How do we distinguish truth from hearsay or opinion? You know, “THEY SAY…” is how most people preference hearsay and this usually means they don’t have any evidence for the claim they are making. How many of us defer to “THEY” when we don’t want to take time to fact check for ourselves? In today’s secular culture negative claims are often made against Christianity and the Bible and I used to believe them, and even use them, until I had a friend ask me, “do you just believe everything you hear people say?” I took that to heart and thought about how often I did that without knowing for sure if it was true.
False ideas about truth lead to false ideas about life.
We demand truth in almost every area of our lives. We want the truth from our doctors, our bankers, our mechanics and family members. The laws of nature, science and mathematics all have undeniable and universal truths in the way they operate, so why do we exclude truth from God and His Word? (Check out J. Warner Wallace’s presentation on truth at the end of this post)
Food For Thought:
The truth is we have to feed our bodies daily to stay alive, in fact studies suggest that eating six small meals a day might be the healthiest way to maintain blood sugar levels and proper weight. If we compare that to the way we feed our spiritual bodies with truth from God’s Word might we be in a truth famine? Will we be too weak to do battle using truth when the battles come?
Spiritual warfare is real and if we do not train to fight with truth we will lose the battles. Jesus faced spiritual battles when he walked this earth and his response was always with truth from God’s Word (Matthew 4:4). One way we can train to know truth is by studying and using the Word of God. To know truth from God’s Word means studying it in its historical context. We can learn to do this using hermeneutics, and it is not just for those in seminary or theological circles, it is for everyone!
What is Hermeneutics?
Hermeneutics describes the task of explaining the meaning of the Scriptures. Using hermeneutics helps us to accurately understand what the message (verse, or passage) is trying to communicate and it is easy to do once you understand a few basic principles for reading literature in its historical context.
The word comes from the Greek verb hermeneuein meaning to explain, interpret or translate. Using the verb, the Gospel writer Luke informs us that Jesus, after His resurrection, explained to the two disciples on the Emmaus road what the Scriptures said about Him. (Luke 24:27)
The noun hermeneia is Interpretation or translation. Paul uses the noun in 1 Corinthians 12:10 to refer to the gift of interpretation.
Never read or study a Bible Verse by itself
Reading a Bible verse by itself and trying to interpret what it means based on “what you feel” can be dangerous, especially if you are leading a study. You will most likely get a wide range of opinions and trouble may arise. Many cults have begun this way because of twisting the Scriptures to fit a personal agenda. Watch this video clip to get the idea of what not to do:
Always Use Hermeneutics
How do you use hermeneutics?
Here is a basic hermeneutic formula adapted and put into a question format:
Note: This format can be used for individual or small group studies and you can go as deep or as light as you want for each question. Using a good study Bible and some basic Bible study tools like an Old or New Testament Survey book, a Bible handbook, a Bible dictionary, and/or a concordance can help you dig deeper. Be careful to evaluate your references and their credentials. Using a variety of sources will help you see the big picture.
As you begin, the book or passage you are studying should be read through at least three times. Once for an overview to get the big picture and story in context, the second time for the hermeneutics, and the third for note-taking and in-depth study.
1. Who is the author?
Who wrote it? Research the background of the author to find out their credentials and how they fit in the overall Biblical story. Can you find this person in other books of the Bible?
2. Who is the audience?
To whom was the author originally writing to and why? What was the date of the events and what was the date of the writing? What was going on in the culture at the time and in the lives of the author and audience?
3. What is the Genré (literary style)?
This is the author’s writing style. Understanding the genré helps us understand the purpose the author had and puts the writing in context. Most books of the Bible fall under one or more of these categories: Historical narrative, Wisdom literature, Law, Poetry, Prophecy, Gospel narrative, Eyewitness testimony, Church history, Parabolic literature, Instructional literature, Letters to groups or individuals (Epistles), or Apocalyptic (end times) literature.
4. What is the purpose?
Why did the author write the book? Understanding the author, audience and the events of the time will help give you a clue for the purpose. Often it is stated directly in the book itself.
***By doing just the first four steps you will be well on your way to correctly interpreting Scripture!
5. What is the context/flow of thought?
This is where you will spend most of your time. You can do an outline of the book using titles or sub-titles, or you can write your own notes. If you are studying a verse or passage it is important to look at the content before and after that section to see what was going on and the flow of thought.
Note: Don’t get hung up on difficult passages. Try to get the big picture and then focus down.The original documents (scrolls) and early books did not have chapters and verses, so the flow of thought often crosses over chapters.
Work like an upside down triangle:
Make observations and try to answer these questions as you study:
Who? When? Where? AND… What? Why? How?
If you want to investigate difficult passages or do a more in-depth study you can do cross-referencing within the Bible, often there are other places in Scripture that speak to the same topic and will clear up any confusion. You can also do word studies and cross-version studies. Study tools that help you investigate the original languages will help you go even deeper.
***You are almost finished! Now you can wrap it up with just a few more questions:
6. What is the summary and interpretation?
You can now narrow down the overall interpretation of the book or passage you are studying into several sentences or paragraphs with themes. Compare the summary with the purpose you originally established.
7. What is the cultural and personal application?
This is last not first! Now you can make proper application to your life and the culture you live in today because you understand the original context and purpose of the writing. This is the point where you can apply meaning and direction to your own life when and where it should be.
***A Few Extra Things For Fun and Future Reference!
8. What are some themes, passages and key verses that are special to you?
This is where you can have some fun. Write down or hi-light your favorite parts of the book, or commit a special verse or passage to memory and put it in a journal or on a card. You can also write out a content statement that lists the important events or teachings found within the book for future reference.
9. What are some special finds and connections?
Were there any a’ha moments or things that took you by surprise? Did this book connect to a previous book(s) in the Bible? Does this study lead you into another book of the Bible you might want to read, and why?
10. What are some questions or concerns that you have about this book, passage or verse?
Hi-light any areas that you had difficulty with. What would like to explore further? Write these down and look back in the future to see if clarity comes from other studies you do.
***Completing this process is important because it will give you the best chance at correct interpretation so that you can make an accurate application for your life as well as help others.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
Watch J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Homicide Detective and Former atheist turned Christian Apologist, present his case for the Truth of Christianity:
Join us next week as we further explore the Bible and A Case for Christ.
You will not find this material in the public school curriculum even though it is based on solid evidence and grounded in research. It is ironic that following the evidence to where it leads stops at the door of our public schools as they will not let a “Divine footprint” in! Join us as we examine evidence for Christianity and learn how to become a thoughtful defender and ambassador of your faith.
Click into the resource page of this website to view many of the top Christian thinkers and apologists along with some of their work; connecting to these types of resources is essential in your Christian growth.
Please let me know what you think: Give feedback, ask questions or send concerns in the comment section of the blog.
1 Peter 3:15