So who is this Herman Uticks guy, and why should I care?
So, what is Hermeneutics, and why is it important? Hermeneutics is the study of principles of interpretation as applied to the Bible. This is an important topic that all believers should be able to apply themselves to, to prevent poor interpretation and application, and to ensure orthodox theology within our congregation.
It could be very easy to go way down the rabbit hole of Hermeneutics (one of my textbooks is called The Hermeneutical Spiral, for goodness sakes!), but the process can be modeled and explained for lay ministers and parents to use as they teach.
We should start with the question, “What is happening when we read the Bible?” As we read, we are participating in a form of communication with each Book’s author. We have a message transmitter, a message, and a message receiver, and these correspond to the Biblical author, the text, and you, the reader. As we sit and read, we should ask ourselves some basic questions:
- What is the intention of the author in this passage?
- What is the clear, obvious message in this passage?
- What response does the author desire from me, the eventual reader?
To help you form answers to these questions, you should ask some additional questions to provide context around the passage. This can be a fun detective hunt, and should not be a drudgery. Ask about:
- Time (When? How long from A to B? How far from there to me?)
- Geography (What is important about this place? Who settled it? What historical events happened there?)
- Culture (How is the culture here different from my culture here? How was Jewish Culture different from the surrounding peoples?)
- The Language and the Literary questions (What does this word mean in Hebrew and Greek? Could this phrase meant something else in English?
How do the different translations render this? Is this Poetry, Narrative, Prophesy, or Apocalyptic?)
- Nature of God versus the Nature of Man, and the nature of then versus now (Could I expect to see this behavior again, or is it time bound? Is God always like this? Am I seeing God behavior or Man behavior?)
- Orthodoxy & Theology (Is my interpretation in parallel with historical interpretation? Does my interpretation have scriptural guardrails?)
- What is the correct way to apply this (Is this descriptive or proscriptive, that is, does it tell me a story as a warning, or is this a command to obey?)
Correct Biblical interpretation can keep us from building our theology around single verses (such as verses about snake handling) and ensure we have a right view of God (a Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit). It can also allow us to give some grace to fellow believers who view secondary things a bit differently than we do. As an example, a Lutheran with whom we agree about the nature of Christ, but our view of the Lord’s Table as symbolic doesn’t match their view of Communion as having the body and blood “in, with, and under” the bread and wine. While important, this issue does have some room for interpretation that may not match ours.
As teachers here at church and at home, it is important we understand and use the tools of good Biblical interpretation so we can rightly answer our students questions, and our own, with a view to keeping with the founding writers of our faith.
I invite you to review the enclosed article for a simple primer on good hermeneutics: https://research.lifeway.com/2014/03/12/7-principles-of-biblical-interpretation/
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