How Do I Engage In Hermeneutics
We all use some sort of hermeneutic when we approach the biblical text. The question is, are we using a good hermeneutic?
There are three guidelines that will generally contribute to a healthy approach. The first is to assume that the Bible, in general, says what it means. That is, the Bible is generally to be interpreted literally, taking the plain meaning of the passage over a more complicated, esoteric interpretation, unless its obviously meant to be symbolic or a figure of speech.
A second tip is to consider the passage in context. What was the historical context? Who wrote it? Who were they writing to, if anyone? Why? What was the cultural context? What was going on at the time?
Finally, its essential to interpret the passage within the context of the Bible itself. What verses precede and follow the passage? What is the passage as a whole about? What about the book? Is it referencing a different part of Scripture?
Dr. Dane C. Ortlund of Crossway offers four more tips.
First, read with the assumption that Scripture is coherent. If its inspired by God and inerrant, then there are no defects. Thus, if something doesnt make sense or seems contradictory, it is due to faulty understanding or lack of context, not biblical error, and probably requires more research.
Second, read any text with an awareness of where it fits within the broader biblical story. Ortlund compares reading a passage out of context to suddenly picking up a novel in the middle.
How To Study The Bible
Jim George, Th.M.
One of the noblest pursuits a child of God can embark upon is to get to know and understand God better. The best way we can accomplish this is to look carefully at the book He has written, the Bible, which communicates who He is and His plan for mankind. There are a number of ways we can study the Bible, but one of the most effective and simple approaches to reading and understanding Gods Word involves three simple steps:
Step 1: ObservationWhat does the passage say?Step 2: InterpretationWhat does the passage mean?Step 3: ApplicationWhat am I going to do about what the passage says and means?
Let’s dive into each step of studying the Bible.
Whats Different About Exegesis Eisegesis And Hermeneutics
Exegesis and hermeneuticssometimes it felt like my Bible professors used these two words interchangeably. Honestly, there is a very fine line between them.
The simplest explanation of the difference is that exegesis is the act of studying a passage critically and objectively and interpreting the meaning, while hermeneutics is the study of the principles by which the passage is to be interpreted.
Neither hermeneutics nor exegesis, however, should be confused with eisegesis. Whereas someone engaged in exegetical study comes to conclusions based on careful, objective analysis of a text, someone who engages in eisegesis approaches the text with preconceived ideas and attempts to find passages and interpret the text in a way that will support those claims.
Taken out of context, its possible to justify many terrible things with biblical passages the Bible contains records of both good and evil deeds and people, after all. Its also easy to completely miss the point of a passage. For example: Philippians 4:13 plastered on sports lockers and inspirational posters as a promise of invincibility to Christians, instead of being used as an example of faith enduring all trials.
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How To Pick A Version
Now that you hopefully have some reassurance about the trustworthiness of the Bible, you may be asking, There are many English translations of the Biblewhich one should I read? Thats a good question.
Bible translations land somewhere on the spectrum between word-for-word translations , and thought-for-thought translations. There are also paraphrases available, like The Message, which seek to bring the meaning of the text to life.
If you are new to the Bible, usually a thought-for-thought translation like the New International Version or, farther along the thought-for-thought continuum, the New Living Translation , is recommended since it is more readable.
Afterwards, you could pick up a more literal translation like the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version for more in-depth study.
Stage : Read The Road Signs Carefully
When you travel, it is critical that you read the road signs well. As we study the Bible, there are many clues to the authors intentions built right into any given passage. So, one important aspect of Bible study is slowing down and reading the passage carefully.
When you are driving down a road at 65 miles per hour, how many roadside details do you catch? Not many. You might be able to see interesting objects on roadside, but they blur and then fade quickly as you speed by.
Many of us are drive by readers of Scripture, never slowing down to explore and enjoy the details of Gods Word consequently there is much that we miss in the process. Choose to slow down and read with care. Read a passage repeatedly if you sense youve yet to catch all the elements. One way to ensure that you are reading slowly enough to catch the details is to underline key phrases or words, or write notes in the margin.
Read the Passage in Several Translations: Doing a comparison of modern English Bible translations can be a helpful way to highlight key interpretive issues in a passage. Why? Because translation, by its nature, requires interpretation. With almost any verse of Scripture, translators have to choose, given the context and grammatical constructions, between various possible word meanings. Therefore, the differences reflected in the various translations represent various interpretations of the passage.
Subjectwho or what is the passage focusing on?
Agentwho does the action?
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Ways To Read The Bible
It turns out that readingwhich is probably how you’d traditionally think that one would approach the Bibleis just one way to immerse yourself in the wisdom of the Scriptures.
But in fact, there are five ways that you can approach the Bible.
1. Hearing The Bible
In Luke 11:28, Jesus says, Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!, Romans 10:17 reads, So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ., and 1 Timothy 4:13, Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
Donald Whitney writes in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life that most who, like Edwards, were converted while reading Scripture are also like him in that they often heard the proclamation of Gods Word prior to conversion. Faith and the ability to apply faith in every area of life is given to us as we are equipped by the hearing of the Word.
2. Reading The Bible
In addition to reading and listening to the Bible via our private morning practice and our group morning meditation with the Abide meditation app, my own family gathers before dinner each evening and reads one chapter of the Bible together, usually from Psalms or Proverbs. Later in this article, I’ll give you several good resources for identifying a structured Bible reading plan that will work for you but in the meantime, it’s important to understand that the Bible itself emphasizes not only the importance of hearing God’s word, but also reading it.
Why Christians Need To Read The Bible
In the 90s, there was a popular acronym for the BIBLE, which stood for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.
And thats what the Bible is. Its our roadmap to how were supposed to live life on this earth as a representative of God and his son Jesus Christ.
The Bible has information on:
In short, the Bible is our instruction manual for how we should live in the world, filtered through the eyes of Christ.
- The nature and character of God.
- The history of our faith.
- Who Jesus is and why he died for our sins.
- How we should interact with God and other people.
- Proper conduct and behavior for Christians.
The Apostel Pauls sums it up perfectly in his letter to Timothy, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. .
Now that weve covered what the Bible is and why its important to read it, lets talk about the best way to read the Bible.
The Bible is our instruction manual for how we should live in the world, filtered through the eyes of Christ.
Level Three: The Prophetic Books
The last section contains the writings of the prophets. They wrote about a great deal of things, but mostly they spoke about two major catastrophes in Israels history.
In 722 B.C., Israel was destroyed by Assyria, and then in 586 B.C., Babylon attacked and captured Jerusalem. These events were incredibly significant in the life of Israel. By and large, the prophets wrote to warn of, or explain, these events.
The final prophet, Malachi, wrote about 400 B.C., and then there was silence until Jesus arrival.
Where To Start Reading The Bible For Beginners
New Christians or people seeking to learn more about Christianity should start in the New Testament.
The New Testament covers the life of Jesus, the history of the early church, and ethical and moral guidelines for Christians.
To get an excellent overview of this information, I recommend the following reading order:
The Gospel of John Having a firm understanding of who Jesus is and why he came is important to your faith as a Christian. The book of John does a marvelous job of explaining who Jesus is and what his ministry is about. The other Gospels detail Jesus ministry, but they focus more on the things Jesus did.
Acts- The book of Acts was written by Luke, who also wrote the Gospel Luke, and records the history of the early church. Starting with Jesus ascension and commission of the disciples, the persecution of the early church, and the spread of the Gospel throughout the known world.
Romans- Every Christian should read the book of Romans. If you want to build your faith and gain a clearer understanding of the Good news of Jesus Christ, this is the best place to start once youve read the two books.
Once youve read through these first three books you should have a firm understanding of who Jesus is, the history of the early church, and a better understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
After youve read these books, you can dive into the Old Testament and read:
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What Is The Origin And History Of Hermeneutics
Biblical hermeneutics take place within the Bible itself. Authors of the psalms and the prophets often looked back to the books of the Law and incorporated their own understandings. Differing biblical hermeneutics led to the notorious religious factions Jesus dealt with in the Gospels, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. The groups differed in their interpretation of the Laws teaching on issues such as the afterlife, proper sacrifice, and the study of the Law itself.
As noted above, biblical hermeneutics were in effect even in the time of the psalmists and prophets, and continued with various Jewish sects up to the time of Jesus.
The history of hermeneutics, hermeneutical debates, and hermeneutical approaches is so complex that it may be more practical to outline four major hermeneutical branches that arose:
1. Literal interpretation. This is most prominent in Protestant circles. However, it has a long history. Literal interpretation was championed by, among others, Jerome , Thomas Aquinas , Martin Luther , and John Calvin . This approach interprets the text according to its plain or literal meaning according to grammatical construction, historical context, and the intention of the author.
4. Anagogical or mystical interpretation. The anagogical approach was more typical to Jewish study than Christianity. This approach interprets biblical events as prefigures of the afterlife.
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Practical Suggestions For Reading Well
We want to approach our reading of the Bible in a way that will lead to a fulfilling, faithful, and fruitful pattern of life. Below are a dozen suggestions to make your Bible reading more effective and fulfilling.
Read the Bible prayerfully: Engaging the Bible regularly is a spiritual exercise, and you need spiritual power and discernment to do it well. As you begin your Bible reading, ask God for a receptive and disciplined heart, ask him to speak to you through the Word, and use the passages you read as providing you with thoughts and words you can use as you pray to God.
Read expectantly and joyfully: As you pray over your Bible reading, also read it expecting to hear from God, being joyful and thankful for what you find in the Scriptures. Allow the music of the Word to give you joy in your walk with God.
Meditate on what you are reading: To meditate means to mentally chew on what we are reading, to think about what the passage means as well as its implications for belief and practice. Just as food chewed and swallowed too quickly gives indigestion, so we will not be able to digest our Bible readings unless we slow down and consider the meat we find there.
Memorize To Master The Bible
I used to think that it was better to have a lot of verses memorized, but in my effort to have as many verses as possible memorized, I had them memorized shallowly. I might have to struggle to get started, or get partway through a passage and have to paraphrase the rest. Now, I realize it is much better to have fewer verses memorized very deeplythat is where the power comes from. Rather than memorize a mile wide and an inch deep, it is better to memorize an inch wide and a mile deep. That is a key difference, because until we memorize verses deeply and spend time meditating on them, the truth of the passages does not seep deeply into our subconscious to influence our thoughts, attitudes, actions, and emotions.
When we memorize Scripture this deeply, it will often then jump into our minds as our first reaction to lifes circumstances, helping guide our decisions and influence our emotions. Even Jesus, when He was tempted by the devil in Matthew 4, quoted Scripture in response to the temptation. When we know Scripture well enough to quote it immediately in response to lifes challenges, the Bible begins to take on a power that it did not previously have in our life.
Memorize one verse so that you can say it without hesitation. Then, memorize another, but link it to the first. Then memorize a third one, but link it to the first two, and so on. Keep doing it the rest of your life. Pretty soon, your command of Scripture will be a mile wide and a mile deep.
Look Carefully At The Language Of The Text For What It Reveals About Its Meaning
Words carry thoughts. The words of the text are all we have of the writers thoughts. If he hadnt written it down, we wouldnt know what he was thinking.
So we can look closely at his words, examining each one carefully for the part it plays in his message. Also look at how the words and phrases connect with one another and how the sentences are constructed.
If you can study the text in the original language, you can gain greater insight into the meaning. Many preachers study Greek and Hebrew for that reason.But even if you cannot read your texts in those languages, you can still use lexicons and word study books to guide you.
Though your congregation is probably not interested in the Hebrew and Greek, your study will open insights that will make the message clearer to them. You can do this without going into detail about tenses and forms in the original languages.
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Ii The Meaning Of The Text
Let us now try to see how these points relate to the understanding of the Bible. First of all, we have the basic task of getting at the original meaning of the text. Here we have a set of inter-connected processes which it is difficult to set out in a logical order, since the results of any one of them may affect the workings of any other.
Text and Translation
Text and context
The second principle is that the relation between text and context is a dialectical one. There is a circular relationship between them, in that the context itself needs to be understood, and part of its context may be the text which interests us. Thus Luke 6:34 is part of the context for Luke 6:35, but Luke 6:34 is a text which itself needs to be understood and which contains its own difficulties, and part of the context for solving those difficulties is Luke 6:35. Hence we have to find meanings for the two verses which will fit harmoniously together, and we have to proceed step-by-step, moving backwards and forwards between the two verses. We have what is sometimes called a hermeneutical circle. Verses are understood in the light of the paragraphs in which they stand, and paragraphs in the light of the verses which compose them.
Types of context
The Bible as its own context
The unity and truth of the Bible
Compare Scripture With Scripture
Another key principle of hermeneutics is that we should use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Known by theologians as the analogy of faith or analogy of Scripture, this principle is solidly based on the Bibles own teachings. Since the Bible is the Word of God and God cannot lie or contradict Himself , then one passage will never contradict another passage. This principle is useful for several reasons.
First, not all Bible passages are equally clear. So, a clear passage can be used to shed light on a difficult, not-so-clear passage. There are a number of obscure verses in Scripture, where you might wish the writer would have provided more details. 1 Corinthians 15:29 is a classic example. Right in the middle of the chapter on the Resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of believers, Paul asked, Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? Several ideas have been suggested to explain what Paul meant about baptism for the dead, but because this is the only verse in all of Scripture that mentions this concept, we may not be able to reach a firm conclusion about its meaning.
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