What is the best approach to studying Scripture?

Hermeneutical Approaches:

Generally, there are four approaches to studying Scripture, the discipline of hermeneutics

  1. Author-Oriented Hermeneutic
  2. Text-Oriented Hermeneutic
  3. Reader-Oriented Hermeneutic
  4. Community-Oriented Hermeneutic

Author-Oriented Hermeneutic:

Definition: The author determines the meaning of the text, which is limited to what the author wants the reader to understand by the language of his words.

Advantages: There is a singular, objective meaning.

Disadvantages: The connection between author and text is not always as solid as we prefer. There may exist certain ambiguities due to the text and lack of author clarity. 

Illustration: the author (husband) determines the meaning of the text (an invitation to  a weekend getaway) through his words. Or, the author (Paul) determines the meaning of the text (a letter to the church in Philippi) through his words and not our ideas.

Text-Oriented Hermeneutic:

Definition: Any meaning possible within the text is possible (if the text allows for that meaning historically and grammatically).

Advantages: An interpreter can present the views of the text, but does not propose a solution. The advantage lies in not having to work hard to pursue a single meaning.

Disadvantages: The interpreter lacks clarity and conviction of Scripture. There is no precision in understanding the meaning of the text and incredible ambiguity concerning the interpreter’s theology. 

Reader-Oriented Hermeneutic:

Definition: The text is a blank page for the reader to write his own ideas onto. A question often associated with this hermeneutic is, “What does the text mean to you?”

Advantages: You can make Scripture say anythnig regardless of grammatical rules and historical context.

Disadvantages: There is no sense of accountability because truth becomes relative to the reader. A unified and central meaning of the text is laid slain to this hermeneutic.

Illustration: After reading the invitation note from her husband, and preparing to leave for their weekend getaway, the wife realizes a dog sitter is needed. She calls her friend who agrees to watch the dogs. Utilizing the spare key underneath the welcome mat, the dog-sitter/wife’s friend lets herself into the house. After walking the dogs, she is thirsty and reaches to open the refrigerator noticing the note. Reading the invitation on the refrigerator (from the husband to his wife), the wife’s friend goes home and packs her bag, sends an email to her friend’s husband accepting his invitation for a weekend getaway and indicating she has had feelings for him all along.

Scripture blatantly rejects this approach.

“knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

2 Peter 1:20-21

Community-Oriented Hermeneutic:

Definition: The community determines the meaning of the text (ex. denomination, pope, or pastor).

Advantages: There is unity and continuity within the group (ex. Catholic church). A certain dogma is expressed and the community believes and conforms.

Disadvantages: There is a rejection of ultimate truth and no consensus of ultimate authority. Also, a danger exists of the logical fallacy “appeal to authority” (ex. “Because they said so”). Response to this should always be, “what gives them the authority?”

What is the best approach to studying Scripture?

Since God is the author of Scripture, we should pursue the singular and objective meaning that He has placed within each and every text. God has placed the meaning of every text within the literary, grammatical, and historical context of each passage written by human beings. Men carried along by the Holy Spirit were the means by which God articulated His message to humanity, and the original meaning of the divine author is the concern of every serious interpreter. 

Evidence for the Author-Oriented Hermeneutic:

God is the author of Scripture.

“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

God authored Scripture, and men were the means to transmit His message to the people. 

“knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

2 Peter 1:20-21

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