What Is graphic

What IS Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the “science of interpretation” (Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, xiii). Specifically then, Biblical Hermeneutics is the science of Bible interpretation. “Hardly any study in the whole vast realm of intellectual life could be more important than the science of hermeneutics as applied to the Word of God, that which gives us an understanding of the eternal revelation of God to men. When such is absent not only have men misinterpreted the word, but they have taken falsehood out of the truth, and thus have deceived many when they should have led them out of darkness into light” (ibid.). 

Following His death burial and resurrection, the Lord Jesus engaged the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in conversation regarding the events of the crucifixion. It was obvious that they were unable to reconcile the events of His death with their understanding of why Messiah would come. The great majority of prophecies concerning the Messiah focused on majesty, power, and glory. Israel was rightly expecting the arrival of the one who was to be “King of the Jews.” They looked for the glory and majesty but were unable to reconcile the passages which spoke of His humility, rejection, and death. Indeed, the prophets had clearly spoken concerning the suffering of the Messiah, but neither the prophets themselves, nor the hearers of their message were able to reconcile the sufferings of Christ with the glory that should follow (1 Peter 1:10-12). Peter is clear that they did not minister the message about Christ’s suffering to themselves, but rather to the Apostles who would later proclaim these truths to post-cross believers.

As Jesus spoke to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV). The word translated “he interpreted” is the Greek word diermēneuō (διερμηνευω) from which we get the English word “hermeneutic.” Jesus literally explained, interpreted, and expounded the Scripture concerning His suffering and death – Jesus exercised good hermeneutics and revealed the meaning of the Word of God which had been hidden from them.

As Sophocles uses the word in classical Greek it has the sense of “explain to me” or “tell me plainly” (Thiselton, A.C., Brown, Colin, ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol 2, 579). Polybius uses the word to say “translate as accurately as possible” (ibid., 580) and in the Septuagint the word is used in the sense of “translate” or “interpret” (ibid.). In the New Testament the word group is generally used when the writer uses a common first century Aramaic word and says that the word “means” or “translates” in a certain way. The consistent idea is to accurately and faithfully represent the meaning and sense of the particular word (ibid., 581), such as “Abba, Father.” In Luke 24:27 diermēneuō “means to expound or to interpret… In the light of Christ’s finished work, OT passages which hitherto had expressed only promise could now be ‘interpreted’ in terms of fulfilment” (ibid.). 

When Jesus first told the Twelve that He was going to go to Jerusalem where He would be rejected and put to death and then rise again on the third day, Peter strenuously objected with the words “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22, ESV). Whatever the content of the Gospel of the Kingdom that the disciples had been commanded to preach to the Jews only (Matthew 10:5-7, ff.), it seems not to have included the message of the Gospel of the Cross. When Jesus first began to teach them about the cross, they totally rejected the idea of His death and Peter continued to fight against Jesus’s death even during the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:51; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:50; John 18:10). Apparently, God counted the matter of Peter’s refusal to accept the cross so significant that it is one of the few events in the life of Jesus that it recorded by all four Gospel writers.

Following the crucifixion, ALL the disciples were discouraged and believed that Jesus was forever gone and all of His life and ministry had now come to nought. Their inability to reconcile what they did understand with what they did not understand left them unable to recall or find hope in Jesus’s words that He would indeed rise again on the third day. When He finally did appear to the eleven in the upper room, they were more willing to believe that they were seeing a spirit rather than the risen Lord (Luke 24:36-48).

Good hermeneutics deals with the text in terms of providing faithful interpretation of the meaning of the words, a proper perspective by viewing the context rightly in terms of the whole of Scripture, and a balanced understanding that fits the themes and the flow of the whole of Scripture. Difficulties in interpretation cannot be glossed over or ignored. Preferences to long standing theological systems must be set aside in grappling with the meaning of a particular passage and group of passages. Our own theological heritage, to a degree, must be set aside. 

In short, our personal bias and predisposition to view the text in terms of how it fits within our own theological framework must be rigorously examined and brought into full conformity with the actual text of the Word of God. It is not the preachers task to tell us what he thinks about the passage. The preachers ultimate task is to tell us what the passage actually says. If he does less, or more – he has failed.

While we certainly recognize our indebtedness to the many faithful preachers and theologians who have gone before, our loyalty must be first, foremost, and always to the God of the Word and therefore to the Word of God. Anything less is either hermeneutical ventriloquism, imposing our words onto the text or an attempt to “gag God” (Carson, D. A.) silencing or stifling what He has actually said. Neither alternative is acceptable.

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