Hermeneutics Lesson I: The Need to Interpret Factors Calling for Extra Care in Interpreting the Bible 1. It is God’s Word, so interpreting it has eternal ramifications. 2. It is an old book, so the different thought patterns, historical circumstances, cultural habits, and life experiences of the human authors can complicate the interpretive task. 3. The Bible was written in a different language, so most laymen will be one step removed from the source material. 4. Some parts of the Bible are admittedly more difficult to understand than other parts. Much of the prophetic, apocalyptic, and poetic literature is filled with strange symbolism. 5. The KJV: as useful as it once was and as beautiful as is much of its translation, its archaic language has confused the modern reader and convinced us the interpretative task is best left to the experts. Our task is twofold: 1. We want to learn the general rules of interpretation so as to discover what the text meant to those when it was written so as to make proper application today, and... 2. learn the special rules of interpretation that are needed to understand each specific type of literature in Scripture. Hermeneutics comes from a Greek word that means to “explain” or “interpret.” Possibly this word has a connection to Hermes, the Greek god serving as spokesman for the gods, delivering divine messages to man. Hermeneutics = “The practice or discipline of interpretation based on proper rules and procedures.” Exegesis = “The careful, systematic study of the Scriptures to discover the original, intended meaning.” Hermeneutics is the broader of the two terms, establishing the rules for exegesis. Some Questions to Ask Questions of Context: - historical context (Who? What? When? Where? Why? - literary context -The meaning of words in relation to sentences, sentences to paragraphs, paragraphs to books, etc. Questions of Content: The meaning of words and grammatical relationships. Historical Context: Who Is writing? Why is he writing? To whom is he writing? What are the historical events surrounding this piece of literature? When was it written? Some of this can be easily gleaned from the text: Ruth 1:1, Is 6:1, Jer 1:1-3, Lk. 1:1ff, Gal. 1:6, Jude 1-2 Sometimes however, we must go to the experts: In Ruth, what was the relationship between the Jews and Moabites? What were the Messianic expectations in Israel when John the Baptist began his ministry? What was the city of Corinth like which would give clues to the problems in the Corinthian church? Ezekiel 1:1-3, Matt. 23:5, Jonah 3:3, Rev. 2:6, I Cor. 11:3-5 Literary Context Literary context means words have meanings only as they are found in sentences, and sentences find meaning as they relate to surrounding sentences and paragraphs. Here we ask, “So what? What’s the point? What does the author mean by this?” This is the point of exegesis: to discover what the author meant, we must try to follow his train of thought. Questions of Content The question of content is more specific than literary context, though there is overlap. Questions of content refers to the meaning of words and grammatical relationships. For example: John 3:16 What is “so;” extent, or manner? What is “the world?” What is “only begotten?” What is “perish?” Some Rules of Thumb 1. The only valid interpretation is the one the author intended for the reader to make. There is only one meaning to a text (with some rare exceptions). We do not start with “what the text means to me,” but with the what the author intended to convey. Applications may vary, but meaning is firm. 2. Look for connecting phrases such as “thus,” “therefore,” “so then,” “for,” etc. This will give guidance in the author’s flow of thought. 3. Ignore chapter and verse divisions (eg. I Cor. 11:1, Phil 4:1) 4. Note changes in person and vocabulary (Ps. 91 - vs. 1-2, “I;” vs. 3-13, “you;” vs. 14-16, God speaks). 5. Note recurring words and phrases in paragraphs, books, etc. 6. Look for the big picture (Lk. 1:1-2, Acts 1:1-2, Gal. 1:6) 7. Different forms of literature (parables, law, history, etc.) have differing rules of interpretation. Regardless of the literary form, however, remember the author was attempting to convey meaning. 8. Try to avoid bringing your own cultural and ecclesiastical traditions to the text (I Cor. 13:10, II Peter 1:19-20, I Tim. 5:23). 9. Be aware that at times applications may be culturally relevant, though the principle is universal (foot washing, the “holy kiss”).