When reading or teaching from the scriptures, we are either consciously or sub-consciously trying to find meaning in the text. It is vital for us to understand this meaning in order for us to learn from it. The problem however, is that the true meaning of scripture can be easily misinterpreted, this is because there are many factors that must be taken into account before you are able to discern what the author truly intended to say.
One of the most important facts that must be recognised when reading and interpreting scripture, especially in modern days, is that scripture is the inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and therefore must be treated wisely. The job for hermeneutics is to make sure that the word of God is being handled correctly, to ensure that the text is interpreted and understood accurately.
2. Hermeneutics and Narrative
Narrative is the "single most common type of literature in the entire bible."1 With nearly half of the Bible being written in narrative form, this style of writing plays a very important role in scripture. More often than not, the most memorable parts of the bible are its stories, i.e. Jonah and the big fish, Noah and the Ark etc. These stories are written in biblical narrative, in fact, the terms narrative' and stories' are often exchangeable which may help us understand the purpose of biblical narrative.2
2.1. Issues raised in the contemporary translation of Biblical Narrative In order to understand some of the hermeneutical struggles that are faced, it is important to make sure that we are relevant for today. In that knowledge, this essay focuses on the issues that a 21st century housegroup leader would face when interpreting narratives in the Bible. This is because it is a very common situation, in which, many people may well find themselves having to interpret scripture in order to benefit themselves and others. The main issue that appears in any situation in which you are teaching from scripture is that you may be interpreting the Bible wrongly, and therefore putting yourself in danger of teaching people false doctrine. It must be assumed that this housegroup leader has some knowledge of the context of the Bible, and is trying to find meaning in the scripture that will ultimately draw themselves and others closer to God. Realistically however, in such a situation, it is unlikely for heresies to arise from a misinterpretation that would cause anyone to backslide from God.
2.11 Myth or History?
Already, by simply viewing narratives as stories, we are confronted with a large problem. How can we know if narratives are truly historical? To put it simply, did they actually happen, or was the writer merely trying to get a point across? The traditional view to this argument is that all narrative accounts in the Bible are historical accounts and not mythical stories. In other words, it was genuinely held that the real events occurred just as described in the Bible3. However, in the case of most parables, the historicity of the story is not an issue. This view had been firmly held by the church up until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During this time, groups such as deists began to question the narrative accounts in the Bible such as Joshua 10:12-14 (did the sun actually stand still?). Although the historicity was challenged, the significance of these accounts was not. The Rationalists were also a group that began challenging scripture at this time. They specifically focused on the miracles in the narrative stories and chose to believe that they did not actually occur; rather, something un-miraculous occurred instead. The ambition for the rationalist was to discover what actually happened' behind these stories. For instance, their view can be illustrated in their understanding of the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21). They would affirm that the fish and the loaves did not multiply, but the poor boy who gave his food away inspired...
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Cassuto, U., A commentary on the book of Exodus, Jerusalem: The Magnes press, the Hebrew university. 1951 (translated by Abrahams, I. in 1967)
Duvall, J. S., and Hays, J. D., Grasping God 's word: a hands-on approach to reading, interpreting, and applying the bible. (Second edition). 2001
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Osborne, G. R., The hermeneutical spiral: a comprehensive introduction to biblical interpretation. Illinois: IVP, 1991
Stein, R. H., A basic guide to interpreting the Bible: playing by the rules. Michigan: Baker Books. 1994
www.wikipedia.com, Biblical Genre: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_genre. (27.02.06)
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