Friday, June 22, 2018

Hermeneutics and the Greatest Hoax in American History

The Farmer’s Museum – Cooperstown, New York
 “The biggest problem facing the church is lack of discernment.  If you can’t discern the truth you can die of a thousand heresies.”  - John MacArthur    
Shortly after the Civil War an atheistic cigar maker named George Hull got into a debate with a Protestant minister over the literal interpretation of Scripture.    The pastor’s insistence that Genesis 6:4—“There were giants in the earth in those days”,   should be taken literally, sparked a brilliant marketing scheme in the huckster’s mind.  Hoping to gain a profit while making a mockery of Christians,  Hull  created a  “giant petrified man” out of gypsum
Stonemasons and a Cardiff, New York farmer colluded with Hull on the ruse and buried the Giant in the farmer's field.    They hired workers to dig up the "new wonder",  placed it  under a tent,   and charged 50 cents for admission,  drawing crowds by the thousands.   When a group of investors bought shares in the Giant for $30,000  and moved it to Syracuse,    P.T. Barnum offered $60,000  to lease it.    His offer was denied so he created a plaster replica and made  even  more money than the original hoax. 
People were divided over the Giant’s origin.   Some believed it was a petrified man while others, including geologists, believed it was an ancient statue.     A Yale paleontologist finally uncovered  the scam declaring it a fake—and a poor one at that.    Many consider The Cardiff Giant to be one of the greatest hoaxes in history.
 “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” Proverbs 14:15
We laugh at such naiveté but the truth is, people today  are still as gullible as ever.   Who hasn't  received an email hoax  or seen a Facebook  post  that  can be proven  false with a  quick Snopes search, right?   
When it comes to  discerning  Biblical  truth everything we  hear  must be tested  against the Scriptures  regardless of how convincing it may seem.    The devil’s most cunning deceptions are  lies that have an element of truth in them—a modus operandi that is as old as the Garden.   Truth distorted plunged the church into centuries of  apostasy before the  Reformation and  continues to do so in all of the Christian cults.  
Charles Spurgeon said,  “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong.   It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.”1.      Cultivating discernment is a requrement for all  believers  (I John 4:1) and can only be accomplished through  the  means of  careful and diligent  Bible study. (Acts 17:11). 
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”  Hebrews 5:14
But heresies arise when faulty methods of interpretation are used and these often originate in our seminaries.   Hermeneutics is the science of  Scripture interpretation using  a specific  set of  rules.    Those rules include in part,  interpreting the Bible in the  plain and literal sense,  corresponding  to the author's intent and  the context of the passage.   But when that approach is replaced by allegory, scientific opinion,  or subjectivism  the  text no longer speaks for itself and the meaning is left to the  reader's own  interpretation.   
There's  an alarming trend in the church today  and that  is the resurgence of  rank liberal theology.   These kinds of heresies were  fought against in the early twentieth century  by  men like J. Gresham Machen  but have turned up again like a bad penny. 
We may still have our silly hoaxes today but far more insidious  is the "new hermeneutic".    It's really no surprise that an atheistic con artist like George Hull would deny the literal interpretation of the Bible,  but we should be appalled  when this type of  thinking seeps into the church. 
       Worth a click
Your Interpretation May Not Be Inerrant, but Your Bible Is - Derek J. Brown 
 Responding to the New Attacks on Scripture: Dr. David Farnell  
No Adam, No Fall, No Original Sin, No Substitutionary Atonement by Rachel Miller   
Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy  
Worth purchasing: 
Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics by Bernard Ramm 
Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old by Robert L. Thomas 
Quotes: John MacArthur -Strange Fire Conference 2013- Introduction  
1. Spurgeon -reference unknown  
The Museum of Hoaxes  
* This updated post was originally written for Out of the Ordinary

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