Hermeneutics – The Art and Science of Bible Interpretation

How do we interpret the Bible? Literally? Allegorically? It depends on how the Author wants each section interpreted.

Hermeneutics, defined as the science of interpretation, is important in every field of endeavor (1). People working in law, philosophy and religion use hermeneutical techniques to interpret communication, whether written, oral or otherwise, but so do friends arranging a party, and even lovers proclaiming their everlasting devotion. Biblical hermeneutics applies the art and science of hermeneutics to gathering meaning in the Bible.

When a book is written and subsequently read, information and emotion are transferred from author to reader, and both have an important role in the process. Things become more complex when the reader is not the reader that the author was writing for, as is the case with the Bible. The role of the author is to assemble his ideas in a coherent fashion and then decide how best to communicate those ideas to his intended audience. He may use different languages, different genres (narrative, poetry, law, prophecy, wisdom, letters, and apocalyptic), different words, and different stories to illustrate his points (2). The author then puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to write his work.

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Critical Methods and the Bible

Historical, literary, and form criticism can help us understand the Bible if we use them as tools and see ourselves as students, not judges.

Christians brought up believing that the Bible is not only a valid historical document but also the inspired and inerrant word of God may have a natural tendency towards disgust when they think about “higher criticism” of the Bible. “Higher” critics’ dissection of the Bible and search for the “Historical Jesus” seem to really have been an attack on the faith by godless men who in their vainglory thought that they were smarter than millions who had accepted the Bible for the previous 1900 years.  Looking through a paradigm of antisupernaturalism, Darwinism, mechanistic rationalism, and humanism, and knowing that these charlatans had derailed the Christian faith of many over the centuries, many may feel that these men who had caused so many to stumble would be better off having “milestones around their necks” and “being dropped into the depths of the sea.”

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Why Do a Good Exegesis of the Bible?

How do I learn how to understand the Bible? Why is it so important? Should non-Christians also work to understand the Bible correctly? 

Cherie, a highly trained professional, sat at the table in an Adult Sunday School class. We were discussing Samuel, and she mentioned what she thought was an important biblical truth about the passage. Was she said wasn’t true by biblical standards and others in the class were confused and troubled by her error.

A preacher used Hebrews 3:8 as his sermon text. After reading it briefly, he spent the next 30 minutes using pop psychology and faux-medicine to convince his parishioners that they shouldn’t harden their hearts. He never again referred to the Word of God, an eternal opportunity lost in the lives of his people.

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The Synoptic “Problem”

The Gospel of John is very different from the other three, and they are similar to each other. Is that a problem?

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are similar in many ways. They cover much of the same material, have the same general historical arrangement, and use many of the same words. Bible scholar JJ Griesbach named these gospels “synoptic” because they seem to “see together”. However, there are notable differences between these gospels. The presence of such striking similarities and curious differences causes Christians to ask “how can this be” and “where did these gospels come from”? This is the Synoptic Problem.

There are many possible solutions to the Synoptic Problem. First, it is possible that the Synoptics were all drawn from one source, possibly an original in Hebrew or Aramaic. This is a little hard to believe, though. If one gospel existed already, why write more, changing some of the material in the process? Who wrote it, and what was their relationship to Jesus? Why would such a source not be mentioned anywhere in Early Christian literature?

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