Hermeneutics is the art or science of interpretation. Biblical hermeneutics deals with the principles of interpretation concerning the books of the Bible. Although technically a specialist field every human on the planet engages in interpretation. When one reads a newspaper he or she automatically reads and interprets the text accordingly. For example a person reads and interprets law, politics, narrative, sport, satire or the financial pages differently without even being aware of the cognitive changes.
When it comes to ancient documents such as the Bible because of the distance in time between the original writer and our era we cannot simply approach the text cold. If we do we are likely to bring our cultural, moral, socio-political and religious preconceptions to the text. Doing so will invariably result in eisegesis – that is reading an idea back into the text, which is alien to the original author.
Correct hermeneutics are therefore an essential tool in unlocking the Bible. There are of course many hermeneutical voices in our postmodern world and this includes the area of biblical interpretation. How then can we know which is the correct method. Should I read the bible devotionally? Should interpretation occur through the lens of theology, such as feminist or liberation thought? My point is no matter how we approach the bible we bring presuppositions. So what are mine?
My presuppositions are simple. As a conservative evangelical Christian I hold to an orthodox understanding of the Christian faith. As such the bible is more than a book to me, it is the ultimate revelation of the divine mind to humanity. Therefore scripture must be handled with the uttermost care and reverence.
In order to do justice to the biblical text I have adopted the historical-grammatical method, which I believe protects the exegete from eisegesis and essentially draws out original meaning. The historical-grammatical method addresses various levels of meaning including:
- Genre – what type of literature is being studied
- Historical setting – the culture, geography and socio-political situation of the writer (sitz-im-leben)
- Linguistics – the grammar and meaning of words in their original language
- Context – distinguishing the immediate context as well as the broader connections between books
- Significance – Application of the passage for the contemporary reader
Overall the historical-grammatical method seeks to locate the text in its original historical and grammatical situation, once established this method seeks to undercover original authorial intent – in other words the author not the reader determines meaning. Our job as Christians is to draw out that meaning.
My passion then is to educate Christians in the area of hermeneutics in order to equip believers in the art of interpretation which was once called the queen of the sciences.