biblical-hermeneutics

By Kieran Beville

Anybody who wants to study the Bible, either at a personal level or at a more scholarly level needs to understand that there are certain principles that guide and govern the process. The technical word used to refer to the principles of biblical interpretation is hermeneutics. In a general sense, the word hermeneutics refers to the principles of textual interpretation. It is a methodological approach to textual analysis that applies to both secular and sacred texts. As such it forms the basis of literary criticism. Biblical hermeneutics is more specifically about the principles of biblical interpretation. It is of immense importance in Biblical Studies and Theology.

This work examines the principles of biblical interpretation by taking into consideration the cultural context, historical background and geographical location in which the text was originally set. This enables us to obtain clarity about the original author’s intended meaning. Linguistic and literary factors are analyzed so that the various genres of Scripture are examined for their theological content.

how-to-interpret-the-bibleRationale

The importance of having good principles of interpretation cannot be overstated. To ignore them will result in all manner of erroneous assumptions. The aim of this work is to provide a sound and objective approach to the principles of biblical interpretation in order to provide a foundation for understanding and teaching Scripture. A proper hermeneutical approach will help avoid contradiction, inconsistency, arbitrariness, and subjectivity. Meanings or interpretations should not be based solely on personal wishes, feelings, or perceptions. Rather interpretations should be based on objective facts, reasons, and principles.

Objectives

This work aims to foster a deeper understanding of Scripture. It will help to develop an appreciation for the inspired and inerrant Word of God. It is designed to strengthen the conviction that Scripture has authority in all matters of faith and practice. This, in turn, should inspire faithfulness to the truth it teaches. As Christians are concerned not only with intellectual development but also with spiritual development, this work will help to cultivate a reverential appreciation for the divine nature of Scripture. It is intended to inspire greater confidence in the reliability and efficacy of Scripture and nurture humility in relation to scriptural knowledge. Because the Bible is a sacred text, the reader of Scripture is encouraged toward reliance on the Holy Spirit for illumination (in conjunction with scholarly endeavor). The reader of Scripture should have an attitude which is receptive and responsive to the revealed Word of God in terms of practical application. This work is intended for those who wish to develop a systematic and scholarly approach to biblical interpretation, especially those who wish to prepare teaching material grounded in safe hermeneutics.

Literal Interpretation

How literally should we understand Bible stories? Are the fall, the flood, Jonah, Job and other stories about real people and actual events? Are they metaphors for truth? Should we actually believe that two people ate a fruit and became estranged from God? Bible verses do not exist in isolation but as parts of larger units.

The Bible is self-consistent. In other words, it will not contradict itself. There is continuity in the storyline of the Bible. Is it descriptive or prescriptive? Is it specific to the occasion, or universal in application? What is central to the passage, and what are details only? The correct interpretation will be consistent with the historical-cultural background. What was the situation of the author and the audience?

The interpreter’s job is to try to evaluate the original impact. How would the Parable of The Good Samaritan have impacted the original hearers? We also need to be able to take the interpretation from the ancient world and contextualize it for today. That means making it meaningful for people today. However, we must not allow culture to dictate how we interpret the Bible. Neither should “information” be the ultimate end of interpretation. The ultimate end of biblical interpretation is to understand its truth and to know God by entering into a deeper, dynamic relationship with him. This relationship begins with salvation and continues in an ongoing process of sanctification, which glorifies God through lives that are transformed by the living Word.

A proper understanding of the Word of God is essentially based on a literal interpretation – that is, according to the normal and plain sense of the written words. But everything in the Bible is not literal. There are non-literal, linguistic features such as metaphors and similes, allegories, parables, poetry, etc. A literal approach that allows for non-literal, linguistic features forms the foundation for a dependable understanding of doctrine.

 

Words have Meanings

Words have a range of meanings. We must determine which meaning of the word is most likely in the context we are examining. The same word will not be translated or interpreted the same way each time it is used. For example, In English, I might say: “He is green.” The word “green” here can mean a number of things ~ such as “envious,” “sick,” “inexperienced” or “naïve.” I probably intend only one of these meanings. Word meanings are not static; they change over time. This is evident in the English language. The word “gay” used to mean “merry” but now it is hardly ever used in that sense. It has come to mean something quite different in that it now relates to sexual identity in terms of orientation, attraction, and activity among members of the same sex. Similarly, the word “wicked” has taken on new meaning. It used to mean “very bad,” “wrong” or “evil” but now it means the opposite ~ “very impressive.” In English the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible uses the word “meat” for “food” but today the word “meat” refers to the flesh of animals.

Anachronisms

There is a danger of anachronistic readings when it comes to interpretation ~ that is imposing later meanings into earlier uses. The word “anachronism” comes from the Greek ανά (ana: up, against, back, re-) and χρόνος (chronos: time). It is a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement. It is something from a different period of time, placed in a historical setting. It is a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs.

To properly interpret a passage we need to know what “language game” is being played. We need to know the rules which govern that game. Problems in interpretation will arise if we do not know which game we are playing. Problems in interpretation will arise if we use the wrong rules for a game.

A faith-Based Approach

A faith-based approach to the interpretation of Scripture presupposes that God has conveyed a message to humanity in the recorded words of the Bible. Literal interpretation recognizes the genre or textual design. That is, whether a passage is history, law, poetry, narrative, prophecy, apocalyptic, parable, epistle, gospel, etc. A correct genre judgment should be made to ensure correct understanding.

The historicity of a text must be affirmed in biblical narratives, which present themselves as factual. There may be a particular theological thrust to the selection and arrangement of data, but that does not negate its historicity. The biblical record of events and discourses may be presented in a variety of literary forms, but they correspond to historical fact and were not merely invented by the biblical writers.

The words of Scripture were originally conveyed in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. But the Bible has been translated into many other languages and cultures. Transcendent truth is not bound by culture. Not every expression in another language will appropriately convey the original, intended meaning of Scripture. Thus, caution is needed so that the translators remain faithful to the truth of Scripture by the proper choice of words. All translation is an act of interpretation, whether it is a literal, verbatim translation or a dynamic equivalent. However, when it comes to interpretation words should be functionally equivalent and culturally sensitive.

Contextualization and Syncretism

There is an important difference between contextualization and syncretism. Contextualization is about finding ways of explaining and exhibiting the gospel that can be understood within a particular cultural context. This is done without compromising the integrity of the message or the messenger. Contextualization recognizes that what is expressed can be the same even though how it is expressed differs in different times, places and cultures.

Syncretism occurs when the desire to be relevant transcends all other motives. Here both message and messenger become integrated into the prevailing cultural context. Syncretism occurs when Christians adapt, either consciously or unconsciously, to the prevailing worldview. It is the reshaping of Christian beliefs and practices so that they reflect those of the dominant culture. In this process, Christianity loses its distinctiveness.  Syncretism often comes from a yearning to make the gospel appear relevant. There is nothing inherently wrong with this desire but it can lead to compromising the truth, and that is a problem. When the church attempts to make its message attractive to outsiders, it must do so without diluting the truth. Some truths are unpopular, but that does not mean that we abandon such biblical truths. The Christian community must be careful not to be swept along by the ebb and flow of cultural currents. If this happens then, the church begins to lose her moorings.

Historical-Grammatical Interpretation

Literal interpretation depends on historical and grammatical exegesis. Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξήγησις from ἐξηγεῖσθαι “to lead out”) is an exposition, critical explanation or interpretation of the text. Proper exegesis includes using the context around the passage, comparing it with other parts of the Bible and applying an understanding of the language and customs of the time of the writing. It attempts to understand clearly what the original writer intended to convey. In other words, it is trying to “pull out” of the passage the meaning inherent in it. The opposite of exegesis is eisegesis, which is, reading into the text a meaning that does not rightly belong in the passage.

Revealed or Rational?

Is the Bible a revealed or rational text?[1] To say it is revealed is to assert that the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors of the texts. Therefore, the words in the Bible convey God’s divine revelation to humanity. To say that it is rational is to assert that the original writers of the biblical books used their own creativity ~ it is their own inspiration. In short, some study the Bible, believing that God himself directly inspired its writers. Others approach the Bible as a collection of stories, fables, and myths and see these brought to life through the creativity and imagination of human authors.

We will be approaching the text of Scripture as a work of divine revelation rather than human imagination. One reason for doing this is that the Bible itself clearly states that its writers were inspired and that they were eyewitnesses to what they wrote. So, when we say they were inspired we do not mean it in the sense that Shakespeare was inspired, rather that the inspiration came from God. The Bible teaches that its words came from God to human authors through the power of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Peter said:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.―2 Peter 1:16-21.

The apostle Paul also said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”―2 Timothy 3:16.

The Principle of Perspicuity

The word perspicuity (or perspicuous) means “clearly expressed and easily understood.” The central message of Scripture is clear. This is especially true in regard to what it says about salvation from sin. However, not all passages of Scripture are equally clear or equally relevant to the message of redemption.

The Christian does not necessarily depend on the expertise of biblical scholars for understanding Scripture. However, one should not ignore the fruits of the technical study of Scripture by biblical scholars.[2]

Scripture is not only inspired by the Holy Spirit, but it is also illuminated by the Holy Spirit who helps the reader (who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit) to understand its meaning. So the Holy Spirit, who inspired the Scriptures, enables the believer to understand how it applies to daily life. Without the aid of the Holy Spirit, the words of the Bible cannot be properly understood. The Holy Spirit acts through the Scripture to produce faith in its message. The Holy Spirit never teaches anyone anything that is contrary to the teaching of Scripture.

Presuppositions

Any pre-understanding that the interpreter brings to Scripture should be in harmony with scriptural teaching. Our presuppositions and assumptions are subject to correction by Scripture. Certain pre-understandings are inconsistent with Scripture, such as Naturalism and Scientism, Evolutionism, Secular Humanism and Relativism. Each of these needs to be defined.

Do we impose our own values and experiences on the text? We naturally use our own experiences and understandings in interpreting any text. We all have certain presuppositions. The way we answer the following questions indicates those presuppositions. Is the supernatural possible? Are miracles possible? Does God speak? There are presuppositions about the nature of the Bible: it is inspired revelation, it is authoritative and true, it is a spiritual document, it is both unified and diverse, and it is understandable. We also accept its canonicity.

Naturalism and Scientism

Naturalism and scientism are very similar. Naturalism is a belief that truth is derived from nature and natural causes, not from revelation. Naturalism is a system of thought that rejects all spiritual and supernatural explanations of the world. It holds that science is the sole basis of what can be known.

Scientism is the use of the scientific method of acquiring knowledge. It applies to traditional sciences or other fields of inquiry such as philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc. Like naturalism, scientism is the belief that science alone can explain phenomena. It is the application of scientific methods to fields unsuitable for it, such as the Bible. The attitude that predominates in scientism is arrogance, which has fostered dogmatism.

Evolutionism

This biological term refers to the theory that all species develop from earlier forms of life. Evolutionism was a common nineteenth-century belief that organisms inherently improve themselves through progressive inherited change over time, and increase in complexity through evolution. The belief went on to include cultural evolution and social evolution.

There are theistic evolutionists, and there are atheistic evolutionists.[3] But the basic premise behind the evolutionary worldview is atheistic. Evolutionism, in its purer form, is the idea that this universe is the result of random cosmic accidents. It asserts that life arose spontaneously via chance chemical processes, and all life-forms are related and share a common ancestor. As such it is a worldview, which seeks to explain every aspect of this world in which we live. It encompasses a wide variety of topics, from astronomy to chemistry to biology. At its core, it teaches that there were different stages in the evolution of our universe.

Secular Humanism

This is a system of thought that is based on the values that are believed to be best in human beings. It rejects any supernatural authority and affirms a human-based morality. This secular, cultural and intellectual movement of the Renaissance spread throughout Europe. It is a worldview that stresses human values without reference to religion or spirituality. It is a philosophy that is growing in popularity. Secular Humanism rejects faith in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions, especially questions concerning the origin, purpose, and destiny of mankind.

Relativism

This is the belief that concepts such as right and wrong, goodness and badness, or truth and falsehood are not absolute. It suggests that these change from culture to culture and situation to situation.

Figurative expression

Literal interpretation allows for figurative expressions that employ figures of speech such as metaphor and simile. But figurative interpretation must not add new and foreign meanings which are not found in the text. We must be especially careful about allegorizing the text. In Galatians 4, Paul is speaking of sonship, where he gives an example using Hagar and Sarah, allegorically. Does this mean we can use the Bible as a source for allegory? No, because Paul specifically states that he is allegorizing. He uses Sarah and Hagar as allegorical of slavery to Law under the Old Covenant. This he contrasts to the freedom of grace in the New Covenant.

Context

The context of a passage is of great importance in understanding the meaning. Context should be understood in terms of concentric circles. It must take into account the context of the whole Bible ~ both Old Testament and New Testament. The next circle of interest is the particular book of the Bible ~ what kind of book is it, historical, poetic, legal, wisdom ~ the genre will be critical in determining the meaning of the text. Then one needs to consider the context of the passage and the specific verse(s) within that carefully. A verse out of context can often be taken to mean something completely different from the intended meaning. It is important, therefore, to focus on the context of a verse in its chapter, book and even in its full biblical context.

Submission

The authority of Scripture cannot be separated from the authority of God. Whatever the Bible condemns, God condemns, and whatever the Bible affirms, God affirms. Scripture requires an attitude of faith and submission to its inspiration, veracity, wisdom, efficacy, inerrancy and authority. The reader accepts what Scripture says before asking why. Certainly, the “why” questions may be asked. When they are investigated with a reverential and humble attitude, the likelihood of arriving at satisfactory answers is greatly enhanced. Thus, reason submits to revelation. In this way, reason becomes a tool to understand truth and not to determine truth. Reason is useful in the investigation, but it is subordinate rather than superior in the process.

Some biblical commands speak universally and are not bound to particular cultures or situations. Other directives are tied to a particular culture and time. Although the distinction between universal and particular mandates is not always easy to make, it is, nevertheless, important to try to distinguish one from the other. Universal mandates cannot be treated as culturally relative. Biblical absolutes are never to be relativized.

Scientific and Historical Truth

The Bible expresses truth in many ways – not always in propositional statements. It contains no errors or factual mistakes ~ that is, the Scriptures as originally given, in the original languages. There may be issues relating to translation, as all translations are acts of interpretation. Since God is the author of all truth, all truths, biblical and extrabiblical, are consistent and cohesive.

What about science, history and the Bible? The assumptions we begin with can affect the way we interpret texts. For example, two texts might appear to contradict each other. If we begin by assuming that this is possible, then we may come to a different conclusion than if we do not have this assumption. Jesus seems to have accepted the Old Testament as authoritative and infallible in all its aspects, even the historical details. The Bible itself makes no distinction between revelatory and non-revelatory data. The Church has historically believed in the infallibility of the Bible. The Bible is God’s Word and as such, it has eternal significance. We must not bear false witness about the Word of God.

The Bible is also a human document. It must be understood within the languages, literature, and contexts in which it was written. God’s Word to us was first God’s Word to someone else. In a sense, we are reading someone else’s mail.

The Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, science, or anything else. It is not, however, a scientific textbook. Therefore, when it speaks of “sunrise” and “sunset” it is merely using observational language in a metaphorical sense ~ in much the same way as we do today. Before it was ever understood that the earth was round the Bible spoke of the earth as a circle, “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth” (Isa. 40:22). Extra-biblical data may have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches and for helping to correct faulty interpretations. However, extra-biblical views never disprove the teaching of Scripture. It is, therefore, false to assert that science disproves the Bible, Christianity or the existence of God. Such assertions are rooted in either ignorance or animosity.

Original Intent

We seek to determine the intent of the author as reflected in the inspired text.[4] However, the human author may not have always been conscious of the full implications of the meaning of his words. For example, with prophecy, meaning may not always be fully “evidenced” until the prophecy is fulfilled. Though God was aware of the fuller implications that would be manifested in the fulfillment, the prophets were not necessarily fully aware.[5]

Progressive Revelation

Progressive revelation is the idea that God has progressively revealed new truth. Charles Hodge says:

The progressive character of divine revelation is recognized in relation to all the great doctrines of the Bible…What at first is only obscurely intimated is gradually unfolded in subsequent parts of the sacred volume, until the truth is revealed in its fullness.[6]

Literal interpretation recognizes development in the revelation of the person of God, the purposes of God and the administration of these purposes. It is important to recognize the principle of progressive revelation. Failure to grasp this important rule has brought much harm to the church historically. Well-meaning, but misguided, theologians have forced upon the conscience of New Covenant believers practices that were limited to the Old Covenant era. Bernard Ramm says:

By progressive revelation we mean that the Bible sets forth a movement of God, with the initiative coming from God and not man, in which God brings man up through the theological infancy of the Old Testament to the maturity of the New Testament. This does not mean that there are no mature ideas in the Old Testament nor simple elements in the New Testament. Progressive revelation is the general pattern of revelation…The law was proper as far as it went, but it did not go far enough. It taught a basic morality for the children of Israel, but our Lord elevates the law to a higher level of motivation and spirituality…The morality of the Ten Commandments was a necessary point of beginning in man’s ethical, spiritual, and theological development, but the Sermon on the Mount summons believers in God to a much higher level of ethical conduct…This perspective of progressive revelation is very important to the interpreter. He will expect the full revelation of God in the New Testament. He will not force New Testament meanings into the Old, yet he will be able to more fully expound the Old knowing its counterparts in the New. He will adjust his sights to the times, customs, manners, and morals of the people of God at any given state in the Old Testament period of revelation, and he will be aware of partial and elementary nature of the Old Testament revelation. He will take Augustine’s words, ‘distinguish the times and you will harmonize Scripture,’ as a guide so as not to create a contradiction in Scripture by forcing a New Testament standard of morality or doctrine upon an Old Testament passage.[7]

Consistency

Hermeneutical consistency must be maintained throughout all biblical passages. Scripture is its own best interpreter. In comparing Scripture with Scripture, the Bible can elucidate a text so that clear passages give light in interpreting unclear passages. However, no passage contradicts another. There may be apparent contradictions, but these can be explained by investigation. Later writers of Scripture never misinterpreted earlier passages of Scripture. Therefore, the New Testament writers never misinterpreted the Old Testament. Thus, New Testament writers never attributed meaning to an Old Testament text, which was not expressed by the author of that text.[8] However, there is sometimes a wide range of application for a text. However, the interpretation of a biblical text by another biblical writer is always consistent with the meaning of the first text.

Coherence

The inerrancy of Scripture implies that a coherent system of theology is possible, though any human systemization is imperfect. Systemization of theology attempts to fulfill the human intellectual instinct for organization. Understanding the coherence of Scripture protects from heresy and from repeating the doctrinal deviations of history. It aids in interpreting obscure passages of Scripture. It also protects from conflict with logic and demonstrates the harmony of all doctrines.

Preaching

The type of preaching which best conveys the divine revelation is that which faithfully expounds the text of Scripture ~ in other words, biblical preaching. The Bible is a living, dynamic book and it is important that we treat it as such when seeking to understand its contents. Therefore, we must not approach it flippantly, prejudicially or arrogantly. We all have our own biases and assumptions, and so none of us are neutral interpreters of Scripture. But we must aim for objectivity and not allow our preconceived opinions to blind us to the message of the Word. The Bible was not written for the scholar per se. But that does not mean we can have a lazy or undisciplined approach to handling it. We should invest the time and effort needed to understand Scripture better. The Bible urges, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15). Truth is precious; it is worth something,Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding” (Prov. 23:23). In the Scriptures, we have an incomparable treasure. Solomon speaks of the value of spiritual wisdom which is contained in Scripture:

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.―Proverbs. 2:1-5.

For the preacher there must be a desire of the heart ~ crying after knowledge, seeking for an understanding of spiritual things. There should be the kind of ardor and determination that men employ when mining for gold. Our hearts should yearn for a deeper and fuller knowledge of the truth such as men display when searching for hidden treasure. Sadly this is not always the case, as A. W. Pink points out, “People are willing to work and study hard and long to master one of the arts or sciences, but where spiritual and eternal things are concerned it is usually otherwise.”[9] Of course, not everybody can be a full-time student of biblical studies or theology, but all believers ought to be diligent in seeking to understand the Bible better.

Advice to Students

An open mind is another prerequisite for the biblical interpreter. We must be aware of our own presuppositions and prejudices. We must fairly evaluate what others, from various theological traditions, have said about the meaning of a text. We need to be careful that we do not limit our avenues for learning by reading only those who support our preconceived opinions. This does not necessarily mean that we have to agree with those in other theological categories, but other interpretive options should be examined before reaching a settled conclusion.

The sound interpreter will accept the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. The Bible is the complete, intelligible and sufficient revelation of God. It is not just for scholars. It can be understood by the simple, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” (Ps. 119:130) It is a book intended for the conversion and instruction of people. Of course, Scripture contains passages that are difficult to interpret. At a superficial level, there may appear to be contradictions, which will require diligent study to resolve. The interpreter must retain an attitude of humility bearing in mind that, “For now we see in a mirror dimly.” (1 Cor. 13:12). It can be acknowledged that some things in Scripture are hard to understand as Peter said of Paul’s letters (2 Pet. 3:16). Nevertheless, the Bible’s central message of redemption for lost sinners is clear. As noted earlier, theologians refer to this as the ‘perspicuity of Scripture.’

Compare Interpretations/Conclusions with Other Commentators

If the interpreter comes to a novel interpretation of a given passage, it would be wise to compare those conclusions with other commentators. This helps to prevent us from forming incorrect views of the passage or chapter under examination. It thus safeguards the local church from false doctrine. The interpreter should apply this checking principle with scholarly sources in order to obtain reliable information on a passage or subject.

If for example, we are studying a matter that touches on Bible history, we should try to find reliable works in that field.[10] When consulting a commentary, don’t limit yourself to just one. Check several commentators before deciding an issue.[11] The checking principle will help us to avoid error and shallowness and will enhance our education in God’s Word.

Hermeneutics should not be merely a theoretical exercise. The interpreter must also practically apply what is discovered in the interpretive process. It is not enough to merely know ~ we must go on to do because all knowledge gained from the divine Word brings accountability.―Ezra 7:10; Psalm 119:112; James 1:22.

Why are there so Many Different Interpretations?

Carelessness might account for rash, simplistic, and wrong interpretations. For some people, interpretation is entirely or largely subjective where biblical scholars are ignored. For some scholarship is even despised. This can lead to novel or bizarre interpretations of Scripture. Others lack the gifts or intellectual ability to be mature interpreters of Scripture. The problem is then made worse when such unqualified persons are given a platform whereby they can espouse their distorted views. In this way, wrong opinions of the Bible’s meaning are promoted. It is the duty of responsible leadership to keep such people out of the pulpit. We must facilitate opportunities for others to explore, test and develop their gifts and we must be gracious as mistakes will be made.

Another reason for wrong interpretations is an uncritical acceptance of tradition. In such a situation, loyalty is cherished as a virtue.[12] This fosters doctrinaire attitudes that act as a barrier to an impartial investigation. People who are doctrinaire are usually determined to use a specific theory or method and refuse to accept that there might be a better approach. Not every believer has the same level of biblical and spiritual understanding.

Some Christians are not gifted with the necessary insight needed to interpret Scripture. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as hardness of heart. Even the apostles, at one time in their lives, lacked understanding, “…for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” (Mk. 6:52). In some cases, we may not yet be able to bear such divine truths, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (Jn. 16:12). God waits until we mature further.

Lack of Training

Many churches do not offer classes on hermeneutics because pastors are busy. Many churches do not offer classes on hermeneutics because the leadership fails to see the practical relevance of such study. The common assumption seems to be that the study of hermeneutics is for seminary students. It is thought to be too intellectual for the average church member. But such thinking is misguided. Bible study is going to be a life-long pursuit for the Christian. For this reason, it is important that they be taught how to interpret properly and apply it. Another problem that I have observed is the training of preachers in homiletics without any foundation in hermeneutics. This is like building on sand ~ foolish!

Interrogate the Text

A basic approach to biblical interpretation will involve interrogating the text. When studying a passage of Scripture, we must ask many questions. Who are the central figures in this passage? Who wrote this book? When was it written? Who is the audience? What is the central message? What is the primary intent of the writer? What are the context and historical setting? What is God trying to teach me? When did this event take place? Where did it take place? Where was the author when he wrote this book or recorded this event? Why did it occur? Why did the writer choose to include this narrative and how does it fit into his particular theme or purpose? How did this happen? How does this narrative relate to other events within the same book? How can I apply this to the circumstances of my life? My own personal favorite question is, “so what?” Of course, I do not ask it irreverently. It is a question, which probes for deeper meaning and searches out the application needed. Ask it seriously of any verse of Scripture and the reward it yields will surprise you. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16). We, therefore, must always ask of a text ~ how is it profitable in relation to these categories? Context is the fabric of meaning:

The word context, as the etymology intimates (Latin, con, together, and textus, woven), denotes something that is woven together, and, applied to a written document, it means the connection of thought supposed to run through every passage which constitutes by itself a whole. By some writers it is called the connection. The immediate context is that which immediately precedes or follows a given word or sentence. The remote context is that which is less closely connected, and may embrace a whole paragraph or section.[13]

When we look at a verse, we must also consider the paragraph where it belongs, the section, book, genre, Testament and the whole Bible. The immediate context for a word or phrase is the verse where it appears. The wider context is the chapter. Chapters divisions are generally helpful segments but they are artificially imposed, and we should be aware of this. The wider context should include the whole book. The widest context is the entire Bible. One must try to understand how the word, phrase or sentence is used elsewhere in Scripture.

[1] To say it is revealed does not, of course, make it an irrational text, as God works through the minds and personalities of its authors.

[2] Christian Publishing House suggests that one thing the Christian absolutely should not ignore, if he or she is going to interpret the Scriptures themselves is, the expertise of biblical scholars for understanding how to interpret the Bible, i.e., the rules and principles of biblical interpretation. In other words, every Christian should read a book such as this, which advocates the conservative Grammatical-Historical Method, as opposed to the liberal Historical-Critical Method.

[3] Theistic evolutionists are those who have managed to reach a compromise between two very distinct world-views: creationism and evolutionism.

[4] The notion of truth being inherent in the original intended meaning of the author is challenged by postmodern hermeneutics where the individualistic interpretation of the reader has equal, if not superior, validity. This is a complex issue and requires much attention that extends beyond the scope of this book.

[5] This will be dealt with more fully under the heading Sensus Plenior (which means fuller sense).

[6] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology 1, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), 446.

[7] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, (3rd edition, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1970), 102-104.

[8] Although they may not have understood the fuller sense (Sensus Plenior) which we will explore later in this work.

[9] A.W. Pink; cited in Iain H. Murray, The Life of Arthur W. Pink, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004), 235.

[10] Such as: Alfred Edersheim, Old Testament Bible History; Walter C. Kaiser, A History of Israel; F.F. Bruce, New Testament History and others.

[11] Some of the best general commentaries on both the Old and New Testaments are, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (by various authors); New Testament Commentary series by William Hendriksen and Simon Kistemaker; The New International Commentary on the Old Testament & New Testament (by various authors); The New American Commentary on the Old Testament & New Testament (by various authors); The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament & New Testament (by various authors). For commentaries on individual books of the Old Testament see Joel Beeke’s list:

http://www.puritanseminary.org/library/Recommended%20OT%20Commentaries.pdf  See also the DayOne multiple volume electronic or hardcopy commentaries (commended by John McArthur) http://www.logos.com/product/3984/exploring-the-bible-commentary-collection

[12] Loyalty, like tolerance, is not necessarily virtuous as it depends on what precisely one is loyal to or tolerant of in the first instance. One can be loyal to and tolerant of harmful things.

[13] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: a Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1974), 210.