General Principles of Hermeneutics and Exegesis

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INTRODUCTION

This paper attempts a scholarly investigation into the general principles of hermeneutics and exegesis to facilitate a better understanding of biblical texts. Before we can determine what a given text might mean for us today, we must establish what it meant for its original audience. 1

Hermeneutics and exegesis are inter-woven in the perspective of considering them as the science of biblical interpretations. Therefore hermeneutics cannot be said to be complete without exegesis. The relevance of the principles of hermeneutics and exegesis cannot be over emphasized in regards to biblical interpretation. To interpret the bible properly, one’s hermeneutical principles must be based upon a correct understanding of biblical revelation. 2 The Apostle Paul enjoins us to "be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). The general rules of exegesis and hermeneutics is seen by different scholars/authors from different perspective but harmonious in their ideas, although with slight difference in sequence of arrangement. Therefore this paper will take for its major consultation the work of various scholars and relevant books of scholars on the subject matter.

PRINCIPLES OF HERMENEUTICS AND EXEGESIS

1 HISTORICAL CONTEXT

This has to do with the context of the life and thoughts of a particular writer of the scripture. The historical context in which a verse is found is essential to its understanding. The interpreter must know what the people of that time thought and did in order to understand why they wrote the way they did.

The flow of thought as they write through the inspiration they received no doubt could be influence by the context of the life and thoughts of that particular writer of Scripture. The life and thought of the early apostles for instance no doubt was different from that of Paul who was later called to be an apostle to the Gentiles.

When attempting to interpret Scripture, it is important to remember that the Bible was written in a specific culture - the ancient Jewish or "Semitic" culture of the near East. Our culture today is vastly different from that of the authors of the Scripture; we will sometimes find deep differences in the way we view things in a specific area of knowledge and the way biblical writers did. The Biblical writer’s history, culture, customs, environment, and language are diverse and different from our culture and way of life.

We will find that great gaps exist between eastern and the present day culture; therefore we need some help in bridging these gaps, for we are no doubt separated from the Bible culturally, geographically, historically and by language. 3

2 RECOGNIZE THE ANTITHETICAL NATURE OF CERTAIN PARTS OF THE BIBLE.

This emphasizes the fact that some of Jesus’ preaching, is a rhetorical device, not an absolute.  .

When Jesus insists that if anyone is to become his disciple, he must hate his parents (Luke14:26) the interpreter must not think Jesus is sanctioning raw hatred of family members.  What is stress here is the claims of Jesus which are more urgent and binding than even the most precious and prized human relationships4

3 MISUNDERSTANDING COMMAND GIVEN ONCE
In the interpretation of biblical text, D.A. Carson stresses that the interpreter must be cautious about absolutizing what is said or commanded only once. The reason is not that God must say things more than once for them to be true or binding.  The reason, rather, is that if something is said only once it is easily misunderstood or misapplied.  When something is repeated on several occasions and in slightly different contexts, readers will enjoy a better grasp of what is meant and what is at stake.5 A good instance is the issue of “baptism for the dead” contained in (1Cor 15:29) which has been given several interpretations; most of which emphasizes the relevance...
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