How Do I Engage in Hermeneutics?
We all use some sort of hermeneutic when we approach the biblical text. The question is, are we using a good hermeneutic?
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 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?
Dr. Dane C. Ortlund of Crossway offers four more tips.
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.
Finally, Ortlund urges readers to approach the Bible prayerfully, asking God for wisdom.
Though there are massive tomes dedicated to hermeneutics, these online resources might help you get started:
Bible Study Tools: The Art and Science of Interpretation
Christianity.com: What Are Exegesis and Eisegesis? 2 Ways to Read the Bible
Biblical Archeology Society: Defining Biblical Hermeneutics
Britannica: Hermeneutics: Principles of Biblical Interpretation
Dr. Kieran Beville: The History of Biblical Hermeneutics
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Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. Her passions for biblical study and creativity collide in her writing. Her debut novel Wraithwood releases Nov. 7, 2020. She has had 150+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.