What is Hermeneutics?

Seminar Notes: November 27, 2016 (at LifePointe Christian Church

Definition of Hermeneutics:

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines hermeneutics as “the study of methodological principles of interpretation” and even applies it directly to the Bible. The layman’s interpretation may define hermeneutics as the study of how to study the Bible. Proprietors of biblical hermeneutics seek the proper process and procedure for studying the Scriptures. The interpreter’s question is, “what are the rules or principles that I must apply to help guide and govern my interpretation of Scripture?” In other words, the baseball player learns to play his sport according to the rulebook, just as the Christian learns to interpret Scripture according to the rulebook. The source of these rules come from Scripture itself. In addition, the implementation of these rules aids in removing confusion and anarchy regarding biblical interpretation. 

Origin of Hermeneutics:

Hermeneutics traces its origin to the Greek word hermeneuo, meaning “to explain” or “to interpret” (Vine, 330). History behind the word finds association with the Greek god Hermes. This mythological figure served as messenger to Mount Olympus, explaining or interpeting communication between humans and the pagan Grecian gods. Use of hermeneuo and its derivative words are found throughout Scripture.

Examples of Hermenueo in Scripture:

“Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” (John 1:38).

“and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing” (John 9:7).

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him,and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace” (Hebrews 7:2). 

Hermenueo is the explanation of Scripture, and hermeneutics are the principles or rules that guide and govern the explanation of Scripture. 

The Significance of Hermeneutics:

Before Scripture is ever applied to a believer’s life, it is first interpreted. If the interpretation is flawed in part, so will the application find flaws in part. If the interpretation  is false, so the application will find falsehood. If the interpretation is heretical, so the explained understanding of Scripture and the practical implications of those beliefs are also heretical. The implications of misinterpreting Scripture are disastrous and of eternal significance. 

Robert L. Thomas proposes the significance of hermeneutics lies in its foundational role as a religious discipline. Understanding Thomas’ illustration below gives great urgency to our pursuit of the true and proper interpretation of Scripture, because the entire foundation of the Christian faith hangs upon the shoulders of understanding what the word of God says. 

It is the calling of every Christian to work diligently to understand the words of God. By understanding the words of God, one comes to know their creator and their condition before Him. By the words of Scripture, one comes to the understanding of the origins of life, sin, and death (Genesis 1-3). By the words of Scripture one comes to the knowledge of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:15) and the hope of life after death spent in union with our Lord and Savior. At the heart of this hope, is the fruit of one’s hermeneutics, or study of the Bible. 

In other words, the proper interpetation and explanation of Scripture leads to correct application of the will of God. Rightly handling the word of truth begins with proper interpretatation, informing explanation, and then leading to application. Emulating the words of James, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, decieving yourself” (James 1:22). Seek proper hearing of the word of truth, and then apply that hearing into doing that ensures wholehearted obedience to God. Foundational to the life of any Christian is the discipline of hermeneutics. As the apostle Paul said to Timothy, “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” (2 Timothy 2:15). 

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