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Using Hermeneutics to Interpret the Bible

Whole series of books have been written on the immense subject of Biblical Interpretation. I will not attempt the impossible task of summarizing all of them here. Nevertheless, it is worth some investigation on our part to gain an understanding of how we should go about learning the true divine meaning of the passages in the Bible we find ourselves in to properly understand what God is trying to tell us.

Definition:

Hermeneutics is a big ‘ten-cent’ word for the task of explaining the meaning of, or the intention of, what is being said in the Scriptures. It describes the principles people use to understand what something means, or to comprehend what a message [whether written, oral or visual] is endeavoring to communicate. Simply stated it is the art and science of interpretation, for our purposes here, of the Bible.

Reasons for Hermeneutics:

In its use hermeneutics demands that we enter into the world of the historian, the linguist, the sociologist, the psychologist and many other realms of analysis.

To give you more of a concrete example, lets’ take the statement that we hear so often, “I love you. This statement changes its meaning drastically depending on when it was said, where it was said, who said it, and who they said it to. It has subtle to severe differences if spoken by a teenage girl to her boyfriend, a husband to his wife of twenty five years, a mother to her child, or a teenaged guy talking to his mint condition ‘69 Stingray Corvette! This may seem like a trivial example but it has rather significant implications when we apply analytical thinking to our interpretation of the Bible. It has the potential to draw us closer to the Divine and have us knowing and follow His ways more thoroughly, or to lead us to completely misunderstand what we are reading and thereby follow another agenda than that of the intended Divine one.

Consider some of the difficult tensions we face in the task of trying to understand the Bible:

  • The Bible is divine, yet it has come to us in human form.
  • The commands of God are absolute, yet the historical context of the writings appears to relativize certain terms
  • The Divine message must be clear, yet many passages seem ambiguous.
  • We are dependent only on the Spirit for instruction, yet scholarship is necessary.
  • The scriptures seem to presuppose a literal and historical reading, yet we are also confroted by the figurative and non-historical, such as parables.
  • Proper interpretation requires the interpreter’s personal freedom, yet some degree of external corporate authority appears imperative.
  • The objectivity of the Biblical message is essential, yet our presuppositions seem to inject a degree of subjectivity into the interpretive process.

It seems clear from only these examples that each of us could raise any number of perplexing issues into Biblical interpretation.

If done properly however, the scriptures and the divinely intended message can be, and is, revealed to us. Hermeneutics provides a strategy that enables us to navigate the Scriptures and understand what the author or speaker intended to communicate.

How Hermeneutics is used:

The overall goal of reading Scripture and understanding it, should be to not only know what the Bible says, but what the Bible means by what it says for our lives. The whole point to analyzing it through the use of Hermeneutical analysis is to derive it’s true usefulness to our lives. To say it simply, the end goal is to produce a rich harvest of faithful interpreters and doers of God’s Word to us.

Therefore, we need to take several factors into account in order to contextualize what were are reading. it is through putting proper context onto the Scripture we read that we can then apply it within similar context in our lives.

Factors to consider in Biblical Interpretation:

In seeking to contextualize what we are reading, it is necessary to ask various questions of the text to derive it’s true meaning.

Seeking a 3-Sided Meaning:

In any given text there are 3 expressions of meaning: 1) what the writer/speaker meant by what is said; 2)what the recipient actually understood by what was stated; 3) in an abstract sense, what meaning is encoded in the text. Since we no longer have access to the original author nor the recipient of the original information, we are left with some detective work with the text itself.

Single vs. Multiple Meanings:

The first thing to keep in mind is in certain circumstances the writer may have only one possible meaning or interpretation to a text or utterance, or the author may have several meanings behind what is conveyed. therefore we need to constantly ask, “Is there only one subject that the author is communicating about, or could there be more than one?” We see more singular meanings in a story about an actual event in historical writings [Exodus] but a multitude of meanings in more poetic writing [Psalms] or in allegorical Parables told.

Ourselves:

Also, proper interpretation requires that we self-examine. Each of us are people in the midst of our own personal circumstances and situations living in a time far removed in normal living practices from those in Biblical times, which can alter our perceptions and skew how we read/see/hear a particular message. To say it differently, people understand their world on the basis of what they already know or have experienced and have a hard time seeing things from a perspective outside of their understanding.

The Text Itself:

When examining the text one basic factor that must be determined is the meaning of the terms that are used. This is where a Concordance and a Bible Dictionary and Lexicons are extremely useful. It is not enough to determine a words specific scientific or literal definition but also to take into account a word’s emotional overtone in the particular sentence being reviewed. This helps us in our quest for proper context.

The Authors and the Recipients:

Obviously, we cannot interview the original authors about their writings. However, and examination of their general living conditions, specific life circumstances, and the time in history it was written all provides significant insight into the true intended meaning and motivations of the author. This means we have to be careful in our research because, if we read into the the Biblical text information that the authors could not have possessed, we distort the meaning.

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Posted in Bible Study Tips, by Steve Bugler, 8 years, 11 months ago at 2:44 pm.

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