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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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Christians brought up believing that the Bible is not only a valid historical document but also the inspired and inerrant word of God may have a natural tendency towards disgust when they think about “higher criticism” of the Bible.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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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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