Hermeneutics — Overview
Hermeneutics = the linguistic and literary principles used to interpret scripture; includes the discovery and understanding of these principles.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who . . . correctly handles [rightly divides] the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
Table of Contents |
Hermeneutics — Overview |
Scripture Accessible to all Believers | The Nature of Communication | False Principles of Interpretation | Good Principles of Interpretation | Scripture Quoted in Scripture | Symbolism
God communicates His sacred Word to us:
My word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty [void], but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)
This passage assures us that God's communication to us will be effective.
What form does God's word take? Is God's word only written, in the Bible? Or does God also speak to us in other ways?
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways. (Hebrews 1:1)
The prophets spoke God's word to the people verbally. Some of them wrote down these "words of God," and some of these writings have come to us in the Bible, the inspired and inerrant "word of God". But God's word is not limited to, nor has it ever been limited to His written word (the Bible).
Some of the ways in which God communicated His word in unwritten form:
This series of articles is focused primarily on understanding God's written word, the Bible.
Since God wishes to effectively communicate with us through his written word, the Bible, he must have in mind certain principles of interpretation for us to use as we seek to understand the Bible. In addition, it must be possible for us to somehow discern what these principles are, and to correctly apply them to scripture. It is necessary that we understand the Bible in the way God intends us to understand it since he has declared that his Word will achieve the purpose for which he sent it.
Unfortunately, we can interfere with God's communication with us by misunderstanding and misinterpreting scripture when we use false principles of interpretation. Peter warns us about this:
His [Paul's] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)
Notice that we can misinterpret scripture and that false doctrine can destroy us.
The study of hermeneutics is, therefore, of vital importance to every Christian, so that we may:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. (Matthew 7:13)
As this passage illustrates, our very salvation depends upon our use of the correct principles of interpretation as we seek to understand God's written word, the Bible.
An overview of the process for interpreting a passage of scripture.
1) Read the passage and the entire context. This context could extend for pages.
2) Consider the overall theme of the Bible.
3) Consider the culture of day when this passage was written. Put the passage into its proper historical perspective.
4) Consider the theme of the particular book that the passage occurs in. Consider the writer, the time period and the culture of the people.
6) We must remain in prayer and be willing to be instructed by the Holy Spirit because understanding comes from God, not solely from our use of reason.
No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. (1 Corinthians 2:11b-13)
7) A word of warning. As even a quick investigation into the many doctrinal variations demonstrates, we simply cannot develop dogma, doctrine, and moral teaching unaided — we require Divine assistance. But merely calling upon the Holy Spirit to assist us in interpreting sacred scripture is insufficient. Many well-meaning, Spirit-filled theologians have attempted this over the centuries, but their doctrines all contradict one another. The Holy Spirit guides the Church into all truth, not individuals.
You will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15)
This passage states that it is the Church that is the pillar and foundation of truth.
The Holy Spirit-inspired teaching authority of the Churchprovides infallibleteaching and doctrine. When our private interpretations collide with those of the Church, it is inevitably our interpretations which are in error.