Hermeneutics, Part 1
A frequent question to The Theology Nerd is, “How do we understand what the Bible says?” Whether asked directly or implied, this question underlies everything the foundation for this blog’s existence. If we are Bible-based and cannot understand the Bible, then we have a big problem, but we rejoice in the fact that there are indeed normative principles to help us understand the Bible. Enter the study of hermeneutics.
Let us start by addressing two subjective issues whose understanding will lay the groundwork for our interpretive tools. One is prayer and the other is illumination. All Bible reading or studying should begin with a heart of prayer. After all, we are reading the Word that has proceeded from God. Therefore, we should be in communication with the One who sent it to us. This is both respectful as well as proactive. Luke 24:45 states that Jesus opened the disciples’ minds to understand the Scriptures. I do not mean to sound metaphysical or mystical, but we do have a supernatural book. Can you imagine what it was like for them walking with Jesus? The disciples ministered side by side with Him. They saw all the miracles. Some even were used to perform miracles themselves. Yet after the crucifixion and resurrection, they still needed their eyes to be opened. Should they not have understood all about Jesus? They had heard His teachings for three years. How dark the human mind is! If the disiciples needed to have their eyes opened in order to understand the Old Testament, how much more do we need the same thing in order to understand the Word of God? Without the Holy Spirit at our side, we will constantly miss the mark. If you are a concrete and objective kind of person who likes to see the facts in a definite form to prove reality, then the subjectivity of prayer and illumination may go against your natural grain. Such subjectivity is absolutely essential, though. We need to hear God freshly in our exegetical and hermeneutical approaches. This sets Christian theology apart from simple academic pursuit. Prayer was the starting point for exegesis to the great theologians such as Martin Luther. He said of prayer, “Whenever I have prayed earnestly, I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but He always comes.” It would be very unwise to neglect prayer as a powerful hermeneutical tool. If we are so academic in our studies that we neglect the Holy Spirit, we miss the point of it all.
An important word in study of the doctrine of the Word of God is perspicuity. When applied to the Bible, this word means knowable. God did not give us a Bible that would confuse and frustrate us. The very design of the Scriptures is to know God, so do not fret. The task at hand is doable. However, there are certain caveats to this quest. First, the whole premise presupposes that you are a Christ-follower. One of the requirements of being in direct commune with God Himself is that you must be a believer. If you find that you are not in Christ, pray and seek God immediately, for there is far more at stake than knowledge of the Bible. When you are right with God, you can hear from God. If you are a Christian and have unrepented sin in your life, repent and pray to God. Sin clogs the pathway to your hearing from God.
The Bible is absolutely knowable to the Christian who prays for knowledge. That does not meant that all verses are equally easily understood. We can understand the overall message or big picture with little effort. However, going deeper into the riches of God’s Word takes considerable effort on our part. Honestly, there are passages that are difficult to understand, but there is a definite difference between unknowable and just difficult. We can be assured that every Word of the Bible in some way is knowable, but there is no place for laziness in hermeneutics or exegesis. It takes applying one’s self; only then growth will come. Out of that growth we need to apply ourselves even more. Then, over the course of a lifetime, we may be amazed at how much we have come to understand. One of the greatest things about the Bible is that its truths are eternal and unlimited. We can never exhaust all that our Holy Bible has to say to us. Therefore, our task is to dig in and continue our work day in and day out.
We have explored a few of the non-objective issues in biblical hermeneutics. The Bible is a supernatural book. It must be approached prayerfully. We need the illumination of the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible. The Word of God is knowable, but not necessarily easy to understand. Bible study takes effort. Readers here would likely not still be here if you were not willing to commit to the work involved. Soon we will talk about some of the ways we can interpret the Bible. We will talk about genre, vocabulary, presuppositions, requirements, resources, and time tested methodologies.
Comments are always welcome.