LECTURE ONE – HERMENEUTICS

 

Introduction to Hermeneutics

 

This course is foundational to all the Biblical subjects that you will examine in your degree program.  It precedes all theological courses because correct theology demands a correct hermeneutic, and a Biblical hermeneutic will produce a Biblical theology.  Erroneous theology can be traced to an errant hermeneutic.

 

For some students, this will be a new exercise.  For others, it is an advanced study of undergraduate classes in Biblical interpretation.  In some cases, this experience in the Scriptures will guide you to an element of correction to commonly held misconceptions.

 

During your source reading for this course, you should be aware that there is more error written on this subject than truth.  The goal of the course is to help you understand a Biblical hermeneutic and, as a result, be better able to identify both major and minor aberrations. The course text was deliberately chosen because it illustrates the contrast between use of a text-sourced system and others based on theory and/or philosophy.  At the end of this course, you will be given an opportunity to communicate, from the Scripture, the Biblical system represented in our class text.

 

Explanation

 

The word “Biblical” is easy to use.  Leaders tend to use it to legitimatize all kinds of humorous and seriously flawed theological notions.  When we use the word, we mean “that which rises from the Bible without the infection of human presupposition and intent.”  You need to learn to challenge things that are not logical, even those used by well-known intellectuals.  The fact that a person is intellectual does not mean his conclusions are anywhere near the truth; any course in the history of Christian thought will give ample evidence of that fact.  Well-meaning theologians often refer to Biblical theology as the discipline that is limited to the languages of the Bible.  In listening to their explanations, I personally have concluded that they must view systematic theology, historical theology, and doctrinal theology as “lesser beings.”

 

The thinking person would have to ask, “If the study of Biblical languages is Biblical theology, would not that then make the other courses un-Biblical theology?”  My view is that Biblical theology includes all that God has given in the theology of the Bible, rather than just one part.  Later in this course, we will discuss the reason why any independent rule, such as the use of grammar alone, or as the primary rule can actually be dangerous.

 

We will continually refer to the hermeneutic that rises from the text of Scripture as the “Biblical hermeneutic,” and this course will demonstrate it repeatedly.

 

Definition

 

In a broad sense, “Hermeneutics is a science of interpretation and termination.  The word is derived from the name of the Greek god, Hermes, who was the messenger and herald of the gods and the interpreter of Jupiter.”[i]  Hermeneutics is the art of finding the meaning and intent behind an author’s words.

 

Theology is a science, and it is rightfully called the queen of the sciences.  In relation to the Bible, hermeneutics is the science of interpreting a Biblical text and then expounding the text based upon that interpretation.

 

This process goes far beyond individual words.  Close attention must be paid to grammatical construction and syntax.  We will see that the process is also guided by the micro and macro context, and the historical setting at the time of the writing is very important.

 

The discipline of hermeneutics is far-ranging.  Advanced studies in the subject would include, but not be limited to, the following:

 

        The history of hermeneutics

        Aberrations of hermeneutical forms

        Contemporary hermeneutical systems

        Philosophical concepts as they affect interpretation

        Challenges to the Biblical hermeneutic

        Current issues and Biblical interpretation

        Biblical criticism in contrast to the science of interpretation

        The use of a Biblical hermeneutic and systematic theology

 

It will become clear to the student that there is no research, study, preparation, or presentation where this subject is not an issue, and that any hermeneutic that does not rise from Scripture can produce anything the interpreter wishes to say.  In this course, our focus will be on the basic methodology, guidelines, and rules that rise from the Scripture and will produce an interpretation true to the text.

 

A High View of God and the Bible

 

The interpreter’s approach to the text does depend on one’s presuppositions.  Individual motives may be hidden at the outset of his work, but they will be revealed in the process.  God should be displayed as the center of all the interpreter’s conclusions.  The highest good and motive is to glorify God, which requires a high view of God.  The holiness of God, and His sovereign character in all that He is and does, should be reflected in our considerations.  If, on the other hand, man is constantly placed in the center of our interpretation, direction, and ministry, that indicates a low view of God.  This will be demonstrated as we continue.  Only the Biblical hermeneutic can produce a high view.

 

A high view of the Bible will also be revealed in the student’s process and conclusions.  This book is unquestionably the Word of God.  Any interpretation that adds to, or takes away from, the text is unacceptable.

 

One of the first considerations is the matter of inspiration.  A low view of inspiration will corrupt any possibility of obtaining an accurate result.  From the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, man has been adjusting what God has said.  I refer to this as the “Lucifer Syndrome.” Man has an innate desire to be like God and to know what God knows. Complete theological systems have been built on the effort to know as much about salvation as God knows.  The rejection of Bible authority, sufficiency, and supremacy comes from a low view of the Bible.  It is for this reason that you will study carefully the theological concepts contained in Scripture, such as inspiration, revelation, animation, and inerrancy.  In this study, you will also consider the matter of illumination and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpretation.  For now, a simple reminder of inspiration will be sufficient.

 

How did the truth get in the Bible?  This question is answered clearly in II Timothy 3:16 and II Peter 1:20, 21.  God used inspiration to accomplish this.  Of course he used human writers, but supervised the writing in such a manner that it was “God-breathed.”  The writers were “borne along” in such a way that the material was of no private interpretation.  That is how God’s truth entered the Bible.

 

 

The Bible Is Literature

 

This course is not the same thing as a study of the Bible as literature. That is a matter you will consider in the study of Bibliology.  If the Bible is literature, then we must abide by the rules that are followed in the study of any literature.  To understand the intended meaning of an author of any type of literature, the following are necessary prerequisites:

 

Grammatical Interpretation – All literature must be understood by using the grammar relating to the language in which it was written, so the grammatical rules and language usage of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are required.

 

Contextual Interpretation – All literature is set in a context.  In order for its original meaning to be maintained, it must be understood in its context, both macro and micro.

 

Historical Interpretation – All literature is written in a historical setting.  The Bible can be understood only by accurately reviewing the setting of the text at the time it was written.

 

Literal Interpretation – All literature is expected to be literal, unless the text reveals that it is poetry or fiction.  Though greatly misunderstood by many, the fact is that all Scripture must be viewed as literal, unless the text itself tells us that it is allegorical.

 

It should be obvious that these rules are not man-made, but that they rise naturally from the Scripture text.

 

 

 

 

 


[i] Hartill, J. Edwin. Biblical Hermeneutics, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1062. 7.

 

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