By: Rev. Clint A. Starnes
September 7th, 2013
In its most basic definition, biblical hermeneutics refers to the art and science of biblical interpretation. It is considered an art because understanding, which is required for interpretation, requires a feel for the subject matter being interpreted, not just an analyzation of data. Biblical hermeneutics is also considered a science due to the fact that some aspects of the interpretation process resemble the activities of natural science. Because of this dual nature of hermeneutics, it is almost impossible for an interpreter to arrive at a neutral conclusion. Good or bad, most biblical interpreters translate scripture based upon predilections or presuppositions learned through a lifetime of exposure to biblical teachings, church sermons, Bible studies, etc. Nevertheless, the hermeneutical goal is to interpret the Bible as objectively as possible, that is, setting aside any presupposed meaning in favor of an attempt to gain more insight into the actual meaning intended to be conveyed in the message. This research paper will focus on the history, theory, methods, and practice of biblical interpretation. It should be noted however that while biblical hermeneutics is considered a special field of hermeneutics, there is really no difference in biblical hermeneutics and general hermeneutics. The same methods and principles apply even though the matter being interpreted is different.
God revealed His Word to the world over a period of about 1,600 years between roughly 1500 B.C. and A.D. 100. Between that time and the nearly 2,000 years since the last words of the modern Bible were written, there have been countless theories, methods, and techniques developed regarding the interpretation of the Bible. The history 1
of biblical hermeneutics usually begins with a discussion of Ezra. After the exile of the Israelites in Babylon and their subsequent return to Israel, there was a need for interpreting the Pentateuch. Most of the Israelites in Babylon probably lost their ability to read and understand Hebrew. We see evidence of this in Nehemiah 8:8 as the Israelites implore Ezra to read to them. This event signaled the beginning of the science and art of biblical interpretation.
Rabbinic exegesis and hermeneutics had developed into four primary methods by the time of Christ: literal, midrashic, pesher, and allegorical. The Literal interpretation, also known as “peshat”, is the basis for many modern types of biblical interpretation. It involved a grammatical-historical method of interpretation. The word “midrash” comes from the Hebrew word “darash” meaning to search. The primary goal of midrashic interpretation was to highlight and explain the scriptural teaching in new and changing circumstances. Rabbi Hillel, who was born approximately 110 B.C., is credited with developing the basic rules of this form of rabbinic exegesis. “Pesher” interpretation is similar to midrashic but with a significant eschatological focus. This method was used extensively among the Qumran community. Allegorical interpretation stated that the true meaning of Scripture actually lied beneath the written words. The philosopher Philo was a proponent of this method of interpretation.
In the centuries following the earthly life of Christ, several schools of thought developed regarding the interpretation of Scripture. This period is known as “Patristic 2
Exegesis” and lasted from approximately A.D. 100 to 600. One of the most well known patristic exegetes was Clement of Alexandria. The Alexandrian school of thought was that the Scriptures hide their true meaning as a way to make its readers more inquisitive and because not everyone should understand the Scriptures. This method of allegorization arose from the desire to view the Old Testament as a Christian document, as opposed to a purely rabbinic or Jewish document. This method, however, completely...
Bibliography: Kaiser, Walter C. & Sliva, Moises (1994), An Introduction To Biblical Hermeneutics, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI
Virkler, Henry A. & Gerber Ayayo, Karelynne (1981, 2007), Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI
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