INTRODUCTION

            Yes, hermeneutics. What is it? It is not a man's name. It comes from the Greek word, “hermeneutike.” The English pronunciation is hur-ma-noo’tik and it is used sometimes in the singular and sometimes in the plural. The word means “Interpreter” and also carries with it the idea of “explanatory.” It is the science and methodology of interpretation, especially of the Bible.

 

            “The etymology (word history) places the origin with Hermes, the Greek god of myth whose role is that of messenger of the gods. Besides being mediator between the gods themselves, and between the gods and humanity, he also leads souls to the underworld upon death. He is considered to be the inventor of language and speech: an interpreter, a liar, a thief and a trickster. These multiple roles make Hermes an ideal representative figure for hermeneutics. As Socrates notes, words have the power to reveal or conceal, thus promoting the message in an ambiguous way” (Couzen-Hoy, David. The Critical Circle, 1981).

            Its application goes back at least as far as Aristotle in ancient Greece and has since broadened, expanded, taken on parochial aspects, and in general has evolved into numerous techniques and methodology in the modern era. Talmudical Hermeneutics and its Jewish Oral Tradition dates back from the period 515 BC to 70 AD and became what is known as the Talmud. The Catholics have their own set of rules. Numerous schools and proponents have emerged with their versions of hermeneutics, which have different applications to various art forms beyond the Bible. It continues to mutate and in recent times, even in the Lord's church, some Christian schools and prominent leaders have developed a set of “New Hermeneutics” to fit their understanding of Scripture, which has led to serious conflict and division. As is true to human nature where men have a tendency to exalt their own wisdom, philosophy and varied theological interpretation have crept in and divine standards have been compromised.

            What is certain is that a major factor behind the multiplicity of disciplines and their interpretive rationales is “point of view.” As in the Jewish point of view, the Catholic point of view, the philosophical point of view, the ecumenical view, the humanist, etc. What appears to be lacking in the dichotomy (division into contradictory parts or opinions) is “God's view.” But that is the view and standard that means everything to us. We have no right to private interpretation (2 PET 1:20), no Jewish tradition or Catholic tradition to reconcile, no Godless humanistic opinion to espouse.

            OUR SPECIAL NEEDS- So our effort therefore will be to discuss hermeneutics in a way that will acknowledge God's view (or will), lead to the truth, promote unity in our congregation and in the church and avoid division by all speaking the same thing and being of the same mind (I COR 1-10) as we read, study and interpret God's word.

            Another important factor is “inspiration” of the Scriptures. I have a feeling from much reading of various “scholars” and theologians that most of us accept 2 TIM 3:16-17 much more restrictively than they do. We see more of God's hand in the Scripture, less the hand of the human writers. We are more likely to believe in the inspiration and selection of the very words, reasoning that God would not allow man to corrupt His message in any substantial form or its completeness. We believe that in His eternal plan, He wants us to be able to find and obey His will without any undue obstruction or difficulty. In fact, James calls the moral and ethical teaching of the Word the “perfect law of liberty” (JAS 1:25).

            And still another important factor that helps shape our approach is that we firmly believe that God has commanded us to 'abide” in His Word, not to go beyond it, not to add to it or subtract from it. Which has led us to a popular saying that “where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” Thus we do not want to read anything into (that is, to interpret) a Scripture that isn't there, or leave out anything that is.

            This is important enough to present an example: There are those who believe in and practice baptism of infants. To “prove” their case, they take such scripture as ACTS 16:33 in the conversion of the Philippian jailer: “And he (the jailer) took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds and immediately he was baptized, he all his household”: “There!” the protagonist will say, “the whole household, including the children were baptized.” This is a good example of interpretation that is not warranted. We don't know and we aren't told whether there were children or not. This Scripture sheds no light at all on the question and cannot be used for or against the issue. We can look at every conversion in the Bible (ACTS) and we will find no evidence of baptism of children and assume that there were none in the household of the jailer. But our best position is to be silent here. We might note that inference and implication can be used in interpretation (hermeneutics) but only if it is necessary implication.

            This very strict hermeneutic rule may not be unique to the churches of Christ, but my own long experience is that it's very rare. And there is yet another way in which we tend to be different, calling for special hermeneutical treatment. Other interpreters do not always share our strict belief in “all Scripture” being inspired. They believe there are contradictions and ambiguities (“liable to more than one interpretation” (WEBSTER)). We believe that the Bible is one unified, inspired whole, and free of contradiction and significant error. We acknowledge that there may be some minor copying errors, especially with numbers, or a rare mistranslation such as in ACTS 12:4 where the translators of the KJV used “Easter” (a pagan feast) instead of “Passover,” but all succeeding translations have corrected this.

            We don't think God tells the truth in one place, and then lies and contradicts it in another. For one thing, it is impossible for God to lie (HEB 6:18). If there is an apparent contradiction, it is the interpretation that is faulty, not the Scripture. Our hermeneutic rule in these cases should be to seek the correct interpretation and gainsay the contradiction. This is also worthy of example.

            Can you explain why LUKE 4:4 says “Joseph went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea” (Bethlehem)? Bethlehem was at least a three day journey south of Nazareth. Do we have a Bible error here? We would not say here in Annapolis, would we, that we're going up to Florida. But we might accurately say that we are going up to the Great Smokies (which are a far piece south of here) because they are on a higher elevation. Which is precisely the situation with Nazareth and Judea. See also ACTS 21:12 and LK 10:30 for similar usage.

            There is a reality we do need to face, however. All Scripture is inspired, but it is not all easy to interpret. Peter acknowledged this in connection with Paul's writings in 2 PET 3:15-16, saying that some of his letters are “hard to understand” (NASB).

            But we can seek and achieve agreement in interpretation of all vital aspects of God's truth (most of which is very explicit) and tolerate minor, divergent views on the really difficult parts that do not directly bear on our salvation and which should not cause division.

 

EXEGESIS

            There is an allied methodology and objective in interpretation that we need to consider. It is expressed in the word “exegesis,” also from the Greek. It is also a bit hard to pronounce: WEBSTER has it as ek'sa-je'-sis. It is defined as a “critical explanation or interpretation, especially of a text.” This seems to, and does, parallel hermeneutics very closely.

            Let's stop and think about it for a minute in reference to the numerous letters in the New Testament. They were written nearly 2,000 years ago to recipients sometimes very different from us and usually to address the certain needs of the church at that time. What did the words mean to them? What was their culture, political environment, the occasion of the book or letter, etc.? The message to them might have been interpreted in the same way we read it today, akin to it, or even significantly different. We think of this as the original meaning. Discovering this is the goals of exegesis.

            That should be our starting point. Then we can employ hermeneutics to determine what it means for us in our age and how to apply it today. Surely God wrote for posterity and no part of His truth is obsolete.

            An excellent example of this need is the book of Revelation. When written, Christians were in present or imminent danger of persecution, which we fortunately are not. Thus the words would have had a much different meaning to them. To ignore this would change our entire approach to the book and result in a poor appreciation and understanding of it.

            Both exegesis and hermeneutics methodology are similar, using the same techniques and rules. We should actually do both in our study, and perhaps unconsciously we often do (very well in this congregation) without making a distinction in terminology.

            Exegesis usually calls for some “expert” help because of the range of historical knowledge needed (think REVELATION again). By “expert,” I mean use of study aids compiled by scholars of different disciplines: Bible dictionaries, commentaries, reference books, lexicons, etc. This is very pertinent to all study, but especially for teachers, and especially teachers of older children and adults.

GENERAL APPROACH

            Hermeneutics is more, much more than a set of rules. It includes all of the methodology and techniques required for the task. There are some stated rules and guidelines which will be discussed, but the means here are as important as the end. Bear in mind that our goal is accurate interpretation of God's Word. How we go about it and the end result in total constitutes the science of hermeneutics. Let's examine the tools.

            TRANSLATIONS- The “basic tool,” as one writer puts it, is a good translation or translations. We will see the importance of this in a moment. Not all translations are equal. Usually, the best ones are the ones done by groups or committees rather than by individuals. We have an idiom we accept as true—two heads are better than one. Well, imagine the advantage of having 60 or 70 (the Septuagint). There are and have been some good individual translations to be sure—that by J. B. Phillips of the New Testament comes to mind. They can be edifying and we don't exclude their value.

            Some translations are more “literal”—word for word, exact meaning. Others are “freer” or “looser,” with more paraphrasing. Some are more modern and reflect current word usage and manner of speaking in a helpful way. We tend to have favorites for various reasons, but a more objective approach; especially towards word accuracy is sensible. Actually, it is more fruitful to accurate translation to have on hand, and use, several translations. Some Bibles have self-contained, running, multiple translations.

            Here is a list of translations generally admired and recommended in the brotherhood (which is meaningful) in alphabetical order:

ASV    American Standard     1901

ESV    English Standard        2001

KJV     King James Version     11611

NASB New American Standard 1971

NIV     New International       1978

NKJV  New King James         1979

PHILLIPS      J.B. Phillips (N.T.)       1958

            And importantly, some Bibles are “multi-tool,” such as the so-called “Study Bible” with a variety of very helpful features, the more the better. These include study notes (commentary), red letters, cross references, dictionaries, limited concordances, pronunciation aids, O.T. Prophesies in CAPS in N.T., chronology, introduction to books, marginal notes, maps, charts, essays, etc. We should positively equip ourselves and our children with the best we can afford and this is not a place to be frugal.

            An extremely important aspect of translations is that out of necessity, the translators have already done much of the exegetical and hermeneutic work for us in their selection of words, sentence structure, consideration of historical/culture values, etc. This is far superior to what we could accomplish on our own.

            STUDY AIDS—These need very little comment. We generally recognize their value, but a few    words may be helpful.

         COMMENTARIES—Probably the last aid to which we should turn (to avoid presupposition), but nevertheless one of the most important. Like translations, some are better than others. Commentaries written by members of the church are preferable for their strictness in abiding in the word of truth. The commentaries (study notes) in a good Study Bible can be excellent for most of the scientific/cultural/historical needs we have.

         BIBLE DICTIONARIES—A collection of great reference citations in many hermeneutically-related fields.

         CONCORDANCES—Every teacher should have a complete concordance. All of us should have an adequate, abridged concordance for key words. A complete concordance usually also has an INDEX-LEXICON at the rear. A lexicon is a dictionary showing the meanings of the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic words in the Bible, and the number of times each occurs in the English (KJ) Version. In each entry in the concordance itself, the Hebrew and Greek words are shown along with their meaning.

         ENGLISH GRAMMAR BOOK—Inexpensive, abridged, but adequate grammars are available.

         COMPUTER HELP—An absolutely amazing resource. The quality of the data needs to be evaluated (GIGO). The access to information seems almost limitless.

A WELL-EQUIPPED INTERPRETER

            As the saying goes, “Be the best you can be.” We certainly want to follow through on that as hermeneutics.

            HOLY SPIRIT—Salvation becomes a qualification here. Those who do not have the gift will be significantly handicapped without it. Christians, who on the other hand, received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” at their scriptural baptism (ACTS 2:38) as an indwelling measure and now have supernatural help. (See a monograph on baptism and another on the Holy Spirit on this website).

            The Apostles received the Comforter (Holy Spirit) to guide them into all truth. In a similar way, but to a much lesser extent, we become a temple of the Holy Spirit, who guides us as we seek God's will. The role of the Spirit can be seen in two important passages of the Scripture: I COR 2:6-16 and II COR 15:18. (These are not quoted here because of space limitations).

            Let it be clear that we are not claiming the direct, supernatural inspiration and revelation afforded the writers of the various books of the Bible. Rather the Spirit helps us remember, apply, gather the truth together, see and hear the message with an open heart and to understand (to admit in a way) the Scripture we know and that we are adding in our hearts. Or to put it another way, to find and to hold fast the truth we seek.

            PRAYER—When we add the power of prayer (Scripturally effective prayer) to the power we have through the Holy Spirit, we have a double measure of help from the Lord.

            We should approach all public and private study and interpretive efforts with prayer. Words to the effect that we want to arrive at truthful conclusions (accurately interpreting the meaning and application) fully reflecting God's will for us rather than our own.

            SEEKER OF WISDOM AND TRUTH—Our sincere goal should be to discover God and His truth for us. We should seek it, earnestly believing in the promise from Jesus that we will find it (MATT 7:7) and that it will set us free (JOHN 8:32) from our bondage to Satan.

            Not forgetting the words of JAMES: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (JAS 1:5).

            MEDITATION—This is another special help and blessing available to Christians, not always fully appreciated or practiced. Without a doubt, it is one of the best routes to grasping and understanding God's word. David praised it highly in PSALM 1. It is a key factor in the development of understanding and application in our hearts. My own testimony is that after many years of studying God's Word, I have discovered that meditation is an invaluable aid.

            AN OPEN HEART—A major problem that interferes with successful interpretation is preconceived ideas. Some of the writers on the subject of hermeneutics use the word “preunderstanding,” warning against it. On this important matter, the Lord gives us much advice.

            Following the lesson on the Sower and Soil (MK 4:1ff), the disciples asked Jesus why He taught in parables. His reply was basically that the truth falls on closed eyes and deaf ears to those who do not have an open heart. Putting it in a positive tone (v. 9), He says “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This has a critical impact on our interpretive efforts—if we come to God's word, blind and deaf in heart, we will miss the message. If we come to God's word rigidly bound by our preunderstandings, we will miss the message. If we come to God's word to prove that we are right in a controversy we have just had with a brother, we may miss the truth and end up like those in MK 4:11: “outside” the “kingdom.” Too often in our study, we see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear. One writer put it beautifully—He said that when “Charlie Brown expects to find the shapes of ducks and sheep in the clouds overhead, he finds them!” Brethren, very few things in understanding and proper interpretation of the Scriptures are more important that truly having an open mind and heart.

LET US PAUSE HERE AND REFLECT ON THE GOODNESS OF GOD. HE HAS GIVEN HIS CHILDREN PERHAPS ALL WE REALLY NEED TO LEARN HIS WILL AND FIND OUR WAY TO HIM.

PRAISE THE LORD.

            HUMAN SKILLS—there are some things we can do on our own to enhance our ability to interpret the Scripture and become “better qualified.”

            For the most accurate results, we need to possess certain competences and we must work with the correct methodology and insight. We need to know and understand what hermeneutics is and how it functions.

            The best qualified hermeneutic (interpreter) will be one who has developed a good knowledge and familiarity of Biblical language, history, culture and especially grammar coupled with a strong belief in the inspiration and inerrancy of the entire Bible.

 

WORDS AND GRAMMAR

            The means of communication and the crux of interpretation—let's say a few “words” about words.

            We have already stated that much of word hermeneutics has already been done for us by the translators. They have selected the word which best represents the meaning of the original languages and accordingly also the sentence structure. Modern translators, beginning in English in the late 1800's, have updated former versions with current usage. Thus, we have an excellent, reliable starting point for our own search for the truth.

            There are a couple of things that we can do to enhance our word understanding.

1)Make regular and frequent use of a modern English dictionary.

2)Do word study in the Bible to determine what they mean in other contexts or like ones

            Not far behind words in significance is grammar. Good knowledge of grammar is very important in order to be able to put words together to see the meaning of all parts of the sentence structure. Here again, translators have proven excellent in this respect, well-crafting the words together; we just have to do a good job or taking it apart.

            My impression is that modern educators have apparently dropped the ball in teaching grammar well. The computer age is virtually destroying “the king's English,” and TV “ain't” helping “neither.” Announcers, especially the “color” commentators on the sports shows, almost always misuse adjectives and adverbs. What kind of influence is that on our young people? The networks appear to ignore this.

            But it seems fair to say that the better we know grammar, the better and more accurately we will find correct meaning. This may be an area for self-improvement; parsing (breaking down a sentence into component parts for analysis) and physically diagramming a sentence (at least in your mind) are essential techniques. Remember, adjectives are words which modify a noun (a person, place or thing) and adverbs are used to modify a verb (action word), an adjective or another adverb. Sometimes these appear as clauses, which can be used either as adjectives or adverbs.

            One of the most important and much-used grammatical components are pronouns; there are a lot of pronouns in the Bible. A pronoun is a word used for (pro) a noun. If we don't accurately determine what noun in the sentence, or nouns, the pronoun stands for (antecedent), we are likely to misunderstand the meaning of the text.

            Well, there is a grammar rule and an essential hermeneutics rule for this that we need to know and properly apply: A pronoun stands for the nearest noun going backward in the sentence with which it agrees in number (singular or plural), gender and case.

            I present a very significant example—a pronoun which I know from my own experience is liable to be misinterpreted.

            When Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper at the last Passover feast with His disciples, He said in LUKE 22:16: I shall never again eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” There are two “its” here, obviously with the same antecedent. Some think “it” refers to the Passover. Some think “it” refers to the Lord's Supper, which He was now instituting. Here is the preceding verse (going backward from the pronoun (15): “And He said to them, 'I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.'” The correct answer jumps out at us: Passover, with which “it' agrees in all respects.

GENERAL PRINCIPLES

            It is somewhat surprising as we study hermeneutics to find a paucity of actual rules with which to accomplish our objective. As mentioned above, the science is dominated by methodology and techniques and is seldom refined into specific procedures. What rules are encountered are not standardized but vary with the “experts.”

            Under the sub-heading “OUR SPECIAL NEEDS,” I have listed some critical differences that must be taken into account as we discuss hermeneutics from the Lord's viewpoint. Those differences have led us to follow a strict hermeneutic approach to God's will—that is the meaning He wants us to get out of His word as we study it.

            ESPECIALLY IN THE LORD'S CHURCH, WE AGREE THAT THE BIBLE TEACHES US IN JUST THREE WAYS. And our hermeneutic approach is mandated by these...call them rules if you like.

1)EXPLICITLY—Given in explicit language which means “without vagueness or ambiguity, plain speaking, forthright, simple to understand. Worded in such a way that there is little or no room for misinterpretation.Consider probably the best known verse in the Bible: JOHN 3:16: “For God so loved the word that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Doesn't everyone who professes to be a Christian get the very same message from this verse?

2)NECESSARY INFERENCE—In JOHN 3:16, the promise is to “whoever,” but it doesn't give any names. Surely I can infer that it includes me, Frank, or you although we are not explicitly named.

3)Consider baptism: we do not have an explicit command to “immerse” someone, but in total, baptism references are full of implications that immersion is intended. The inference must be “necessary”—cannot be avoided. There is no room for speculation or denial of the meaning of the text.

4)BY APPROVED EXAMPLE—Ah, you might think, “that's not controversial.” But you would be quite wrong! I quote from FEE and STUART. In discussing how we should interpret narratives from “ACTS” on p. 88, we read: “By and large, most sectors of evangelical Protestantism have a 'restoration movement mentality.' We regularly look back to the church and Christian experience in the first century either as the norm to be restored or the ideal to be approximated. Thus we often say things like, 'ACTS plainly teaches us that...' However, it seems obvious that not all of the 'plain teaching' is equally plain to all.”

5)     The words 'restoration movement mentality” and other comments seems negative, almost pejorative (disparaging) to me. This is followed by the text on p. 97 under the heading SOME GENERAL PRINCIPLES—“The crucial hermeneutical question here is whether biblical narratives that describe what happened in the early church also function as norms intended to delineate what must happen in the ongoing church. Are there instances from ACTS of which one may appropriately say, “We must do this,” or should one merely say, “We may do this”? 

6)    “Our assumption, along with many others, is that unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is merely narrated or described can never function in a normative way” (“normative” means “prescribing a norm or standard”). Note that they claim a viewpoint “along with many others.” Theirs is not an isolated view. Specifically, they mention on p. 98 doctrine that cannot be justified thereby (approved example): The frequency of the Lord's Supper, necessity of baptism, its mode, and the frequency or day of the week of the assembly. Do you suppose they may have us in mind?

            There are hermeneutics and then there are hermeneutics. I am reminded of antiques: “One man's hermeneutics are another man's trash.”

            Consider: 1) The writers of all the Bible books were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Would He have inspired them to portray the Father's will inaccurately? 2) The writers of the New Testament were largely apostles who had followed Jesus for three years, who knew Him intimately, who had been taught personally by Jesus (often recorded), and who were sent the Holy Spirit to remind them of everything. 3) Jesus had also personally selected Paul, against overwhelming reason, appeared to him, made him the Apostle to the Gentiles, and the author of the many letters 4) Paul must have known the mind of Christ as well as anybody ever. Paul frequently gave himself as an example, even in his writings, exhorting the churches to follow his example (what he did) and his teaching (what he said (I COR 4:16)). 5) The miraculous measure of the Holy Spirit was given to many to guide them in word and deed.

            To whom should we go for our Bible pattern? The Holy Spirit or to men who can't even agree on what they think it should be?

            PRACTICAL—There are two very important aspects of good interpretation which are often overlooked. One is simply to use common sense. When Jesus says, “upon this rock I will build my church,” common sense tells us that He doesn't literally mean a “rock” as we ordinarily think of it. That leads us to discover the meaning He intended in another way. Common sense often comes into play when we encounter possible figurative or apocalyptic language and usually can serve as quite well in making determinations. Keep your common sense handy and use it regularly.

            A second important tool is logic. This is a science with its own rules, but which is closely allied to common sense. Logic is another area for self-improvement.

            COMMENTARY—The very best commentary on the Scripture is the Scripture itself. This importantly includes the contextual Scripture immediately after and immediately before the verse or sentence being analyzed, but also any verses nearby or elsewhere in the Scripture that might shed some light on it.

            This should be the first road we take on our journey to understanding. Here's where the cross reference tool valuably comes into play. Follow the references and subsequent references (note them so you don't repeat) until you feel comfortable that you have the full light on what the Lord has to say about it.

            CONTEXT—The consideration of context in Exegesis and Hermeneutics is a decisive priority. The term “literary context' is defined by Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard in their reference book entitled Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (W Publishing Group 1993) as “words only have meanings in sentences and for the most part biblical sentences only have meanings in relation to preceding and succeeding sentences.” Of course words have meanings independently, usually several, but the intended meaning to be discovered is governed by the words around. Most of us feel pretty comfortable with the concept of context and its application and use it consistently in our study. We might add, however, that we should also consider expanded context to passages more remote, the entire book and the entire Bible in diminishing degrees.

            It is also axiomatic that the smaller the passage being considered, the greater the chance of error in interpretation for the simple reason that there is less light shed on it.

            Another factor involved in using context is the unintentional interruption brought about by the dividing of Scripture by verse and chapter. This should not be overlooked.

            The most egregious use of hermeneutics is by the “one versers.” They find a bit of Scripture that says what they want it to say, and then proclaim, “There the Bibles teaches thus and thus.” To our credit, in the Lord's church with our outstanding desire to know the truth, this is not an extensive problem. But some do it and we don't want to overlook the peril.

            It is not generally wise to use all-inclusive language, but a good hermeneutic principle is to never use only one verse to establish the correct interpretation of a Scripture (unless there is absolutely no choice). A rare exception is COL 2:11-13, where baptism is linked with circumcision, the only place it is explicitly connected. But we have sufficient O.T. And N.T. Scripture to corroborate the association.

            We need also to keep in mind that one Scripture can add to modification and qualification of another, but not undo it.

            By using one verse, or even a part of a verse, we can “prove” almost anything. Indeed, the words of the Bible can show “There is no God,” leaving out the context intentionally which adds “The fool has said in his heart” (PSA 14:1). See also PSA 10:4, PSA 53:1.

            Let's make it our consistent practice to search for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth by seeking the full light of the Scripture in all interpretation we do.

            LITERAL VIS-A-VIS FIGURATIVE—This dilemma might be encountered in any of the genres but more in some than in others.

            We can start out by saying that as a general rule, we should interpret a Scripture literally unless there is a clear and overwhelming reason not to.

            This is where common sense and logic come to the fore. There are many instances where figurative “wins” but I can't think of many where it is a gray area. Most is in the poetry and apocalyptic genres.

            See also under PROPHECY—some Scripture has both a literal and figurative interpretation.

APPLICATION TO GENRES

            Another “wrinkle” in hermeneutics is that methods and techniques should be adapted to the various genres (kinds) of Biblical literature due to their individual characteristics.

            These are sometimes classified differently by various expositors. One source I used for the Old Testament lists narratives, law, poetry, prophecy and wisdom. And for the New Testament, gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation.

            These should not be “set in concrete.” There is certainly some overlapping. JAMES in the N.T. is certainly a book of wisdom. ACTS is largely narrative. There is certainly prophecy throughout the N.T.

            And there are sub-genres galore which the writers want to treat separately. Thorough review of all of these and a raft of special rules is beyond the scope of this monograph, which is intended mainly as a useful guideline. I do make bold to include some observations and suggestions herein.

            NARRATIVES—This is the most common type of literature found in the Bible. Some call them “History,” which is appropriate inasmuch as a significant part of narrative content is history and geography. So this is a genre where expertise and access to scholarship will be very helpful; indeed often necessary. This is especially important in Exegesis, where we are much concerned about the “time then.” This also includes the culture of the moment. Some Scripture came to be misapplied today if we don't recognize substantial differences. Fast, eating meat sacrificed to idols, feet washing and headdress are just some of the examples.

            Knowing the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD is very important knowledge. On the contrary, obscure references such as AMOS 5:26 concerning “Kaiwan your star God” must be of some use to us or the Holy Spirit would not have included them in inspiration, but they give us a close that everything in the Bible is not intimately connected to our salvation.

            POETRY—After narrative, poetry is the next most common—about 1/3rd of the entire Bible. Here the very nature of poetry leads us to expect much figurative language.

            It is helpful to be familiar with poetic forms and figures of speech—simile, metaphor, hyperbole (exaggeration). The psalms are unique: man talking to God, rather than God talking to man. And especially in PSALMS, we should consider the context to be the entire psalm as they originated as complete units rather than isolated verses. We should endeavor to connect historical events in the life of David as we read his psalms.

            Hebrew poetry and Greek poetry have different characteristics.

            PROPHECY—Some prophecy has both a literal and spiritual fulfillment such as AMOS 9:11-12 compared to ACTS 15:16-17. Some has only one. The very important prophecy of JER 31: 31-34 concerning the New Covenant is not mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. Understanding the prophecies of Daniel requires knowledge of the historical background.

SUMMARY

            Exegesis, hermeneutics?—is it still “all Greek to you?” Do not be discouraged. Even scholars and experts don't always agree in their interpretations.

            Most of the Bible, especially the parts essential for our salvation, is easily interpreted and understood with good tools and the right approach.

            With improved knowledge and practice with hermeneutics, we can and should excel and be more pleasing to the Lord. It is also a great way to avoid conflict and division if we are all following the same “rule book.”

            And we will be able to “accurately handle the word of truth.” 2 TIM 2:15

April 2011

 

Annapolis, MD