Biblical hermeneutics – What is it?
Biblical hermeneutics is the field of study related to the interpretation of the Scriptures. Because Christians have historically lived based on the teachings of the Bible, and because "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17), a proper interpretation of the Bible's contents is vital. As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:15, the Christian's goal is to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."
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Biblical hermeneutics involves many principles of literature that have developed over time. For example, one principle involves first identifying the genre of that particular passage of study. Genesis included much narrative content. Many of Paul's writings are letters. The Psalms are poetic while the Proverbs are wisdom literature. Each genre is understood in unique ways that help readers better understand the meaning of the particular passage.
Three important guidelines related to biblical hermeneutics include observation, interpretation, and application. Observation focuses on what the text says—the who, what, when, why, and how? Interpretation seeks to understand the meaning of the passage along with various controversies regarding particular passages or topics. Application then applies the original, historic understanding of a biblical passage to a contemporary context.
Of great importance in this process of biblical hermeneutics is to interpret Scripture according to its original setting. This includes the historical context, grammar, genre, literary context, and more. Rather than asking, "What do these words mean to me?" proper biblical hermeneutics first seeks to understand what the passage meant when written. Only after this does the reader or interpreter look to discover how the original intent of the writing applies to one's own personal context.
In more recent years, postmodern literary theory has attacked this historic biblical hermeneutic, emphasizing "reader response" more than or instead of the author's original intent. While application and human emotion are important elements to spiritual growth, this does not negate the importance of understanding Scripture from its original perspective. Both inductive study as well as modern application must serve as part of a healthy biblical hermeneutic.
Finally, a biblical hermeneutic is of great importance because of the power of the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 teaches, "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Scripture offers much power for those who would study its contents and look to apply its principles to their lives today.
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