Sunday, August 05, 2018

Hermeneutics—Principles to Study By

by Laura Springer, Th.M., Ph.D.

What are interpretation, exegesis, and hermeneutics and how are they related? Sport can serve as an analogy: interpretation is the sport, exegesis is the game, and hermeneutics is the rulebook. In July, we talked about interpretation: the sport. In September, we will talk about exegesis: the game. This month is about hermeneutics: the rulebook. Bible study has rules, and we need to understand those rules or study will not be what it is supposed to be: understanding the truth the original authors intended to communicate.

Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation and produces the set of assumptions and principles we bring to interpretation. These assumptions and principles arise at the intersection of the doctrine of Scripture and the study of language and literature. Some basic principles are as follows.

   The Bible is the first and best source for interpreting itself. Read and understand the text before consulting Bible helps like introductions, commentaries, and handbooks.
   Study the specific passage and its immediate context and arrive at some initial conclusions before consulting other passages.
   The meaning of a passage is communicated through the text in context. Stick with the text itself in its grammatical, historical, and cultural context. Don't import ideas from outside
   The grammar and structure of sentences and paragraphs matter. So, yes, it's a bit like English class.
   The meaning of each portion of Scripture always aligns with its immediate context, the book in which it is found, and the teaching of Scripture as a whole.
   Consult clear passages to help interpret difficult passages. Understand what the authors of each passage intended to communicate to the original readers, then align each interpretation with the teaching of the whole of Scripture. This will eliminate the alleged conflict.

Understanding the intended meaning of Scripture requires effort. This is not surprising, for the Bible is an ancient book written in languages that are not our own by authors from cultures unlike our own. There is a good deal of difference to traverse. But there is good news. The Bible is also authored by God, and his Spirit illuminates the text and our minds as we trust him. God wants us to understand his Word, but we must do our part. Following good hermeneutical principles is part of our responsibility. So, as we approach the study of Scripture let us uncover and understand our assumptions, correcting them as needed. Let us approach the text as the very Word of God, which it is.

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