Hermeneutics: Interpreting and Understanding the Bible – Part 1
Interpreting and Understanding the Bible
This will be a brief introduction to a series of posts on the area of interpreting the Bible that I hope will be helpful.
Christians desire the Word of God. Their love of Christ directs them to search the Scriptures, for they testify of him. Different Christians, however, reading the same Bible, come away with some very diverse ideas about what it teaches. This has been perplexing to many.
Many books have been written on the subject of understanding the Bible. In most books on interpreting the Bible, certain rules and principles are brought to the text in order to understand the precise meaning of the original authors of Scripture. Though many different rules and principles may make a great deal of ‘sense’ and seem very logical when approaching the task of understanding ancient writing, yet we must never forget that the Bible is a unique book. Truly, its author is God. These words have proceeded from the very mouth of God (2 Tim. 3:16; Matt. 4:4). The prophecy of Scripture never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). This is why Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:13:
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
Since this is the unique Word of God, we must listen to its truth so that we might know how we are to understand what is written. Our hermeneutics (method or approach of interpreting the Bible) must be established from the Bible. Any other source is fallible. Our logic is fallible and can be mistaken. God’s Word alone is truth. Jesus affirmed this in his prayer to his Father, in John 17:17: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” We need to look to Scripture to interpret Scripture, for the only infallible rule of interpretation is the Scripture itself.
The cry of the sixteenth century Reformation was sola scriptura or “Scripture alone.” Most evangelical groups would affirm that the Bible is the sufficient and sole guide for our faith and practice. However, despite this common cry, groups have divided and sub-divided. Problems have occurred when God’s people undertake to interpret the Bible. Where do we get our approach for interpreting the Bible?
Our approach needs to come from the Bible itself. If we get particular rules for interpretation from outside the Word of God, regardless how common-sense or rational and logical they seem, then the Bible rests on these ‘rules’. Something outside the Bible, called the hermeneutical rules of biblical interpretation, becomes the foundation upon which the Bible rests. You would then interpret the Bible through those ‘lenses’. These rules become the key to unlock the meaning of the Bible. They are the glasses you must put on in order to ‘see’ the true interpretation of Scripture. But who says those are the right glasses? Who says that that is the key? Who says that is the proper foundation on which to lay the Bible?
What is the only thing that you know that cannot be broken? Jesus tells us, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). In Matthew 22:29, he tells the Jewish religious leaders that they are mistaken because they do not know the Scriptures! We need to make sure that any approach we use to interpret Scripture comes clearly from the Scripture itself. We need to let the Word of God produce the key and any lenses through which we will examine the Bible. Our hermeneutics must be solidly rooted in the clear teaching of the Word of God. Indeed, as we would expect, the Word of God does teach us how it is to be interpreted.
My desire in this series of posts is to discern what the Bible itself teaches us about how to interpret its writings. May the reader be unprejudiced by pre-established rules and ideas, for prejudice inhibits judgment. May you be free to examine the Word of God, as one who thirsts for truth, to make sure that your method of reading and understanding the Scripture is indeed based on the instruction of God himself. I am concerned that many rely too much on books written by scholars, as opposed to a humble and prayerful search and study of the Bible itself (see Matt. 11:25-26; Prov. 2:1-5; James 4:6). If there is no humility, there will be no fruitful hermeneutics.
With this said, may you continue in this study and be refreshed and amazed by the wonder and wisdom of our incredible God. May you be wise. A wise man will listen to the whole matter before drawing conclusions prematurely (See Prov. 18:2, 13).
To be continued…