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Pentecostal Hermeneutics: Approach and Methodology

Pentecostals demonstrate a firm belief in the dispersion of the latter rain outpouring, which avails the end time harvest prophesied in the book of Joel. This motif plays a key role in the formation of Pentecostal theology and community. The latter rain motif is founded in the early Pentecostals proclamation and as Archer observes “it provides the Pentecostal community with a stable conceptual framework through which they interpret God’s involvement with the whole of human history and provide the broad framework in which Pentecostal worldview is constructed.”[14]

Pentecostal Hermeneutics Today: Approach and Methodology in perspective

The theology of Pentecostalism has grown from its interpretative approach and historical narrative as a community. But to capture their present interpretative approach and methodology, we need to outline the historical development briefly.

The rise of Pentecostalism brought with it a new approach to biblical interpretation. Contrary to the common sense realism approach,[15] the dominant hermeneutical approach at the time Pentecostalism was born;[16] Pentecostals employed a new hermeneutical method that entwined Bible reading and practical living. Interpretation like inspiration was seen to be primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. Individual reading of the Bible was highly encouraged. Pentecostal hermeneutists at this era argued that one did not need to be a Bible scholar to be able to understand the Bible.

The risk of misinterpretation led Pentecostal leaders and Bible scholars to introduce the inductive-synthetic method of Bible study. This approach emphasized the importance of approaching the Bible as one whole book, built on one theme, whose message is mediated through language—and thus considered the grammatical formation of the scripture.[17] It is important to observe here is that Pentecostals in that era stressed a literal understanding of scripture that led to responsible living and a good relationship with God. Having an articulate, intellectual understanding of God or the scriptures was not of prime importance to them. The authority of scripture and practical experience were both set on par and seen as the center for Christian living.

This was all established by early Pentecostal fathers and has remained their key to interpretation. Their theological formulation were faced with a lot of criticism from the rest of the Christian fraternity, thus as Arrington observes, the resulting “Pentecostal study of scripture was approached with a view to defend the doctrines espoused by the earliest Pentecostals.”[18] Even with the development of Pentecostal scholarship and theological training of Pentecostal leaders, the Pentecostal community has continued to read the scripture from a “Pentecostal perspective.”[19] That way a dialect encounter between the text and the community help produce meaning in their interpretative methodology.

Considering their theology and the nature of their communal formation, Pentecostal hermeneutical approach is said to have two major dimensions: Pneumatic and experiential.

Pneumatic Approach

When we say that an interpretation is pneumatic we mean that the interpreter largely relies on the direction of the Holy Spirit to come to the full understanding of the text under study. Pentecostals believe that the human authors of the scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Bible and thus in turn the present day interpreter should also rely on the same inspiration in order to rightly interpret the Scripture. The Holy Spirit is seen as the “common context in which the author and the reader can meet to bridge the historical and cultural gulf between them.”[20] This does not mean that they do not respect scientific approaches to interpretation. Pentecostals do not entirely reject the scientific methods of exegesis. They however affirm that there are deeper deposits in the scripture that can only be understood through the medium of faith. To them, faith is the means by which the Bible was written and should remain as the context for its understanding.[21]

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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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