Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hermeneutics revisited

Not too long ago, Pure Church had an interesting post on a new book about preaching. I think his points can apply equally well to us layfolk because Bible reading should include preaching to one's self. I thought I'd add this post to compliment "Hermeneutics 101" posted on 8/3.

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10 Tips from Grudem on Bible Interpretation

Grudem's chapter in Preach the Word offers some helpful reminders on correctly interpreting the Scripture.
1. Spend your earliest and best time reading the text of the Bible itself.

2. The interpretation of Scripture is not a magical or mysterious process, because Scripture was written in the ordinary language of the day.

3. Every interpreter has only four sources of information about the text: (a) The meanings of individual words and sentences; (b) the place of the statement in its context; (c) the overall teaching of Scripture; (d) some information about the historical and cultural background.

4. Look for reasons rather than mere opinions to give support to an interpretation, and use reasons rather than mere opinions to attempt to persuade others.

5. There is only one meaning for each text (though there are many applications).

6. Notice the kind of literature in which the verse is found.

7. Notice whether the text approves or disapproves or merely reports a person's actions.

8. Be careful not to generalize specific statements and apply them to fundamentally different situations.

9. It is possible to do a short or long study of any passage. Do what you can with the time you have, and don't be discouraged about all that you cannot do.

10. Pray regularly for the Holy Spirit's help in the whole process of interpreting the Bible.


Grudem goes on to encourage his readers to keep the "big picture" in mind with 6 other reflections.
1. The Bible is a historical document. Therefore, always ask, "What did the author want the original readers to understand by this statement?"

2. The original authors wanted the original readers to respond in some way. Therefore always ask, "What application did the original author want the readers to make to their lives?"

3. The whole Bible is about God! Therefore we should always ask, "What does the text tell us about God?"

4. The center of the whole Bible is Jesus Christ. The entire Old Testament leads up to him and points to him, and the entire New Testament flows from him. Therefore, we should always ask, "What does this text tell us about the greatness of Christ?"

5. All history can be divided into several major "ages" or "epochs" in salvation history. Therefore, we should read every passage of the Bible with a salvation history timeline in our minds and constantly remember where every passage fits on the timeline.

6. Themes: Because the Bible is a unity (it has one divine Author though many human authors), there are many themes that develop and grow from Genesis to Revelation. Therefore, for each significant element in any text, it is helpful to ask, (a) Where did this theme start in the Bible? (b) How did this theme develop through the Bible? and (c) Where is this theme going to end in the Bible?

Happy Bible interpreting!

2 comments:

Nicholas said...

The Bible is a literary document. It contains some of the most beautiful writing in the English language. How beautiful it was in its many previous incarnations, in the many other languages it was translated into before the English versions appeared, we don't know. But as a historical document it is pretty useless. It contains much that is totally unverifiable and unattributable. For very large arts there is no historical record at all: for example the existence of Moses and the wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. It has all the evidentiary value of an anonymous note found in the street.

Bruce Sabin said...

I emailed this to Nicholas:

Nicholas,

Since you are apparently interested in history, I'd welcome you to listen to this lecture by Mark Dever, who earned his Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University. He spoke on the historical trustworthiness of the Bible.
http://sgm.edgeboss.net/download/sgm/na/2008/na08-session2.mp3

I'd also encourage you to read this article in the Jerusalem Post newspaper about a recent archaeological find providing evidence for the book of Jeremiah.
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1215331162371&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter

And you might look into the Cyrus Cylinder, which was discovered by archaeologists and showed evidence for the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Quite simply, your contention that there is not historical value in the Bible is so absurd no one with any historical knowledge of the ancient Near East or Hellenistic world could make the claim.

Dismissing the Bible as a bunch of unsubstantiated fables was popular in the 17th and 18th century until Austin Henry Layard discovered the city of Nineveh (known from the book of Jonah), which Enlightenment thinkers had likened to Atlantis. Only, Nineveh turned out to be a real city.

If you care to talk intelligently about the Bible, its truthfulness and its relevance to your life, I'd love to chat.

Bruce