Many of the various methods and systems of interpretation that others have used, attempted, and taught throughout the years are not adequate. We may be critical of some of the techniques used, even if we admire the accomplishments of these men in the past.
The goal of biblical hermeneutics is to decipher the levels of meaning that exist within the “speaker, discourse, and hearer.” God as the speaker, the Bible as His discourse, and the people to whom He speaks must all be taken into account when studying the Bible.
Until the Enlightenment, biblical hermeneutics was thought to be a type of Bible special philosophy. Various higher critical ways attempted to comprehend the Bible just as a human, historical text.
Although alternative readings were frequently challenged, it became increasingly usual in the nineteenth century to read scripture like any other text. Friedrich Schleiermacher maintained that there is no difference between “general” and “particular” hermeneutics. Hermeneutics has taken on at least two separate but related definitions that are still in use today.
Jewish techniques for investigating and determining the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, as well as standards by which Jewish law might be founded, are referred to as Talmudical hermeneutics (Hebrew: roughly). The Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael has a well-known explanation of these concepts.
The Talmud uses the following methods to investigate the meaning of scripture:
- >grammar and exegesis
>the meaning of some words and characters, as well as prefixes and suffixes that appear to be redundant or missing
>the interpretation of letters that are marked with points in specific words
The numerical value of the letters of a word is used to understand it (see Gematria).
>The division of a word into two or more words (see Notarikon) is used to understand it.
>the pronunciation of a word based on its consonantal shape or >pronunciation of a word based on its vocalization
>transposing letters or modifying vowels to change the meaning of a word
>A halakah is derived logically from a Scriptural passage or another legislation.
This oral tradition was regarded by the Talmud as containing the precise, original meanings of the words, revealed at the same time and in the same manner as the original texts. Wordplay and letter counting was never utilized as logical proof of a scripture’s interpretation or instruction. Instead, they were seen as anasmakhta, a confirmation of a meaning previously established by tradition.
Christian biblical hermeneutics
Christian biblical hermeneutics considers the original medium as well as what language says, supposes, doesn’t say, and implies. Davis L. Barr’s three obstacles stand in the way of correctly interpreting biblical writings. We speak a different language, we live approximately two millennia later, and we bring different expectations to the text.
According to Henry A. Virkler, multiple sorts of analysis are required to determine what the author wanted to say in the biblical passage:
- > Lexical-syntactical analysis: This stage examines the words and how they are employed. The lexical syntactical technique considers factors such as sentence order, punctuation, and verse tense. Lexicons and grammar tools can assist in obtaining meaning from the text in this situation.
> Cultural/historical analysis: To help in understanding, it is necessary to comprehend the writers’ background and culture. Understanding the Jewish sects of Palestine and the government that controlled Palestine throughout the New Testament period, for example, can help you better grasp Scripture. Understanding the meanings of titles like High Priest and Tax Collector allows us to learn what others thought of the persons who held these roles.> Contextual analysis: When a verse is taken out of context, it can be interpreted in many different ways. This technique emphasizes the significance of examining a verse’s context within its chapter, book, and even scriptural context.
> Theological analysis: It is frequently stated that a single verse does not generally constitute theology. This is because Scripture frequently refers to concerns from many books. The gifts of the Spirit, for example, are mentioned in Romans, Ephesians, and 1 Corinthians. Taking a verse from Corinthians without considering other chapters on the same subject might lead to a faulty interpretation.
> Particular literary analysis: There are a variety of special literary features to consider, but the overall theme is that each genre of Scripture has its own set of norms. Narratives, history, prophecies, apocalyptic texts, poetry, psalms, and letters are among the genres found in Scripture. There are many levels of allegory, figurative language, metaphors, similes, and literal language in each of these. Apocalyptic works and poetry, for example, have more metaphorical and allegorical language than narrative or historical writing. To fully comprehend the intended meaning, they must be addressed and the genre identified.
DIFFERENT METHODS OF INTERPRETING THE BIBLE
In proceeding to ascertain the principles of valid and self-consistent scripture exegesis, we do well to know beforehand something of the diverse methods and systems of interpretation which have been followed by others. These methods have been tried and taught, and many are not satisfactory. We may criticize some of the methods employed, even though we deeply appreciate the achievements of these men of past years. In fact, history
Shows that erroneous principles have spoiled the exegetical work of fine men in the past who were great saints. This should be a warning to us against carelessness in interpretation. A brief survey of these will be a help both in avoiding false principles and in apprehending the truth. Many of these methods which we will try to trace are still being used by some pe4ople today.
THE ALLEGORICAL THEORY OF INTERPRETATION
In this method, a text is interpreted apart from its grammatical-historical meaning. What the original author is trying to say is ignored, what the interpreter wants to say becomes the only important factor. Allegorical interpretation believes that beneath the letter or the obvious, “The course of the allegorical method is that it obscures the true meaning of the word of God.”
The allegorical method discounts the truth and history of the Bible, and it places the key to interpretation in the interpreter’s imagination, rather than in the face value of the sayings and stories of the bible. the stories of the Old Testament are treated, not as history, but as allegories. Philo of Alexandria, one of the great allegorists regarded the four rivers flowing through the garden as justice. Clement of Alexandria commenting on the Mosaic prohibition of eating the swine, the hawk, the eagle and the raven, observes: “The swine is the emblem of voluptuous and unclean lust of food, the eagle indicates robbery, the hawk injustice, and the raven greed. “Origen taught that Rebecca drawing water for the servant of Abraham means that we must come daily to the wells of scripture to meet with Christ; that the Lord opening the eyes of Hagar implies the blindness of the Jewish synagogue; that the six waterpots of stone at the wedding feast of Cana relate to the fact that the world was made in six days. When the Bible is regarded as an Allegory many fanciful interpretations result.
Obviously, we have allegories in the Bible, and they should be treated as allegories. An allegory is a story (usually imaginary) in which every event, every person, and every place is symbolic of some spiritual fact. The meaning of an allegory is not to be looked for in the face of the saying or story, ‘but in the things which the characters symbolically represent. A well-known allegory is the pilgrim’s progress. And there are allegories in the Bible e.g. “Jesus the true vine” Jn. 15, is an allegory; and the allegory of the Good Shepherd in Jn. 10. But the large part of the Bible is not to be interpreted as allegory because there are not all allegory, but with literal meaning to each work and word.
The allegorical method of interpretation is based upon a profound reverence for the scriptures, and a desire to exhibit their manifold depths of wisdom. But it will be noticed at once that its habit is to disregard the common signification of words and give wing to all manner of an author’s language, but foists into it whatever the whim or fancy of an interpreter may desire. As a system, therefore, it puts itself beyond all well-defined principles and laws.
MYSTICAL THEORY OF INTERPRETATION
Closely allied to the allegorical interpretation is the mystical, according to which manifold depths and shades of meaning
are sought in every word of scripture. It teaches that there is hidden, deeper meaning which can be learned by those who know the mystical key which unlocks this knowledge, or that those divinely appointed can interpret. Some mystical interpreters search the numbers and figures of the Bible looking for the key that will lead to this hidden wisdom.
PIETISTIC THEORY OF INTERPRETATION
For the pietist, the outward teaching of the Bible is less important but an “inner light” which God gives us. God often gives us this light when we are reading the Bible, though it may have nothing to do with the outward meaning of the passage. The excitement was so great, and the impression on the disciples so deep that it seemed to them as if Jesus had miraculously walked on the sea and come to their help.
Lazarus did not really die, but fell into a swoon, and was supposed to be dead. But Jesus suspected the real state of the case, and coming to the tomb at the opportune moment, happily found that his suspicions were correct; and his wisdom and power in the case made a profound and lasting impression. Deeper meaning can be learned by those who know the mystical key which unlocks this knowledge, or that those divinely appointed can interpret. Some mystical interpreters search the numbers and figures of the Bible looking for the key that will lead to this hidden wisdom.
TO a pietist, the outward teaching of the Bible is less important but an “inner light” which God gives us. God often gives us this light when we are reading the Bible, though it may have nothing to do with the outward meaning of the passage. The excitement was so great, and the impression on the disciples so deep that it seemed to them as if Jesus had miraculously walked on the sea and come to their help.
Lazarus did not really die, but fell into a swoon, and was supposed to be dead. But Jesus suspected the real state of the case, and coming to the tomb at the opportune moment, happily found that his suspicions were correct; and his wisdom and power in the case made a profound and lasting impression.
The dividing of the Red Sea is no miracle but seasonal happenings in which the sea drys so low that people can walk across on foot.
The problem with such interpretation is that it makes all explanations of the Bible dependent on what the reader wishes to be true, not upon what the writer witnessed as true. It also rests upon a very insecure foundation, the belief that God does not do miracles not knowing that God is the author of the natural laws that can transcend them.
The debate over the Bible in modern times is a debate of rationalism versus authoritarianism. Rationalism in Bible studies boils down to the fundamental assertion that whatever is not in harmony with an educated mentality is to be rejected. The critic defines educated in a very special way. The authoritarian position asserts that if God has spoken, the human mind must be obedient to the voice of God. That there is blind or credulous authoritarianism cannot be denied, but it is not true that authoritarianism is anti-intellectual. The rationalistic premise has led to radical criticism of the scriptures.
From a broad perspective the following rules have governed the religious liberals as they approach the study of the Bible;
- The religious liberals believe that “modern mentality” is made of a complex of presuppositions e.g., standards of scholarship as practised in higher education, the validity of the scientific out-look as well as method, and the ethical standards of educated people. Whatever scriptural claims that all books are to be treated as human documents and by the same methods and the Bible is no exception. Science presumes the regularity of nature, so miracles are not accepted. The doctrines of sin depravity and hell offend the liberals’ moral sensitivities, so these doctrines are rejected. This also means rather free use of the text of the Bible.
- RELIGIOUS LIBERALS REDEFINE INSPIRATION. All forms of genuine inspiration (verbal, plenary, dynamic) are rejected. If liberalism rejects all transcendental and miraculous activity of God, then it must reject a supernaturalistic doctrine of inspiration and revelation, which it does. It holds that the inspiration of the Bible is its power to inspire religious experience. Revelation is redefined as human insight into religious truths or human discovery of religious truths.
- THE SUPERNATURAL IS REDEFINED. Supernatural is that which is extraordinary, miraculous, oracular, not attainable in knowledge or power by ordinary human nature. Everything in the Bible which is supernatural in the first sense is rejected by liberals; they argue that the same methodology must be used in interpreting the Bible as is used in interpreting the classics; no special principle may be appealed to by Christians. If therefore, we reject all reports of miracles in the classics as violating our scientific good sense, then we must reject miracles in the scriptures. When the miracle of the supernatural is found in scripture it is treated as folklore or mythology or poetic elaboration.
- LITERAL METHOD OF INTERPRETATION. The literal method of interpreting the Bible is to accept as basic the literal rendering of the sentences unless by virtue of the nature of the sentence or phrase or clauses within the sentence this is not possible. The lateral method is interpretation is the only method that gives each word the exact basic meaning it would have. For example, figures of speech or fables or allegories do not admit to a literal interpretation. The spirit of literal interpretation is that we should be satisfied with the literal meaning of a text unless very substantial reasons can be given for advancing beyond the literal meaning and when canons of control are supplied.
- The literal method of interpretation is that method that gives to each word the same exact basic meaning it would have in normal, ordinary, customary usage, whether employed in writing, speaking or thinking. It is called the GRAMMATICAL HISTORICAL METHOD to emphasise the fact that the meaning is to be determined by both grammatical and historical considerations,
Literal interpretation does not mean that figures of speech such as symbols, allegories, metaphors, similes etc, are ruled out. We do not follow the literal words of scripture; we follow the ‘natural’ meaning. Where the Bible obviously means to be taken literally, we do so. We are not required to cut off our right hand or pluck out our eyes because Jesus told men to do this. We understand that the Bible sometimes speaks in poetic or allegorical language. We believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus because one cannot read the accounts without realizing that they say quite literally that Jesus arose in His body. But we are not required to suppose that Isaiah saw the hills leaping and clapping their hands. “The literal interpreter is not so naïve as to make James, Cephas, and John literal pillars when they are called “Pillars of the church.” Nor does he look for a literal door, vine, or lamb when he reads of Christ under these figures. The Bible is wonderfully enriched by its employment of these figures and a host of others such as new birth, the straight gate, etc. it is important to see, however, that such figurative language does not compromise the literal sense of scripture that simply conveys it in another manner. “Figures of speech are a legitimate grammatical usage for conveying a literal meaning.” That is to say, behind the figures stands literal or real truth which gives the figure meaning.
In the use of this method the interpreter seeks to arrive at the precise meaning of the language of each of the Bible writers as required by the laws of grammar and the facts of history and that is where we derive the term GRAMMATICAL HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION. This is the method that most fully commends itself to the judgment and conscience of Christian scholars. The interpreter seeks to know the thought of the writer of the passage by the application of the recognized rules of grammar in the light of the historical situation in which the writer produced his work. The interpreter with suitable qualifications, spiritual, educational and intellectual, will accept the claims of the Bible without prejudice or adverse prepossession, and, with no ambition to prove them true or false, will investigate the language and import of the book with fearless independence. He will master the language of the writer, the particular dialect which he used, and his peculiar style and manner of expression. He will inquire into the circumstances under which he wrote, the manners and customs of his age, and the purpose or object which he had in view. He has a right to assume that no sensible author will be knowingly inconsistent with himself, or seek to be wider and mislead his readers.
WE MIGHT OUTLINE THIS THEORY THUS:
a) Its purpose is to find the meaning of the writer
- b) Its tools are the rules of grammar applied consciously or unconsciously. When we follow this theory of interpretation we examine the construction of the sentences in our search for the truth. We analyze, compare and explain.
- c) It takes note of the historical situation and the way in which it affects the use and meaning of words (the author and the recipient’s historical situations)
- d) It takes the statement of the scripture at its face value.
- e) It gives first consideration to the open, obvious meaning of the passage and to the applications given by the writers.
- f) It does not try to avoid the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Bible by bringing in one’s own fantastic explanations.
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