Hermeneutics: The “Art” and Science of Biblical Interpretation

This evening in our Bible study time, I asked members of my Church family these three questions: 1. How do you interpret the Bible (i.e. what method of interpretation do you use)? 2. How should we interpret the Bible? 3. Does the Bible provide clear direction on how exactly how to interpret the Bible? What are your answers? Do you even know?

If you’re anything like the “typical” church-going person, you have a method that you use, but you don’t know what it is and you likely don’t know that you’re using it. Don’t feel bad. You’re in a large boat. The problem with being in that boat is that you’re all rowing until you’re muscles ache, but you don’t know where you’re going or why you’re going there. All you know is that you were told that you’re supposed to row. This illustration applies to so many of us. Here’s an example: what do you believe will happen to Christians if they don’t follow the Bible on an issue like musical instruments in worship or divorce and remarriage?  I’m not asking what you believe about these two topics. I’m asking what you believe will happen to people who violate God’s will on these two topics. You’re probably thinking one of three things: 1) “I have no idea,” 2) they’re living in sin and if they die without repenting then they are going to hell, 3) as a Christian God’s grace covers my sin.

I’m not trying to persuade you on which of these answers is correct. I hope to direct you towards understanding why you believe what you believe. So how did you get to your conclusion or understanding? As you studied the scriptures (hopefully you did study for yourself and didn’t just take someone’s opinion for your own), what method of interpretation did you use to come to the understanding that you did. See, here’s the point: you and I can read the same passage and come up with different understandings (or interpretations) based on the method that we use. It’s this difference that is ultimately responsible for the differences of opinion on issues. I think the condition of our heart bears responsibility for our actions after we realize our differences. But let’s not digress.

You used some method of interpretation to come to your conclusion. Now, if you are more conservative with your theology and approach, you might be thinking that you just take the Bible at face value – it means what it means and says what it says. In other words, you interpret the Bible literally. That sounds terrific! Good for you. Let me just ask you one question: on three separate occasions (Romans 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20 and 2 Cor 13:12) Paul gives two different Churches the direction to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” Since the Bible says what it says and means what it means and you take it at face value and interpret it literally, then that must mean that you greet all your Christian brothers and sisters with a “holy” kiss when you see them at your worship gatherings – right? Well, hang on. That’s just a cultural thing that they did back then. That doesn’t mean that I have to kiss a man now. It’s the same as a handshake or a sideways hug. No, it’s not – if you use the method of interpreting the Bible literally.

You see my point. Maybe you don’t actually interpret the Bible literally all the time. Like I said before, you have a method that you use. Chances are, you don’t know that you have it and that you’re using it – because you picked it up from a preacher or Elder or someone you respect a long time ago. As far as that goes . . . they probably didn’t know they had it either. It kind of reminds me of that virus in the movie Outbreak. The sad thing is, many of our interpretation methods lead to spiritual death like the virus in that movie led to physical death.

Be thinking about your method. We’ll talk about it more during the next post.

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