In our last article, we discussed the importance of hermeneuticsthe study, understanding, and application of Gods Word. Taken from 2 Timothy 2:15, we pointed out the reality of the work involved and the necessity of basic principles in our interpretation of the Bible. Without a set of rules, the Bible would be open to any mans interpretation, and every mans interpretation would be very different, causing confusion and chaos in the believers life.
So what are these guidelines? While books could be, and have been, written on the topic, here are some of the basic principles involved in hermeneutics.
- Holy Spirit Illumination: Required in a proper understanding of Gods Word is a surrender to the Holy Spirit as He reveals the truth and application of Scripture to your life. The Holy Spirit will never bring confusion, but will always give clarity and understanding to those who seek it (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13).
- Common Sense: If the plain sense makes common sense, seek no other sense. What is in the Bible has been put there by God on purpose, and we must not try to make more of Gods Word than He does. When we begin to force Gods thoughts into our viewpoint, we often overlook or skew Gods meaning.
- Literal: As much as possible, be literal in your interpretation. While a verse or passage may have more than one application, it will only ever have one meaning. Do not try to find some deeper meaning in the passage. If the Bible says (which it does), God so loved the world, do not try to symbolize what world means. Keep it simplelet the Bible say what it says and accept it!
- Normal: Understand that the Bible uses figures of speech, and must be interpreted where those figures of speech are used. For instance, in Psalm 1, the righteous man is compared to a tree planted by the water. A simile (a comparison using like or as) is used to help us gain a better understanding of the passage. Just as we accept figures of speech in other literature and interpret them as such through a proper understanding of the context, so should we with the Bible.
- Historical: Consider the historical and cultural background of the passage or verse in question. Often this will clear up misunderstandings that we have because of our own historical or cultural background, and keep us from discarding practical applications that are evident in the passage.
- Grammatical: When studying the Bible, it is imperative that we carefully consider the meaning of the words used (word meaning or usage may have changed in the last two thousand years), the structure of the sentence or paragraph in which the words are used, and the overall context of the passage within the chapter and even the book.
- Faith-Based Application: Whether or not you completely understand a passage, a proper hermeneutic accepts by faith that 1) God has given us His Word for a specific purpose and 2) He intends for us to apply His Word to our livens practically and daily. Look to God for illumination, understand, and then ask for grace for obedience as you take seriously the study of His Word!