Olive Tree Learning Center
Hermeneutics is a science and art of interpretation, and it applies to all forms of literature; but as we look at it in reference of Scripture, it's the interpretation of Scripture by a process that one needs to follow and also a skill that one actually develops by use.
When we say hermeneutics, that's from a Greek word which means to interpret. So the importance of hermeneutics is the fact that one can approach the Scripture somewhat haphazardly and come to ideas that really have no justification by the reading of the text that may come from some other source besides reading the biblical text itself. So it's a game, in the sense of, when you play a game like football or baseball, you have rules that you have to follow. When you read a literary document, you have to follow rules: you can't make up the rules as you go, you have to actually be consistent with what's in the text itself.
So we have what we normally call literal grammatical historical interpretation. That is, you have to deal with a text in context, understanding that it actually comes from an author who wrote the words to be understood. And in the Scripture, we're not only speaking about the idea of human authors but also a Divine Author. The human authors provide for us their own setting from which the biblical text is written, but the Divine Author is the One who has a holistic view of the entire biblical text from Genesis to Revelation, in which He seeks to work through human authors to give a meaning of His view of Himself and His world. So hermeneutics is extremely important because you cannot read the text for application first; you must read the text for meaning. What did the author—and ultimately even the Divine Author—mean by the words in the text?
Hermeneutics addresses a number of areas, and in general it deals with the question of the intent of an author versus the application of a reader. Sometimes you have people that have Bible studies, and they sit around in a circle, and everybody shares what it means to them, which is not the question to be asked. The question to be asked is, what does it mean? And after we find out what it means—that is, what did the author of Scripture mean in a given text—then you can talk about, what does it mean to me?, which is really application not interpretation. So people sometimes ask the wrong question first.
So you deal with the question of intent of the author—by intent we mean, what did the author intend to say; what is its intended meaning. And sometimes intent can mean its intended purpose, but that's not what I'm referring to. Also, the questions of context. The importance of reading a biblical text in its own context: both its historical context, its grammatical, its cultural, its literary—other words, what was before it and after it, as far as meaning. So the questions of context, the question of intent—also answering the questions of who and what and where and why and when and how. These are found in the text. If you read a text carefully, and don't just simply glide over it, you'll find out that when you start looking and saying, well who wrote this and why did they write it and how did they write it?, all of a sudden the meaning of the text begins to come out to us. And we also have to follow questions of what we call "normal interpretation"—sometimes we use the word "literal"; literal sometimes refers to that which is in contrast to metaphorical or figurative; but sometimes literal means, and this is the way I am meaning it, in other words, what is the plain normal understanding of the text that you would normally read any text. Every kind of text may have a figurative expression, but every text normally means something very straightforward if you just read it carefully. So we want to encourage people to read the text without putting into it something that's not in the text. We have two words we use in biblical studies: one is called exegesis—that is, you read out of a text what's there—over against isogesis where you read into a text what is not there, that is you are introducing it to the text. So trying to help people to approach the text in a careful manner: a manner that reflects the meaning of the words, the grammar, the culture, the history—all these various aspects—to try to see the biblical text from Genesis to Revelation in the same way that the Author understood His meaning as He wrote it, and also how the readers in the original context would have understood it, and not try to put a 21st century spin on the text. So many people read the text, again as I said earlier, for application. Where application is very important, but it's at the end of the study, not at the beginning. Once we understand what God is trying to get through the human authors, for the reader to understand about Himself and about His world and His plans, then we can talk about, now in view of all of that, so what, how does that relate to me?
So these are the kinds of questions we want to address when we are dealing with the question of the significance of biblical interpretation.
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