It may not help your appreciation of Hebrew poetic literature or prophecy or history, true. But CENI can really help you determine what God’s law and will was in the Old Testament. And, chances are, the verses you may have heard/seen/read to support this hermeneutic (method of viewing scripture) mostly or all come from the Old Testament.
I think that’s telling. The Old Covenant was about law, the law of Moses. It would seem that the rabbinical schools of thought which emerged at the close of the era chronicled by the Old Testament used something like CENI to create interpretations and traditions.
Many of those included interpretations and traditions that Jesus never failed to surgically explore, to excise any falsehood – and, when necessary, to pronounce dead on arrival.
But a New Covenant requires a new hermeneutic – or two, or maybe even more.
You see, the New covenant is not about law, but grace.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. ~ John 1:17
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ~ Romans 5:19-21
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. ~ Romans 6:14
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! ~ Galatians 2:21
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. ~ Galatians 5:4
Law can’t save. Law can only condemn. (Romans 8)
I’m afraid that many people who apply an Old Covenant hermeneutic to the New Covenant – trying to establish what is both written and unwritten in it as only law that must be obeyed to the tiniest jot and tittle – many of those people eventually become very good at doing what law itself is good at doing:
It can start innocently enough with simple correction (even lovingly delivered), but it can also snowball out-of-control into accusation, insinuation, judgment, and condemnation of others.
All because the wrong hermeneutic for that covenant is in play.
I’m sure I’m not the first to propose A Jesus Hermeneutic (Luke 24:27; John 5:39-40) – one which looks at scripture and seeks to see Jesus Christ yet to come, fully present, returned to heaven and/or yet to come again. It puts all of scripture in perspective for me. It has application for my own life and choices. It implicitly asks the Charles Sheldon question, “What would Jesus do?” and all of its other forms.
But I would be the first to admit that while it can accomplish that purpose, it is not of ultimate value in helping determine the answer to procedural questions, especially with regard to church and worship. (It is still of great value there, but as an overarching rather than specific hermeneutic.)
Al Maxey has done a great service to his fellow Christians by proposing A Reflective Hermeneutic in this relatively brief New Wineskins article. That’s not enough space to fully develop the concept, of course, but the proposal alone that you’ll find there is extraordinary.
He recommends a method of discernment that goes well beyond the simplistic everything-must-be-right-or-wrong viewpoint of the CENI hermeneutic, especially when coupled with the Regulative Principle. That view served the wandering and settling tribes of Israel in a dark, violent, barbaric era. But it cannot deal with the complexity of procedural questions like those Paul dealt with in Romans 14. There are some matters about which God expresses no preference – and He expects us to respect the preferences of others in these situations, not to make law for them or judge them.
But what I want you to notice in the article is that Al doesn’t dip heavily into Old Testament scripture to form or exemplify the Reflective Hermeneutic; he quotes the New Testament to answer the questions which fall under the New Covenant.
Here are the four queries that the Reflective Hermeneutic asks us to make regarding any interpretation of scripture (and I would like to add some scriptures which I feel/agree are supportive of asking these questions):
Is it BIBLICAL? (Matthew 22:29; Acts 17:2, 11; Romans 4:3; 2 Timothy 3:16 and many, many others)
If not, is it NON-BIBLICAL? (Al cites Romans 14; I would add Mark 7:1-23; 1 Corinthians 7:10-13, 1 Corinthians 7:25)
If neither, is it ANTI-BIBLICAL? (Matthew 15:3-6; Colossians 2:8; 1 John 2:22, 4:3; 2 John 1:7)
Finally, is it BENEFICIAL? (Al cites 1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 6:12; I would add Romans 6:21-22; Colossians 2:22-23; Hebrews 13:9)
Is that to say there is no law at all in the New Testament or New Covenant? No, not at all; but a Reflective Hermeneutic paired with a Jesus Hermeneutic does recognize these simple facts:
- that not all scripture is intended to be law;
- that while obedience testifies to our faith in God’s grace, it does not earn nor merit it;
- that law can still only condemn and only grace can save.