I’m excited to have my dear friend Grey Zachary sharing her wisdom on the subject of hermeneutics for this week’s edition of Word Nerd Wednesday!
Hermeneutic: (noun) the method and principles of interpreting literary writings.
A biblical hermeneutic is the set of principles or the particular method one uses to understand and apply the biblical text.
All Translations are Interpretations
I cannot express to you how much I LOVE the Bible! Since I was knee high this collection of books has been, as the Psalmist says, “a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey.” –Psalm 119:105(CEB)
Also, I HATE the Bible! Well, that may be a little strong, but any biblical student worth their salt will tell you that interpreting the bible is no joke! It can be hard work! I have done the work poorly at times and as a result I rejected or hurt others “In the Name of Jesus.” I was quite the Pharisee, but those are stories for another day.
Like the study of any ancient writings, biblical interpretation is not an exact science. Some even call hermeneutics an art. There is no flawless approach. In fact, the Bible we read in our language today has already been through 2000 years of hermeneutics.
All translations are interpretations.
Say it with me, “All translations are interpretations.”
We are not reading the Bible in its original languages. We are reading a translator’s interpretation.
I know many of you are stressing already. Deep breath, Friends, deep breath. You can do this. The same God that inspired the writers of the Bible is with us now. You’ve got this!
The apostle Paul encouraged little Timothy this way:
“Make an effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who doesn’t need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly.”
2 Timothy 2:15 (CEB)
Hermeneutics are how we determine and apply truth. If we shrink back and leave the interpreting to others we will be misled and we will mislead others. So, let’s dig in.
Hermeneutics Determine and Apply Truth
There is really no gentle way to say this. There are good hermeneutics and there are bad hermeneutics.
You’ve probably heard someone say something like, “either you believe and live by the absolute truth of the Bible or you don’t believe any of it.” That is an example of bad hermeneutics. At the very least, it is a naïve approach to biblical interpretation.
Let’s look at some “absolute truth” in some verses:
”True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life.”
Like me, I imagine you know some amazing, humble, and God-fearing Christians who are poor or who died too young or who never earned distinction for their faith. If you do not, I encourage you to visit a government funded nursing home or a neighborhood a little less affluent than yours. You will find Godly folks there.
”A blessing on the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock!”
Whoa. Something tells me that if anyone goes around snatching kids and smashing them up will NOT be receiving a blessing.
“And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away.”
If this were “absolute truth” we’d see a large section in our Christian book stores with fashionable options for eye patches. Everyone who loves Jesus would be down to one eye!
I’m sure you are getting my point, but let’s look at one more just for fun.
”Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head. It is the same thing as having her head shaved…If it is disgraceful for a woman to have short hair or to be shaved, then she should keep her head covered.”
1 Corinthians 11:5-6
Okay, if we take this verse to be absolute forever-and-ever-amen kind of truth then every woman with an adorable pixie cut is a disgrace if she doesn’t, at least, put a ball cap on! That makes no sense today. However, it made perfect sense for the Corinthian people. I can’t unpack that one right now, but let me give you some Bible DIY tools.
Hermeneutics for Beginners
1. Study a good translation. I highly recommend the Common English Bible or the New Living translation.
2. Study every verse in context. This is exegesis. Read the verses before and after. Also, the Bible was written by many authors, at time different times in history, to wide varieties of people, and all in different writing styles and genres. Studying in context means we ask the vital questions.
- Who was writing and who were they writing to?
- What were they writing (read the whole book, not just one or two verses)?
- When, in history, were they writing?
- Where was the author and where were the people being written to?
- Why was that particular message important to that author?
- How (in what style and under what circumstances) was the book written?
We can never know what the truth is for us today until we understand what the message was then.
3. Learn the different types of literature used throughout the Bible. The Bible is not one book. It is 66 books written in many different genres. Each genre should be read appropriately. Then we will better understand how to apply the truths to life today.
4. Study in the company of scholars. Men and women have devoted their lives to biblical studies. Find good quality commentaries written on the original meanings of each book of the Bible. If a commentary is offering only a modern-day application it is not a good source.
5. Enjoy the journey!Join us for #wordnerdwednesday and learn 5 basic steps for #hermeneutics for beginners. @Grey_Zachary Click To Tweet
Don’t Make Hermeneutics Too Personal
Reading the bible devotionally in effort to get a personal message is not a good hermeneutic.
Recently a friend said, “Grey, you are making this too hard!” To that I say two things:
- The Good News is worthy of the work it takes to handle the truth well.
- Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our MINDS (Matthew 22:37). God created us with the highest cognitive capabilities, and Jesus commanded us to use them.
I am passionate about this largely because in my 32 years in the church I have seen extremely heavy loads and rules being placed on people that God never intended. I also have seen some loosey-goosey theology that fails to call disciples to a life that abides in Christ (John 15:5).
If you are also passionate about the Bible and interpreting the message of truth correctly, I highly recommend this book to you: How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. It was my first step toward understanding the bible after misusing it for far too many years.
Grey Zachary is a Disciple of Christ, Red Shoe Woman, Wife of an Army Chaplain, Mother (Bio & Step), and a Texas A&M Student of Psychology. She holds a certificate of Modern Music Ministry from Visible Music College and a license in Cosmetology. She is a writer and new blogger. After working many years in several fields she discovered that she is passionate about one thing, people. Grey is excited to begin helping others create their best world one friendship at a time.
Find her at greyzachary.com.
Linking Up With
For more encouragement please join the discussions on these fabulous blog link ups – Suzanne Eller, Thought Provoking Thursday, Susan B. Mead, Faith Filled Friday, Grace and Truth, Faith and Fellowship Friday, Grace and Truth Friday, Good Morning Monday, Soul Survival, Monday Musings, Rah Rah Link Up, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Wednesday, Women With Intention Wednesday, Sitting Among Friends, Testimony Tuesday, Planting Roots, Salt and Light, and Fresh Market Friday.