Entering once more into the study of hermeneutics as one that once taught the subject brought back memories of dry and/or inaccessible tomes that left little of use except perhaps as a doorstop or insomnia aid. What greeted online was a simple twenty-five page workbook that was not only accessible to the student, but also practical for the preacher or teacher. This simple work starts with the concept of what hermeneutics is to how the disciple of Christ should apply it to their ministry. Let us enter once more into the hermeneutical spiral first with a summary, then an interpretation before the ending of whether or not this is a useful resource.
Hermeneutics is the method one uses to interpret literature of the past (p.1) and as such it is (p.1):
- A science because it is guided by rules within a system.
- An art due to how the rules are applied.
- Applied by skill and not mechanical imitation.
This is what hermeneutics is, and why it exists you ask? Primarily for two reasons (p.1):
- The scriptures show us God has spoken.
- Because God has spoken we require a reliable way to interpret scripture.
This is the genesis that leads into how one can come to be an interpreter of the Bible. The challenge then as one works through the sections of the workbook is to take the Bible in hand and work through a passage with these tools. The tools you ask?
The 3 questions that are to be answered from page 3:
- What is the prevailing view respecting scripture?
- What is the main method of interpretation?
- What qualifications were regarded as essential in an interpreter of the Bible?
These three questions lead the journeyer into what the workbook stipulates as a qualified interpreter (which will be explored in the interpretation section of this paper). The author(s) who remain unknown then lays out the principles of interpretation (again, will be outlined in the interpretation section of the paper).
The workbook also outlines common mistakes of provincialism and traditionalism (p.3) for the interpreter and the five basic schools: (a) allegorism; (b) literalism; (c) devotionalism; (d) liberalism; and (e) neo-orthodoxy (p 4-5). All are good components to the whole as an introduction it provides a broad tent in a short span of time for equipping the teacher.
But why does hermeneutics exist? Surely, the revelation that is needed to understand scripture comes from the Holy Spirit? Yes this is true. But as the old saying goes, God did not place the gray matter between our ears just to keep our heads from caving in, God expects us to come to a deeper understanding. It is this understanding that lends itself to what the workbook stipulates is the qualifications of an interpreter and then the principles of interpretation.
According to the workbook a valid interpreter needs to be qualified by (p.3):
- Being born again in accordance with the doctrine taught in John 3.
- Have a passion for and know God’s word.
- A Deep reverence of God.
- Possess an utter dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
These qualities one may say then discredits the science and art that is hermeneutics, but it does not. For being born again truly is the acknowledgement of the Holy within us, but also the need for divine love. The passion and knowledge of the scriptures will allow someone to further discover history, geography, culture, genres, languages and customs of the peoples of the Bible, but also within the diverse Body of Christ today.
It is the reverence of God that allows us to see the true beauty within the scripture regardless whether you approach the Bible as the Jesus Seminar does or as a Fundamentalist King James Bible Baptist preacher for the reverence will lead you to your knees to allow for the Holy Spirit to open up your soul.
Now it is known what qualifies one, what are some guiding principles? (a) priority of original languages; (b) accommodation for revelation; (c) progressive re-evaluation; (d) historical propriety; (e) awareness of ignorance; (f) differentiating interpretation from application; (g) checking principle; (h) induction; (i) preference for the clearest interpretation; (j) upholding the unity of scripture; and (k) analogy of the faith (p. 9-11). These are coupled with word studies within the original language and ensuring one interprets for the correct genre that the certain book is written in (p.11).
The ideal that these principles guides one to when coming to the scriptures is humility. That is an understanding that as an interpreter it is not us alone that holds the meaning, it is through collaboration with others upon the journey (believer or non), but also full collaboration with the Holy Spirit in the Tri-unity with the Godhead. That is the key principle that all these lead to.
The interpretation is not done in isolation. The principle of induction lends the interpreter to discover the true meaning of the passage not to place a meaning upon it. The interpreter is not a lone wolf crying at the moon, they are a link in an ever flowing chain to discern truth. There is the strong reminder that there may be one interpretation for a piece of scripture, but many applications (p.10). Is this a true statement or just a straw man argument? As one explores the many faceted sides of the Christianities it becomes evident that there can actually be multiple interpretations, just think of the way Coptic or Orthodox or Catholic or Pentecostal Christians will approach understanding the Holy Spirit and His work within the church, as well as his role in the Godhead. To be crass the fact there is an Eastern and Western Nicene Creed shows that there is at least a dual understanding of how the Holy Spirit relates to the Godhead with the West stipulating of the same substance while in the East the Holy Spirit is created by God & Jesus. This in itself makes the principle of one interpretation, many applications faulty. Although this short exploration is not for a student new to hermeneutics which these principles allow for a foundation to begin a proper exploration of the texts by the Interpreter.
Now the beauty of hermeneutics is that it encompasses a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding for it takes into account literature review; art; culture; anthropology; sociology; theology; doctrine; history; geography; etc to create a fully defined picture of where in history the story is placed. Doctrine is a principal sticking point for unity within the faith, and even within the scriptures. Doctrine can allow for understanding within one’s own tradition of Christianity, but is problematic when one tries to dialogue in regards to some tenants of the faith with other traditions.
Doctrine as a principal illuminates the two challenges written of earlier being provincialism and traditionalism. Provincialism in and of itself is an insulated and narrow focus based around one’s own experience, while traditionalism sticks to the ideal of “we have always done it this way” theory of experiencing the world. Either or both of these when brought into the hermeneutical spiral can prove disastrous for allowing the revelation of the Spirit, but also the step of checking points when scripture crosses over into secular disciplines.
This leads us to the ideal of language preferences. One is to lean on the original languages of the texts as the purest source. Yet historically what exist for the texts of the Bible are not the original autographs, but copies, which is fine as archaeologically there is stronger proof of the veracity of the documents than any other. However even the original autographs in a time of oral tradition are they the most valid. Okay a rather circular argument, there is a rationale for the early languages which is plausible but in the inability to hold to the original languages if one can have at least three distinct translations available to read the passages within and compare word choices it can aid coming to that original meaning.
All these principles in spite of the hiccups and challenges are meant to enable the interpreter to place the story in time. Once the story has been placed in time then the interpreter can truly open themselves up to the moving of the revelation of the Holy Spirit. This is the heart of hermeneutics.
Hermeneutics is simply the process of interpreting ancient literature. It is both an art and a science that is guided within the interpreter’s heart, soul, body and mind by the Holy Spirit to come to a conclusion on meaning. This meaning is not in isolation, it stands on the shoulders of history, while also entering into life within the current breathing Body of Christ.
Sacred Hermeneutics retrieved from https://ntsmoodle.com/file.php/9/Sacred_Hermeneutics.pdf 26 September 2012.
 This is to ensure that secular studies are checked if the passage borders on matters of science or history; double checking doctrinal documents to keep interpretation within the rule of faith; and great expositor’s of the past.
- Hermeneutics and the Spiritual Life (lynleahz.com)
- Hermeneutics and the Spiritual Life (randomtheoloblog.wordpress.com)
- Acts: The question of historical precedent (nelima.wordpress.com)
- Diving Deeper into Knowing Scripture (bmwfbcparkstreet.wordpress.com)
- Learning Hermeneutics from Holmes (str.typepad.com)
- A Hermeneutical Manual: Opening Scripture By Patrick Fairbairn (searchandtrace.wordpress.com)
- Missional hermeneutics – what are the actions? (bibleandmission.redcliffe.org)
- Accurate Hermeneutics: Interpreting The Bible Correctly (Part 4) (preacheroftruth.com)
- Accurate Hermeneutics: Interpreting The Bible Correctly (Part 5) (preacheroftruth.com)
- The Hermeneutical Invasion (txwclp.org)