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Thursday
Apr072011

Theological Term of the Week

biblical hermeneutics
The art and science of interpreting the Bible.1

  • From scripture: 

    Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

  • From The Interpretation of Scripture by J. I. Packer:
    Scripture yields two basic principles for its own interpretation. The first is that the proper, natural sense of each passage (i.e., the intended sense of the writer) is to be taken as fundamental; the meaning of texts in their own contexts, and for their original readers, is the necessary starting-point for enquiry into their wider significance. In other words, Scripture statements must be interpreted in the light of the rules of grammar and discourse on the one hand, and of their own place in history on the other. This is what we should expect in the nature of the case, seeing that the biblical books originated as occasional documents addressed to contemporary audiences; and it is exemplified in the New Testament exposition of the Old…
    The second basic principle of interpretation is that Scripture must interpret Scripture; the scope and significance of one passage is to be brought out by relating it to others. Our Lord gave an example of this when he used Gn. ii.24 to show that Moses’ law of divorce was no more than a temporary concession to human hard-heartedness. The Reformers termed this principle the analogy of Scripture; the Westminster Confession states it thus: “The infallible rule of interpretation of scripture is the scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture, it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” This is so in the nature of the case, since the various inspired books are dealing with complementary aspects of the same subject. The rule means that we must give ourselves in Bible study to following out the unities, cross-references and topical links which Scripture provides.
  • From the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (pdf):
    Article XV

    We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.

    We deny the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.2

    Article XVII

    We affirm the unity, harmony and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter.

    We deny that Scripture may be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that one passage corrects or militates against another. We deny that later writers of Scripture misinterpreted earlier passages of Scripture when quoting from or referring to them.3

Learn more:

  1. GotQuestions.org: What is Biblical hermeneutics?
  2. D. A. Carson: Must I Learn How to Interpret the Bible?
  3. J. I Packer: The Interpretation of Scripture
  4. J. I. Packer: Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology
  5. Greg Bahnsen: A Reformed Confession Regarding Hermeneutics
  6. Daniel Wallace: The Holy Spirit and Hermeneutics
  7. Ryan Habbena: Ten Lesson Class on Hermeneutics (mp3s, power point slides, and pdf class handouts)
  8. D. A. Carson: Hermeneutics (mp3)

Related terms:

1From Must I Learn How to Interpret the Bible? by D. A. Carson.

2From Norman Geisler’s commentary on this article: 

The literal sense of Scripture is strongly affirmed here. To be sure the English word literal carries some problematic connotations with it. Hence the words normal and grammatical-historical are used to explain what is meant. The literal sense is also designated by the more descriptive title grammatical-historical sense. This means the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.

The Denial warns against attributing to Scripture any meaning not based in a literal understanding, such as mythological or allegorical interpretations. This should not be understood as eliminating typology or designated allegory or other literary forms which include figures of speech (see Articles X, XIII, and XIV).

3From Norman Geisler’s commentary on this article: 

Not only is the Bible always correct in interpreting itself (see Article XVIII), but it is the “best interpreter” of itself.

Another point made here is that comparing Scripture with Scripture is an excellent help to an interpreter. For one passage sheds light on another. Hence the first commentary the interpreter should consult on a passage is what the rest of Scripture may say on that text.

The Denial warns against the assumption that an understanding of one passage can lead the interpreter to reject the teaching of another passage. One passage may help him better comprehend another but it will never contradict another.

This last part of the Denial is particularly directed to those who believe the New Testament writers misinterpret the Old Testament, or that they attribute meaning to an Old Testament text not expressed by the author of that text. While it is acknowledged that there is sometimes a wide range of application for a text, this article affirms that the interpretation of a biblical text by another biblical writer is always within the confines of the meaning of the first text.

Do you have a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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Reader Comments (2)

This term is perfect timing for me as I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks and blogged about it (a bit) today.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

Leslie,

I like when that happens. I've been planning to do this term for a few months now, ever since I clipped that piece on the interpretation of scripture by J. I. Packer, but just got around to it now.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

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