What the Apostles and elders did in Acts 15 on the question of circumcision was gather the evidence from statements of prophecy, examples of conversions without circumcision, and then drawing the “judgment”, verdict, or necessary inference. They did what we all have to do on any question. There is really just one common sense way to approach any Bible subjected. You gather the evidence as they did, you test it for relevance to the issue at hand, and you draw the necessary conclusions from the tested evidence.
Our courts are set up to use this approach because it is common sense. Suppose someone came along and said we need to free all prisoners because the courts have been using a faulty hermeneutic? That would certainly cause us some concern for the person making such a claim. But, I’m sure there would be people who would rally to that man and act like he was really thinking and being wise and conscientious. The fact would still remain that in order for the man to be credible he would have to do more than CLAIM that a faulty hermeneutic was the problem of the injustice of having so many men and women in prison, but he would have to show exactly HOW the evidence SHOULD be handled in order to arrive at the right conclusions and judgment. Unless he can clearly set forth his case for a “new hermeneutic” his credibility will rightly fall flat.
In similar manner, brethren today who say we need a “new hermeneutic” and then proceed to say that the old way of judging and determining truth was faulty and brought about faulty conclusions, will view this man suspiciously until he sets forth the clarity of a better way of handling evidence. We would gladly listen if the man will actually show a better way of gathering, handling, and testing evidence so that the right conclusions can be drawn. But, merely claiming that gathering the evidence, testing it, and drawing the necessary conclusions is a faulty process and a faulty “hermeneutic” is not going to clear up anything.
Before someone came along and termed it CENI, we have long been doing it as in Acts 15 long before a summarizing acrostic (CENI) was invented to describe it. There is nothing wrong with the description summary, but I never consciously think of the acrostic description while I am studying the evidence on a topic. I simply gather the available evidence as they did in Acts 15 and try to draw the necessary conclusions.
Now, if the teachers of circumcision had accused the apostles and elders of needing a “new hermeneutic” and that the problem was that their SENI approach (statements, examples, necessary inference approach) is what blinded them and was causing division, the apostles and elders would have probably engaged the man further to see what was wrong with their hermeneutic. If the man did not show clearly what was wrong with what they did, then they would have good reason to mark that man (Rom.16:17).
The problem is not with the summarizing acrostic (CENI). It is just a summary of what we do without even thinking about it. It summarizes that we gather the relevant evidence and draw the conclusions from the evidence. That is all we can do.
Even if you never hear of the acrostic, you do the same thing they did in Acts 15. So, why not call it “the Acts 15 hermeneutic” if CENI gives you problems? What you CALL what you do with evidence and conclusions is NEVER the problem. The problem is always either: 1) Not gathering all the evidence, or 2) mishandling the evidence, or 3 ) ignoring the evidence. And, this is why different conclusions are reached. Disputing is good if you are testing ideas. The apostles and elders engaged “much dispute” before they laid out the evidence and drew the conclusion they reached over the circumcision question.
Using Acts 15 as the model for a process of dealing with issues of differences, it is unifying if you truly want truth. If you don’t want truth it doesn’t do any good to test ideas in “much dispute”. The process even in Acts 15 does not work for those who do not WANT the truth.
If we don’t like the conclusions on a matter, then retest the evidence and show where the conclusions went wrong, but don’t blame a summary acrostic for causing blindness and division. Let us not divide over an acrostic summary. Call it the “Acts 15 Hermeneutic” and go on and gather the evidence and draw the conclusions demanded. We don’t need a new hermeneutic. We just need to use the same common sense they used in Acts 15. Combine that process with love, honesty, and desire for truth, and we can come to the unity of the faith in the unity of the Spirit. -Terry W. Benton