Factors Calling for Extra Care in Interpreting the Bible

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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”).

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