Purpose of this Session
Theology is replete with high sounding words that describe certain approaches to help us uncover the meaning behind passages of Scripture. In this lesson we will be looking at hermeneutics, which essentially means stepping into the shoes of the original writers so we can better understand what they were trying to communicate.
Hermeneutics is the science of Biblical interpretation. The application of this science is called exegesis. Essentially it involves the process whereby the reader or interpreter of any given text seeks to step into the shoes of the original writer, thereby reconstructing and understanding the original intention of the author.
We are fortunate today to have many linguistic and interpretative tools that can help us to accomplish this. In hermeneutics the student takes time to consider such things as:
- The language in which the original text was written.
Do we have a trustworthy translation of the text from which we are seeking to understand the original? Tools such as Strong’s concordance and other Hebrew/Greek lexicons can help with this also.
- The style of writing
Is the written work historical, proverbial, parabolic, poetic, prophetic? The Style of writing will influence the way we interpret the text. For example, a simple historical account of an event will be viewed and understood differently to a parable, which is an imaginary or symbolic description pointing to a deeper truth. To apply the rules for interpreting a parable to a historical event would be a misapplication of interpretive principles.
- The Cultural setting
Many of the events and pronouncements in the Scriptures can only be fully understood in their cultural (often Jewish) setting. Again, several helps exist to aid the student in this such as the works of Alfred Edersheim, and other Biblical Handbooks which outline the customs and cultures in which certain texts were written.
- The Geographic setting
Sometimes understanding the geography of a portion of Scripture can aid our comprehension of events. Various Bible atlases and other helps can furnish us with this information. An example would be knowing the situation of the various Old Testament prophets. Some prophesied in the Kingdom period of Jewish history, others in exile after Israel had been conquered by their enemies.
- The Time of writing
Again, the ‘when’ can have important bearing upon our interpretation of certain Scriptures.
- To whom was the original text written
Who were the intended audience of the text originally, and why? Was the text written to an individual or a group? Etc.
In our studies Bible handbooks, dictionaries, atlases and commentaries provide an armoury of helpful tools that can clothe the bare bones of a text with a more thorough contextual understanding. It is important however to always remember that God the Holy Spirit can quicken a Scripture to our understanding and apply it personally to our lives, placing upon it a significance for us personally that is not inherent in the text, and we should always have our spiritual ear tuned to the Teacher as we dig for understanding.
Examples of symbolic language would also include many of the parables of Jesus, and many of the terms He used to describe Himself (A Door, a Shepherd, a Light, Bread, Living water etc).