On our street in Kentucky was a sign that said, “Caution Slow Children.” My wife and I would occasionally chuckle about it and say something like, “We should be cautious because there are slow children on this street.” Or we would debate if the slowness was mental or physical.
Of course the word “slow” wasn’t a modifier of “children.” It was simply telling drivers to be careful and to slow down. The process of figuring out what “slow” meant is called hermeneutics, and it simply means interpretation.
Hermeneutics happens when you read a recipe or decipher a college text book. Most of the time the process goes on silently in the background. But sometimes hermeneutics sounds like a freight train rumbling through your mind.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is like that. It makes you sit up and wonder, “What did he mean by that? Surely he can’t be serious.”
Jesus’ teaching on divorce has been a battleground of interpretation for centuries. In the first century there were two warring views about what was meant when the first divorce legislation was handed down to the ancient Jews.
Rabbi Hillel’s folks thought it meant you could divorce if your wife burned the toast. Rabbi Shammai’s folks said it was permitted only if there had been a sexual violation of the marriage. Hermeneutics.
The hermeneutical conflict boils down to the question of whether to take Jesus’ words literally or to look for a bigger message. Looking for the big message doesn’t trivialize what Jesus was saying by boiling it down to one easy point.
What is the point of Matthew 5:27-32? Don’t treat people like objects. Don’t let lust or any other such thing to take up residence in your heart. Don’t enter or exit marriage lightly.
The irony of marriage is that a person can strictly obey a law while violating the spirit of the law over and over again. As in the case of a man who flirts with other women while having a wife. Laws are more than their language.
Hermeneutics shows respect to texts and admits that without it much damage can be done.