The science of biblical interpretation

Hermeneutics – The science of biblical interpretation

A fancy name for a common sense concept that is often commonly abused or neglected

Concepts for properly understanding the Scriptures - What I will do is outline what is necessary to properly understand a passage

Principle: Establishing Context
In order to understand what the Bible means to us in America in the 21st century, we must understand what it meant to them in their time

I. Understand how they thought and understand how we think – Differences in thought patterns

We are products and producers of culture – Our own way of looking at things can severely taint the Scriptures’ actual intent.

Eastern thought: Dynamic, colorful… Exaggeratory to us
Western thought: Precise, to the point… Stale to them

A Western thinking individual might look at a stew and think of it in terms of its ingredients. Eastern thinking might look at a pile of vegetables and think of the stew.

Western thinkers categorize (ice cube trays)
Eastern thinkers synthesize (block of ice)

Following an Eastern thinker’s argument is a nightmare for a Western thinking person, and vice-versa. The Easterner appears long-winded and simple-minded while the Westerner appears trite and disingenuous.

1st Century Christianity draws off of both of these strands of thought!!! East meets West in the Middle East

What does this mean?
We may tend to literalize Scripture that was not written in a literal manner
Jesus has a sword coming out of his mouth in Revelation?

There are certain types of literature in the Bible that we simply do not use in our day and age – thus, we do not understand them and may misinterpret them…

II. Understand the traits of Early Christian teachings/literature

Rabbinic Hyperbole – A teaching method used to make a very strong point through overly exaggerating something.

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off for it is better to enter heaven without a hand…”

“I tell you, if you do not hate your mother or father you do not have any part of me.”

Parables – Attempts to bring heavenly concepts down to earth through a non-literal story, using common human experiences to make a point.

The Seed and the Sower

Word-Pictures – Using strong imagery to make a non-literal point

“Our God is a consuming Fire”

Hell is described as both a Lake of Burning Fire and Everlasting Darkness… How do you have darkness with a flaming lake?

Their Worm never dies

Re: The Mormons… A Cult was formed partly out of misinterpretations, due to misunderstanding Scripture. Should serve as a warning to us all.

III. How has the Church historically interpreted the passage?

Beware of being a Lone Ranger… The Church has been around for nearly 2000 years. Furthermore, the untrained mind is not aware of how radically different it thinks from the original intent of the authors

My Model: In areas of confusion, default to the conservative or traditional interpretation while you look for the truth in a determined, thorough manner that allows for challenges.

IV. What is the context of the passage

• Read around the passage

V. Scripture interprets Scripture

• Read to the beginning of the book to try to follow an argument when needed – Helps to establish Authorial Intent

Romans is a book that has much precision in thinking. It follows a line of reasoning from start to finish as it is written to a Greek (gentile) people. If you want to know what Romans 7 means, make sure you know chapters 1-6.

Paul’s writings in general follows a purpose throughout the books he authored

• What light does the OT shed on the NT passage and vice-versa?…

This is an easy way of blowing common and poor interpretations out of the water……

1 Peter 2:24 – “By his stripes we are healed”

God wants to heal you of your cancer and acne!!

Isaiah 53 “By his stripes we are healed”

This verse, which Peter is quoting, has absolutely nothing to do with the physical body… It has to do with the Substitutionary Atonement of Christ dying in our place, therein saving us. Sin is sickness (word-picture) that has a fatal result, namely death. Christ took the blows in his body tasting the death we should have tasted.

• What do other passages say?

VI. Determine to find what the Bible is actually saying rather than look for what you want the Bible to say – It is not only and always a proof text for our own ideas

• Limiting the Word in its scope disfigures its teaching

You can miss the point of 1 Peter 2:24

• Limiting the Word in its scope disfigures its authority

Why? Because you are inadvertently limiting what it can talk about

• A Note on Study Bibles: They are a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it helps to have others explain what you do not understand when you are reading the Bible for the first time. They are a curse because you are often getting an intentionally skewed view of Scripture that is niche-marketed to a particular demographic

• Understand me: You do not want to read the Bible like it requires a secret decoder ring (or, Bible Code). The point is that you have to be ready to be surprised by what Scripture may be saying rather than determining its conclusions by your own personal interests.

That’s a weird phrase. Why would he say that?

We are saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8, 9) – Is the grace the gift or the faith? Or are both?

VII. Strive to understand the cultural practices of the day; Specifically the cultural significance of a given passage

• Short-haired women – Woman of faith or a man? 1 Cor. 11:5, 6
• Why is Jesus referred to as “The Word” in John 1? (Logocentrism)
• “I am the Light of the World.” – This is a Claim of Deity at the Festival of the Lights

VIII. Understand that “Claiming” the promises of God is often a sign of lacking maturity and understanding of the Scripture

• 1 Peter 2:24 – Claim as physical healing?
• 2 Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people…”
• Who has the power? (hint: we don’t) I can’t claim anything when it’s all of grace. Rather than claiming what you want or have, be thankful for what you have. Claiming lacks Humility and treats God as if He were a Cosmic Bellhop. Pleading the promises of God recognizes that God is Sovereign.

IX. Put yourself in the situation and try to imagine what it looked like

• Imagine the crowd thronging around Jesus when the woman touched his garment and was cured
• Imagine what it was like to look out upon 5,000 people on a hillside and teach them from a boat. Their faces were oily, the sun was bright. They were common people who needed a leader in an oppressed nation. Disease and disfigurement were commonalities in the day. No wonder Jesus had compassion on them…
• A man was just healed of being blind and is full of joy. He was probably aghast at or not cognizant of his parents leaving him to the Pharisees for questioning at such a momentous occasion. Why on earth did the parents not rejoice for their son and rather cower in front of the “church”?

The stuff you are reading really happened! These were real people!!


Knowing Scripture, R.C. Sproul ** Highly Recommended **
For learning basic hermeneutical principles

The Complete Who’s Who in the Bible, Paul Gardner (editor)
For learning the characters and offices of the Bible

The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, James Strong
Great Concordance with a wealth of information – my favorite

Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Second Edition, Everett Ferguson
A wealth of information on the culture and how it was influenced by others. A bit heady for the light-hearted.

Topical Indexes:
Nelson’s Quick Reference Topical Bible Index (Saturday Night Special)

Nave’s Topical Bible

Topical Analysis of the Bible, Walter Elwell – my favorite

Contact Me:

Ed Bock
• - See the “Seminary links” section for all of my coursework in Word document form
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