Herman who? Our professor quickly corrected us, “Not Herman who, hermeneutics!” As Christians in a beginning Bible class we should have known that word, but most did not, especially me. I guess that’s part of the growing concern over Biblical illiteracy today, Christians just don’t know their stuff!
We can correct that right here by learning why it is important to understand and use hermeneutics.
Food For Thought:
Food for our physical bodies vs. food for our spiritual bodies—are there similarities? We feed our bodies daily, 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 might we be in spiritual famine? How often do we feed our spiritual bodies?
How about our spiritual muscles? Are we developing them along with our physical ones so that we are healthy enough to do battle when the battles come?
When Satan attacks are we strong enough to fight? Are we grounded in the Word of God? Jesus used only the Word of God to respond to Satan. When he was tempted, after forty days of fasting in the wilderness, Jesus’ said, “Man shall not live on bread alone but by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
We should never talk to Satan or his demons unless we are using Scripture. How can we use it if we don’t know it? Spiritual warfare is real and if we do not train to fight we will lose the battles. One way we can train is by studying and using the Word of God in its right context. This is called hermeneutics. Hermeneutics 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:
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 and 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 just doing 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:
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 our culture and lives 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.
***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. Commit a special verse or passage to memory, or put it in a journal or on a card.
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.
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
***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.
Understanding this process will also help us as we begin to explore the question from Apologetics’ Roadmap Point #4: How do we know the Bible is the Word of God? Join us next week!
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 this year 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.