Why Is Context Important in the Study of Hermeneutics?

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  • Topic: Bible, Hermeneutics, Biblical hermeneutics
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  • Published : April 24, 2010
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Paul Bailey
Question # 2

Why is context important in the study of Hermeneutics?

Why is context important in the study of hermeneutics?


“All licensed London taxi drivers need to pass a special test before they can drive one of the Capital's famous black cabs. This test is called the Knowledge”.[1]

Likened to the special test, called the ‘Knowledge’, that taxi drivers in London need to pass in order to drive a black cab; so it is in order to know the route to righteousness and eternal life we need to have the ‘Knowledge’ of God’s inspired ‘Words’ in the Bible. Without the ‘Knowledge’ a taxi driver will be lost and will carry his passengers astray. When we apply that to the context of reading the bible and gaining knowledge, wisdom and understanding; as Children of God to have limited knowledge or to interpret the Word incorrectly would carry us down the wrong road or route and this would also lead our ‘passengers’ (those we want to minister or evangelise to) astray. “God gives us knowledge to help "fix" broken people, protect ourselves from the difficulties of life, and allow love to express itself in good works.”[2]

All throughout the Bible Man has been instructed to acquire and study this ‘Knowledge’ to show himself approved. In fact the word ‘knowledge’ spans the bible 171 times and the verb ‘know’ occurs 763 times. So we can safely say that knowing the “Knowledge” is extremely important to our spirituality and evangelism ministry.

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Tim. 2:15 (KJV)

Let us not forget that taxi drivers may pass the “Knowledge” test but they may lack the understanding and most importantly, the wisdom to be ultimately effective in their job. God has given us the Bible as our “Knowledge” and we may even be able to read it from Genesis to Revelation, but if we lack the understanding to interpret the Word effectively we will never achieve the needed wisdom to show ourselves approved and to evangelise properly. This is where Hermeneutics is so important to the Believer or the Biblical scholar.


We will look at some definitions of Hermeneutics and some the basic principles of this important process.

“Hermeneutics is the study of the general principles of interpretation”[3]

“Biblical hermeneutics is the science of knowing how to properly interpret the various types of literature found in the Bible”[4]

“Hermeneutics is the art and science of elucidation of the meaning of text oracles: especially ancient messages held to contain divine truth.”[5]

The word Hermeneutics originated from Hermes who was a Greek god and was a messenger or a mediator from the other gods. Hermes was responsible for transmitting and interpreting the messages from the other Greek gods to the mortals. He was regarded as the god of science, invention, eloquence, speech and art.[6] Around the 1st Century the verb hermeneuo was used and meant ‘explain or interpret.

Hermeneutics is an anomaly of processes as it is considered to be both an art and a science. This is because as an art form it is flexible in regards to its communication and ‘because the application of the rules is by skill and not by mechanical imitation’.[7] Hermeneutics follows and is guided by rules within a system.

Exegesis is another word important to hermeneutics which needs to be defined. The Greek meaning for exegesis is to interpret and it literally means to ‘lead out of’ or extract. The word is derived from exēgeisthai to interpret, from ex-1 + hēgeisthai to guide.[8] The full definition as given by www.thefreedictionary.com states:

“A critical interpretation or explication, especially of biblical and other religious texts”

Exegesis uses guidelines or rules to interpret religious texts and usually follows a process outlined below[9]:

1) Observation: what does the passage say?

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