Hermeneutics is not isolated from other fields of Bible study. It is related to the study of canon, textual criticism, historical criticism, exegesis, exposition, Biblical and systematic theology.
THE RELATION OF HERMENEUTICS TO OTHER FIELDS OF BIBLICAL STUDIES
Among these fields of biblical study, the area which conceptually precedes all Other is the study of canon, which is the difference between those books that bear the stamp of divine inspiration and those that do not. The historical process by which certain books came to be placed in the canon and others excluded is a long but interesting one and can be found elsewhere in books of general biblical introduction or canon of the Old or New Testament. Essentially the process of canonization was a historical one in which the Holy Spirit guided the church to recognize that certain books bear the impression of divine authority.
The field of biblical study that conceptually follows the development of the canon is textual criticism, sometimes refers to as lower criticism. Textual criticism is concerned only with ascertaining the original wording of the text as it came from the author Since inspiration extends only to the original manuscripts of the bible.
Textual criticism is needed because we have no original manuscripts, only many copies of the originals and these copies have variations among them, in our Modern Hebrew and Greek Bible. How can we rely upon them? This of course is an important question because the translations of our English Bibles are based upon the present available Greek and Hebrew Bibles. The science of textual criticism answers this question and breaches the gap by carefully comparing the ancient manuscripts, ancient versions, quotations of or allusions to scripture in the church fathers or anything else which may bear on the text, by careful and discriminating judgment, sift conflicting testimony, weigh the evidence of all kinds and thus endeavour to determine the true reading of every doubtful text.
The third field of biblical study is known as historical or higher criticism. Higher criticism begins where lower criticism ends. Believing that the correct text has been discovered, scholars in this field seek to discover if the authorship and date are correct? This historical circumstance surrounding its composition, the authenticity of its contents, its literary unit, and many more are questions that it raises. Historical criticism is a necessary biblical science if we wish for a faith that is neither gullible nor obscurantist. It should be obvious to us that there is nothing to fear in the utilization of either of these approaches when they are rightly applied. In fact, if the Bible is what it claims to be and appears to be, we should fear no investigation, for such inquiry will only demonstrate the truth of the word and prove to be a powerful apologetic.
Only after a study of the canon, textual criticism and historical criticism is the scholar ready to do exegesis. Exegesis is the application of the principles of hermeneutics to arrive at a correct understanding of the text.
Hermeneutics aims to establish the principles and rules which are needed to unfold the sense of what is written.
Systematic Theology organizes the biblical data in a logical rather than historical manner. It attempts to place together all the information on a given topic (e.g. the nature of God, the ministry of Angels) so that we may understand the totality of God’s revelation to us on that topic. The systematic theologian does not his work in a logical framework that he himself has created.
The study of the canon determines the inspired books; the study of the text determines the wording of the books; the study of historical criticism gives us the framework of the books; hermeneutics gives us the rules for the interpretation of the books; exegesis is the application of those rules to the books; exposition brings the true meaning of the message of the past to the need of the modern man; biblical theology shows the reason why something was written as well as the content of what was written; systematic theology arranges biblical data into topics.
But while we are careful to distinguish hermeneutics from other branches of biblical studies, we should not fail to note that the science of interpretation must essentially depend on exegesis for the maintenance and illustration of its principles and rules. As the full grammar of a language establishes its principles by sufficient examples and by formal praxis, a science of hermeneutics must need to verify and illustrate its principles by examples of their practical application. Its province is not merely to define principles and methods, but also to exemplify and illustrate them.
QUALIFICATIONS OF A BIBLE INTERPRETER
1. Spiritual qualifications:
That spiritual qualification has an important place in the list of qualifications cannot be debated. If spiritual things are spiritually concerned, only the spiritual man can discern them, if the natural or carnal mind is at enmity with God only the regenerated mind will be at home in scripture. That an interpreter must have the same spirit who inspired the Bible as the qualification for interpreting the Bible has been well stated in the Bible.
a. He must be born again 1Cor. 2:14; Jn. 3:1-13.
b. He must have a sincere desire to know the truth Jn. 7:17. No bigot can make a good interpreter. A Christian should have real convictions, but a bigot is a person who holds convictions without having real reasons for holding them, and who is not willing to test his own convictions in the light of the truth.
c. He must be willing to obey the truth when he sees it: submission to God’s known will is a necessity for every Christian, but especially for those who wish to teach God’s word.
d. The interpreter of the Holy Scriptures needs to have living fellowship and communion with the Holy Spirit. Inasmuch as all scripture is of God as they were given by the Holy Spirit 2Pet. 1:21. The interpreter of scripture must be a partaker of the same Holy Spirit’s living fellowship. No one can explain it properly but through the help of the Author, 1Cor. 2:11, 12, 15 and 16, If we begin interpretation in a spirit of self-reliance and self-confidence we shall not fully succeed. Our natural ability and training will not, by themselves make us good interpreters of spiritual things. We must maintain fellowship with and walk in the spirit.
2. Educational Qualifications:
An interpreter should have the proper educational requirements. No man in the history of the Christian church has possessed all such requirements. The person with an average measure of intelligence can with industry and adequate guidance from teachers and books discover the central meaning of the majority of the passages of the Bible. The requirements for understanding the principal truth of the Bible are not as strict as to shut the Bible up to the literate. To ask that every interpreter of the bible should possess wide linguistic equipment would be to deny the task of interpretation to all but a handful of specialists, who might lack other equally essential qualities even though possessed the linguistic knowledge. Though such linguistic knowledge is important.
a) A complete Acquaintance with the Bible itself:
He must know the Bible well enough to make comparative studies. His knowledge must be of the whole Bible. He must know it’s-structure, its contents, its doctrines. He must know the form and content of every book of the Bible and how each book fits into the whole.
b) A knowledge of Bible Geography and History:
The biblical interpreter should be acquainted with the geography of Palestine and the adjacent regions. He should also unite a familiar acquaintance with history. If we know these things they will help us not to be fanciful in our explanation of the Bible. Christianity is a historical religion.
c) A knowledge of Bible Manners and Customs:
There are many times when a Bible passage depends for its meaning upon some custom or practice in the lives of the people at that time. The speech of any people is a reflection of their way of life. We must know something about life in the Bible times in order to understand the Bible correctly.
d) A knowledge of Chronology:
The science of chronology is also indispensable to the proper interpretation of the scriptures. The succession of events, the division of the ages into great eras, the scope of genealogical tables, and the fixing of dates, are important and call for patient study and laborious care.
e) A knowledge of Politics:
The study of politics, including international law and the various theories and systems of civil government, will add greatly to the accomplishments of the exegesis, and enable him better to appreciate the Mosaic legislation, and the great principles of civil government set forth in the New Testament.
f) A Knowledge of Science:
Not everyone has the opportunity to study natural science. Some sciences like Geology, biology and astronomy and mineralogy have important connections with the Bible and anything that we can learn in these subjects will help us in interpretation. Our explanation of the Bible need not violate known facts of science.
g) A Knowledge of Philosophy:
The same may be said of the history and systems of speculative thought, the various schools of philosophy and psychology. Many of these philosophical discussions have become involved in the theological dogma, and have led to peculiar principles and methods of interpretation, and to cope fairly with them the professional exegete should be familiar with all their subtleties.
h) A Knowledge of Ancient Language:
The Bible was written mainly in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic Translation is always very difficult, and some expressions cannot be translated exactly from another language. Translators also make mistakes. The most accurate interpreters work from the original languages. Though we cannot all know Greek and Hebrew the two major languages of the Bible. But the interpreter who works without these languages should be careful seeing that he is at the mercy of the translators, he should also learn from the commentaries and other books written by those who do know Greek and Hebrew.
i) A Knowledge of Basic Tools of Biblical Study:
Every expositor of the Bible should be able to handle commentaries. Bible dictionaries, concordances and other versions of the Bible. These are important tools.
j) Intellectual Qualifications,
Finally, there are intellectual requirements for a good interpretation. Hermeneutics is not only a science but an art. The rules must be applied with skill and this requires intellectual ability. The standards of the finest scholarship must be employed with insights. Judicious use of intellectual abilities reflects itself in high quality of exegesis.
a) Quick and clear perception (ability to see the point):
A ready perception is especially requisite in the interpreter. He must have the power to grasp the thought of his author and take a glance at its full force and bearing. With such ready perception, there must be united a breath of view and clearness of understanding which will be quick to catch not only the import of words and phrases but also the drift of the argument.
b) Imagination is needed but must be controlled:
The true interpreter must often transport himself into the past and picture in his soul the scenes of ancient times. He must be able to put himself in the place of biblical writers and see feel and think the way they did. He needs to be able to read between the lines and thus see the implications of statements. At the same time, he must be able to keep his imagination under control, so that at all times he is aware of the differences between what is true reasoning and what is speculation.
c) A balanced mind:
He cannot be a person who is liable to take everything to the extreme, but one who can see both sides of the question and keep a reasonable balance. An interpreter of scripture and indeed of any other book should have a sound well-balanced mind. For dullness of apprehension, defective judgment and extravagant fancy will prevent one’s reason and lead to many vain and foolish notions. The faculties of the mind are capable of discipline and may be trained to a very high degree of perfection, but some men inherit peculiar tendencies of intellect. Some are gifted with race powers of imagination but are utterly wanting in the critical faculty. A lifetime of discipline will scarcely restrain their exuberant fancy. Others are naturally given to form hasty judgments and will rush to the wildest extremes. In others, peculiar taste and passions warp the judgment, and some seem to be constitutionally destitute of common sense. Any and all such mental defects disqualify one from the interpretation of the word of God.
d) Sober judgments:
Above all things, an interpreter of scripture needs a sound and sober judgment. There must be the mental ability to analyze, compare, examine, evaluate. He must not allow himself to be influenced by hidden meanings or spiritualizing processes and plausible conjectures. He must have enough reasons for and against a given interpretation: he must judge whether his principles are tenable and self-consistent; he must often balance probabilities and reach conclusions and make decisions on the basis of emotion rather than reason will not make a reliable interpreter of scriptures.
e) Acuteness of intellect:
The exegesis has been noted for acuteness of intellect, a critical sharpness to discern at once the connection of thought, and the association of ideas. This qualification is of great importance to every interpreter. He must be quick to see what a passage does not teach, as well as to comprehend its real import. His critical acumen should be associated with a master power to analysis, in order that he may clearly discern all the parts and relations of a given whole.
f) Use of reason:
The use of reason in the interpretation of scripture is everywhere to be assumed. The bible comes to us in the form of human language, and appeals to our reasons and judgment; it invites investigation and condemns blind credulity. It is to be interpreted as we interpret any other volume, by the rigid application of the same laws of language, and the same grammatical analysis. Even in passages that may be said to lie beyond the province of reason, in the realm of supernatural relevance, it is still competent for the supernatural. In matters beyond its range of vision, the reason may by incompetency, and by analogy and manifold suggestion show that there are many things beyond its province which are nevertheless true and righteous altogether and to be accepted without dispute. Reason itself may thus become efficient in strengthening faith in the unseen and eternal.
But it behoves the expounder of God’s word to see that all his principles and processes of reasoning are sound and self-consistent. He must not commit himself to false premises; he must abstain from rushing to unwarranted conclusions. Nor must he ever question. All such logical fallacies will necessarily vitiate his expositions, and make him a dangerous guide. The right use of reason in biblical exposition is seen in the cautious procedure, the sound principles adopted, the valid and conclusive argumentation, the sober sense displayed, and the honesty, integrity and self-consistency everywhere maintained. Such exercise of reason will always commend itself to the godly conscience and the pure heart.
g) Apt to teach:
In addition, to have the above mentioned, ht e interpreter should be apt to teach (2tim. 2:24). Finding out the truth is one side of hermeneutics, giving that truth to others is the other side. No man is a complete interpreter unless he is able to make others see clearly what he himself knows. Without such aptness in teaching, all his other gifts and qualities will avail little or nothing. Accordingly, the interpreter should cultivate a clear and simple style, and study to bring out the truth and force of the inspired oracles so that others will readily understand.