Hermeneutics

GENERAL HERMENEUTICS 

or HOW TO INTERPRET THE BIBLE

FYI: Hermeneutics are how one proceeds in determining the meaning of any passage.  The term comes from the name of the Greek god Hermes who was the interpreter of the gods.

It is impossible to read anything including the Bible without preconceived notions affecting what we think we are reading, what it is about, and what it means to our lives.  Hermeneutics are rules we use to identify those preconceived notions so that we can use or disregard these notions.  It is impossible to lose them, but one can with a great deal of effort change them.  They are built of our memories, our life experience and our general knowledge.  Because of this, any holes in our memories, life experiences, or general knowledge (particularly Biblical History) well cause us to make fatal errors in interpretation.

Some of the more important considerations in Bible study is to keep in mind is that none of it was written yesterday in English.  We were not the primary audience that the human writer had in mind.  These books are literally someone else’s mail.  They thought that the information was of such importance that they preserved it so it could be passed on to other.  It is important for us to become familiar with the original audiences culture, geography and history.

The Bible is an ancient book with languages and customs unlike our own. It is essential to the understanding of the reader to be acquainted with basic rules of interpretation (hermeneutics) and recognized resources which aid in study.

General Rules for any Passage

The rules are actually common sense rules that for the most part most of us do without thinking.  For instance, from the time we all learned to read we know that poetry is to be looked at differently than historical narrative.  So it is with the Bible.  Applied properly they will guild one into sound rational reasonable conclusions.  But just like in logic where an invalid presupposition will lead no matter how logically one proceeds through the reasoning will lead to an invalid conclusion.  So invalid hermeneutics will lead to Doctrine and Dogmas that are from the pit not the Throne.

General Principles to understanding the text:

There are two rules that go all the way back to the early church.  So far back they are in Latin.

Sola Scriptorium i.e. the Scriptures are Supreme, meaning that the Bible is the final authority as to what it means.  There can be no conflicts with what one passage means and another, if there is a disagreement then the fault is not with the text but rather the interpreter.

Quod non est Biblicum, non est Theologicum i.e. if it is not in the Bible, it is not Theology, It might be Doctrine or Dogma but it is not Theology.

The Third Rule

Context:  Nothing is more important than Context. The Bible as a whole is unified in its teachings, its passages must be read in their full context so that any partial interpretation must be supported by the text. The text is never wrong; if an interpretation does not fit the whole then the interpretation must be reexamined.

It all comes down to some really common since things, that for the most part we all do without thinking.  Just ask yourself these simple questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how?  Who wrote the book?  Who did they write it to?  What is written? What did the original reader think was written?  Where was it written?  Where are the events in the writing to happen?  And when did the events or where were the events to happen?

Principles of Basic Language:

The very first thing one must determine about a passage is what type of literature is it?  Poetry, historical narrative, teaching parable, and is the subject matter to be taken as literal, symbolic or typologic?

Parables:

Short simple stories that are intended to illustrate a moral or religious lesson.  They usually involve situations and local history or agrarian themes that were familiar to the audience at the time, but may have become unfamiliar to the post modern reader.

Historical Narrative:

The documents are factual events in history. Peoples names are given, places are named, and sometimes dates are given.  This is the exact opposite of mythological tales.  Where the names and details change over time and from place to place.

Hebrew poetry: 

There are forms and rules that are distinct from English poetry.  English poetry seeks rhythm and rhyme, where Hebrew poetry is about word play i.e. paronomasia. There are four kinds parallelism – synonymous, climactic, antithesis, and external, as well as acrostics.

Cultural idioms and euphemism:

The three languages the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek are quite different from English.  Translators sometime translate these woodenly and other times they will just put the meaning.  The puns and jokes never make it in translation. There is no rule or reason for the  choices translators make.  Just as it would be hard for someone in 1000 years to have any idea as to the meaning of “hotter than a little red wagon”.

History and geography:

One must understand what was written from the writer’s and/or his intended readers point of view.  Cultural and religious contexts must be constantly kept in mind. Is the passage pre or post exile, or pre or post second temple? Who is king, emperor, or high priest?  Is the passage about Judea, Galilee, Jerusalem, Rome, Babylon etc.?

For the most part the Bible was written by and for a very agrarian culture.  Understanding basic farming techniques and animal husbandry is imperative. e.g. when the wheat crop is white for the harvest does not mean that the wheat is ready.  Because it is the inside of the husk that is white it means that the crop is dropping to the ground and being lost.

Literary devices: 

All languages use such devices, including the Bible.

Similes: 

a figure of speech comparing one thing, often with as or like, to something of a different kind or quality.

Metaphors: 

a word or phrase denoting the kind of object or idea used in place of another suggesting a likeness between the two.

Hyperbole: 

extravagant exaggeration of statement; a statement exaggerated fancifully, as for effect.

Rhetoric: 

skillful or artistic use of speech.

Paradox: 

an assertion or sentiment seemingly contradictory, or opposed to common sense, but that yet may be true in fact.

 Typology, Allegory, and Mystical:

Excessive dependence on typology can lead one to neglect the plain meaning of the text.

1  Definition of Type:

Something in the Old Testament  foreshadows, prefigures or adumbrates something in the New Testament.  e.g. Isaiah’s son Immanuel/ Mahershalalhashbaz [Isa 7:14; 8:3] is the physical type  of a boy born to an Almeh [virgin/ young woman];  antitype being The Messiah’s birth.

2 Definition of Allegory:

The interpretation whereby something hidden is introduced into the meaning of the text giving it a proposed deeper or real meaning.

3 Definition of Mystical:

Stick your finger in the air and make it up.

The General Schools of Hermeneutics

About those preconceived notions.  Among Protestants they fall into three main divisions.

Covenant Theology 

These people largely Presbyterian and Reform churches including some Methodist and Reformed Baptist, interpret all scripture from the point of view that there are only two covenants.  This comes from their interpretation of Gal 4:22-31. There are several names for these two covenants, but no matter what the individual author may call them there are only two, the Covenant of Law and the Covenant of Grace. This view spiritualizes nearly all prophecy making The Revelation to be about the Churches struggle with apostasy. All the promises God made to the Jews are for the Church either literally or figuratively. The doctrine of election is often emphasized. (Never met anyone holding this view that was not Anti-Semtic)

Dispensationalism 

This modern interpretation views scripture through seven dispensations (some will have more, but they are almost always some multiple of seven). In these dispensations the covenants relationship with God changes. Although there are numerous views of salvation, a primary feature is that they view the redemption of Jews as being distinctive from that of gentiles.  (Since we do not believe that the Law has passed away this one is not for us.)

Progressive Revelation Biet Sephar icon Small

We believe God reveals himself to man in a series of Progressive Revelations.  These revelations have been made though His work: Ps. 19:1, Rom 1:18-23, His Word: Jn 1:1-5, and His Son: Heb 1:1-4. A fourth revelation of God, His Glory: fuller and more perfect than any other, is yet to be revealed in Rev 22:4.

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One thought on “Hermeneutics

  1. Pingback: How Commander Spook changed My Faith | The Song of Songs

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