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Teaching

Hermeneutics

1. Definition and Purpose

a. The science of hermeneutics is the science of biblical interpretation. Hermeneutics deals with conveying a message that can be understood. The purpose of hermeneutics is to establish rules and guidelines for interpretation.

b. The United States has a special agency that functions as the supreme board of hermeneutics for our land – The Supreme Court. It’s primary task is to interpret the Constitution upon which all laws may be judged “lawful”. Originally, the method of interpretation was grammatico-historical. That is, they determined what the original authors of an amendment wrote when they meant it. Today, the Constitution is viewed a “living document” and words are interpreted according to “modern needs” or modern culture. When that happened, the role of the Supreme Court moved from being interpretative to legislative.

c. The same problems occur when Biblical scholars try to bring the Scriptures “up to date” – to interpret according to our culture, our norms, our sensitivities. Scholarship then moves from interpreting what Scripture says to legislating and providing new revelation.

2. The Analogy of Faith

a. Primary rule of hermeneutics at the time of the Reformation.

b. The rule that Scripture interprets Scripture: Sacra Scriptura interpres (Sacred Scripture is its own interpreter).

c. This means that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. Confidence rests on the belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Because God is coherent and consistent, His Word is coherent and consistent.

d. In our own day, the Divine authorship of Scripture is challenged. Many have no problem with contradictions today because they believe it to be the words of men.

e. For many that claim the Word is God’s however, Scripture becomes a chameleon changing its color agains the background of the person interpreting it.

3. Literal Interpretation

a. We interpret the Bible literally. To interpret something literally is to pay attention to the litera or the letters and words which are being used. To interpret the Bible literally is to interpret it as literature. The nature and meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax, and context.

b. Genre – The term genre means “kind” or “sort” or “type”. We distinguish between poetry and legal documents when we read something. We also need to distinguish when reading as to the genre of a book: it is a narrative, didactic teaching, wisdom, or poetry? (History of some books is challenged sometimes on the appearance of some forms – Jonah, Genesis, etc.)

c. Hyperbole – Sometimes hyperbole is used in historical narratives (still historical?)

d. Personification – Sometime hills are said to be clapping. Did Baalam’s donkey speak?

e. Metaphor – A figure of speech in which a word or a phrase that denotes one kind of object is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. Jesus calls Himself the door. Was that a metaphor? Christ later says “This is my Body….”

4. The Medieval Quadriga – From early in Church History through the medieval period, this was a common method of interpreting. This method of interpretation said there were four meanings of any biblical text: literal, moral, allegorical, and anagogical. The literal meaning was the plain and evident meaning. The moral sense was that which instructed men how to behave. The allegorical sense revealed the content of faith, and the anagogical expressed future hope.

5. The Grammatico-Historical Method

a. Closely related to the analogy of faith and the literal sense of Scripture. This method focuses attention not only on the literary forms but upon grammar constructions and historical context out of which the Scriptures were written.

b. Grammatical structure determines whether words are to be taken as questions, commands, or declarations. See Acts 1:8. Is that a command or a declaration? (English might not tell us). Having a knowledge of the grammar and original language used can help us determine the meaning of a text.

c. Historical analysis seeks knowledge of the setting, culture, and settings in which the books were written and who they were written to. This is key in understanding word usage and context. Questions of authorship, date, and destination of books are important for a clear understanding.

d. Authorship and dating – Since language can change its meaning from one generation to another and from different localities, it is important to be as precise as possible in fixing the place, date, and author of a book. Matters of authorship and dating are closely linked.

e. Sometimes grammar and history are abused to form ridiculous conclusions. Some scholars have attempted to prove Paul didn’t write books if he uses new words in certain letter he never used before.

6. Conclusion

The three primary principles of interpretation are aids to enrich our understanding of the Word. The analogy of faith keeps the whole Bible in view lest we exaggerate one portion of Scripture and exclude others. The literal sense restrains us from letting our imagination run away in fanciful interpretation and makes us examine closely the type of literature we’re reading. The grammatico-historical method focuses our attention on the original meaning of the text lest we “read into Scripture” our own ideas drawn from the present.

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