Hermeneutics

The term “hermeneutics” refers to the science, art, or technique of interpretation,

Biblical hermeneutics is about the approaches of looking at the Bible and interpreting what it means. There are many ways of looking at the Bible and interpreting it, thus leading to multiple hermeneutic approaches.

These different approaches lead to different sets of rules for interpretation of the Bible which has led to the split of Catholic and Protestant and to the many denominations of the Protestant faith.

The ultimate goal of hermeneutics is to establish rules of interpretation to discover the truths and values in the Bible and what the text truly means. In reality, everyone who approaches the Bible is engaging with a hermeneutic, taking in what it says and making sense of it through their own personal hermeneutic lens.

The goal of hermeneutics as a study, however, is not to look at the Bible with a subjective or tainted lens, as a person might do approaching the Bible on their own, but to try to discern what the intended meaning of the passage is, whether for readers at the time it was written or for us today.

Biblical hermeneutics take place within the Bible itself. Authors of the psalms and the prophets often looked back to the books of the Law and incorporated additional revelation from God on the subject. Differing biblical hermeneutics led to the notorious religious factions such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes that Jesus dealt with in the Gospels. These groups differed in their interpretation of the Law’s teaching on issues such as the afterlife, proper sacrifice, and the study of the Law itself

The purpose of hermeneutics is to discover what God wants us to take away, understand. Exegesis is our results after using specific hermeneutics.

The simplest explanation of the difference between hermeneutics and exegesis is that hermeneutics is the rules (concepts) used in the act and exegesis is the results of our study.

Neither hermeneutics nor exegesis, however, should be confused with eisegesis. Whereas exegesis is where someone engaged in exegetical study comes to conclusions based on careful, objective analysis of a text, someone who engages in eisegesis approaches the text with preconceived ideas and attempts to find passages and interpret the text in a way that will support those claims.

Different hermeneutical approaches can sometimes lead to wildly different interpretations.

During the first 100 years after Christ the main hermenutics was the principle of “prophecy fulfillment” showing Christ fullfilled Old Testament prophecy and was carried over from the Apostolic Age and was continued up to the beginning of the 3rd century A.D

“Prophecy fulfillment” showing how the New Testament “Christ Jesus” fulfilled the Old Testament and was the primary hermeneutical method because Roman society placed a high value upon both antiquity and oracles. By using the Old Testament (a term linked with supersessionism) to validate Jesus, early Christians sought to tap into both the antiquity of the Jewish scriptures and the oracles of the prophets.

As early as the third century, Christian hermeneutics began to split into two primary schools: Catechetical “School of Alexandria” and “School of Antioch”.

The “Alexandrian” biblical interpretations stressed allegorical readings, often at the expense of the texts’ literal meaning. Origen and Clement of Alexandria were two major scholars in this school.

The “Antiochene” school stressed the literal and historical meaning of texts. Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsus were the primary figures in this school.

The “Antiochene” school stressed the grammatical-historical or literal method, and the “Alexandrian” stressed the allegorical method.

The literal method seeks to understand the words of the passage in their normal, natural, and customary meaning within the context. While the allegorical method seeks to understand the words of the passage in a deeper, more obscure way; it searches for the spiritual meaning that is beyond the intent of the author

Augustine (354–430) contributed to the hermeneutical debate with his fourfold method of interpretation. This process grew into the following steps:

  1. the literal understanding,
  2. the rationale of the passage,
  3. the harmony between the Old and New Testaments, and
  4. the allegorical meaning.

Later, The Medieval Christian biblical interpretations of text incorporated exegesis into a similar fourfold mode which emphasized the distinction between the letter and the spirit of the text. Martin Luther was using this technique at the beginning of the Reformation. This method had the four following senses.

  1. The literal sense (sensus historicus) of scripture denotes what the text states or reports directly.
  2. The allegorical sense (sensus allegoricus) explains text in the light of the doctrinal content of church dogma, so that each literal element has a symbolic meaning (see also Typology (theology)).
  3. The moral application of a text to the individual reader or hearer is the third sense (the sensus tropologicus or sensus moralis).
  4. The fourth sense (sensus anagogicus) draws out of the text the implicit allusions it contains to secret metaphysical and eschatological knowledge, called gnosis.

This continued until the reformation. After the Reformation a major point of separation between Protestants and Catholics during the Reformation was the interpretation of Scripture.” Therefore, the meaning for the Reformers rested in the text and became for like “Antiochene” school”, whereas for the Catholic Church meaning rested in the text and the church’s proclamation about the text more like the “Alexandrian from which the following had derived.

Four major hermeneutical branches that arose:

  1. Literal interpretation. This is most prominent in Protestant circles. However, it has a long history. Literal interpretation was championed by, among others, Jerome (4th century), Thomas Aquinas (13th century), Martin Luther (15/16th century), and John Calvin (16th century). This approach interprets the text according to its plain or literal meaning according to grammatical construction, historical context, and the intention of the author.
  2. Moral interpretation. This strove to derive ethical lessons from different parts of the Bible. For example, a document called the Letter of Barnabas dating from around the turn of the second century, employed this approach to interpret the Levitical dietary laws not as forbidding eating the flesh of certain animals, but rather as forbidding certain vices associated with these animals.
  3. Allegorical interpretation. This interprets the Bible as having a second level of meaning beyond the actual people, places, and events mentioned. Clement of Alexandria and Origen were two adherents of this approach, although Origen embraced a threefold approach to Scripture as literal, moral, and spiritual (allegorical). As is evident from Origen, multiple types of hermeneutics can be synthesized.
  4. Anagogical or mystical interpretation. The anagogical approach was more typical to Jewish study than Christianity. This approach interprets biblical events as prefigures of the afterlife.

Since the Reformation hermeneutics have continued to evolve and in more recent years there are three guidelines that will generally contribute to a healthy approach. The first is to assume that the Bible, in general, says what it means. That is, the Bible is generally to be interpreted literally, taking the plain meaning of the passage over a more complicated, esoteric interpretation, unless it’s obviously meant to be symbolic or a figure of speech.

A second tip is to consider the passage in context. What was the “historical gramatical” hermementic context? Who wrote it? Who were they writing to, if anyone? Why? What was the cultural context? What was going on at the time?

Finally, it’s essential to interpret the passage within the context of the Bible itself. What verses precede and follow the passage? What is the passage as a whole about? What about the book? Is it referencing a different part of Scripture?

First, read with the assumption that Scripture is coherent. If it’s inspired by God and inerrant, then there are no defects. Thus, if something doesn’t make sense or seems contradictory, it is due to faulty understanding or lack of context, not biblical error, and probably requires more research.

Second, read any text with an awareness of where it fits within the broader biblical story. Ortlund compares reading a passage out of context to suddenly picking up a novel in the middle.

Third, Ortlund advises reading the Bible through the lens of Jesus. Jesus said that the Old Testament all points to Him (Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44; John 5:39, John 5:46). The Gospels are obviously about Jesus, and the rest of the New Testament points back to Him. Thus, the entire Bible points to Jesus and should be understood through the coming, arrival, redemption, and restoration of Christ. This third element leans toward the modern “Redemptive Theology” approach a Christ centered “redemptive historical” hermeneutic,

Finally, Ortlund urges readers to approach the Bible prayerfully, asking God for wisdom.

Modern hermeneutics. The discipline of hermeneutics emerged with the new humanist education of the 15th century as a historical and critical methodology for analyzing texts.

Basic Principles of Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutic
The grammatical-historical method comprises several aspects. In grammatical interpretation, the interpreter seeks to understand the meaning of the words, syntax, and grammar of a passage.

These methodologies range from historical-critical, to post-colonial, to rhetorical, to cultural-critical, to ecological to canonical-critical.

Some focus on approaching the Bible from a historical or archeological standpoint, while others see the meaning of the Bible as shifting and adapting with culture.

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Understanding the Bible Biblical Typology Bible Interpretation

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