doctrine. Some Pentecostals value the place of history and tradition in the formation of Christian doctrines. But most Pentecostals regard tradition and creeds only as memorabilia of the lifeless past and not part of scripture or church authority.

According to Pentecostals, Bible doctrines find their significance in the everyday application in the believer’s life, not in its intellectual relevance.

The Latter-rain Motif

The latter-rain motif has to do with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the present day Christians as it happened in Acts 2. The outpouring of the Spirit is seen not as a phenomenon for the church in the book of Acts, but for the entirety of the New Testament church in every generation. The latter rain reflection helps capture the apostolic faith and restores the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the present day Pentecostal Christian. Miracles, signs and wonders accompany the Sprit-filled evangelizing believer.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Winter 2014

About the Author: Michael Muoki Wambua, M.Th. cand. (Daystar University, Nairobi, Kenya), and B.A (East Africa School of Theology) is the Vice Chairman of Africa Capacity Building Initiative, a Lecturer at African Center for Great Commission in Nairobi and a Church minister with Nairobi Pentecostal Church.

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