What is Biblical Hermeneutics? Why Is It Important?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What in the world is hermeneutics?  Why is it important?  Does it help to apply biblical hermeneutics when reading the Bible?

The Definition for Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics (huhr-muh-noo-tiks) is an English translation for the Greek word meaning “translation.”  We could use it to say it is the hermeneutical explanation, exposition, expression, rendition, or translation of Scriptures or a word in the Bible.  When someone is applying biblical hermeneutics they are explaining the act of difficult or unfamiliar terms or even translating a word or words from one language into another.  It is essential in reading difficult passages, unfamiliar words, or hard sayings.  Hermeneutics can unfold a new meaning or reveal something that is hidden from casual readers of the Bible and make obscure words expounded into their full significance.

Hermeneutics is applied when we translate the Greek or Hebrew into the English.  For example the use of the word tongues in English is actually in the Koine Greek “languages” or known languages.  This helps when we read Acts 2 verses 4 and 11, it says, All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!  If we apply hermeneutics and translate tongues from English to the Greek, it reads All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. (Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own languages! We can see the value of the use of hermeneutics in the English translations of the Bible from the Hebrew in the Old Testament and the Greek in the New Testament.  This is very important when expositional preaching of the Bible is done.  The original words that differed from the English translation of it may give greater insight and meaning to the context.  Exegesis though is concerned with focusing on the written text itself.

Biblical Hereneutics

Hermeneutics can help us understand the original intent of the Scripture, give us a proper interpretation, allow us to understand it more deeply and thus, apply it to our everyday lives.

Good Biblical Hermeneutics Reduce Doctrinal Errors

I have heard so much bad doctrines developed when churches or Christians take one verse and make it a stand-alone doctrine.  The error in this is when text is taken out of context it makes it a pretext – and often a false one.  Good, biblical hermeneutics reduces the chance for doctrinal error and it reminds me of 2 Timothy 2:15 which says one should, “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.”  The words “rightly handling” means that we handle the Word of God in a right manner, for its original intent or purpose.  A key point that I have heard is that all Scripture is written for believers but not all Scripture is written to believers.  For example we could look at the Sabbath laws in the Old Testament and realize that they were written for us as an example but not written to us to follow strictly.  It would be a little hard today for Christians to observe the Sabbath because when we drive to church we are breaking the commandment to not go more than a mile (approximately) or prepare any food.  There would also be a fewer “snake handler” churches out there today if they only used good, biblical hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics can help us understand the original intent of the Scripture, give us a proper interpretation, allow us to understand it more deeply and thus, apply it to our everyday lives.  There are idiosyncrasies to the Greek and Hebrew language just like there are today in English, Spanish, French, and the many worldwide languages.  There is also the historical context in which Scriptures were written that must be considered and may not be applicable to the 21st Century.  Contrary to what we might think about hermeneutics, it actually allows us to see what the author of the Word says…that author being the Holy Spirit for it wasn’t really men who wrote the Bible but men as moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).  Even in the Old Testament, it was the Holy Spirit that moved David to write the Psalms (Acts 1:16-17).  If the Word of God is the sword and the Holy Spirit moves the sword, then good biblical hermeneutics is the sharpens the sword.

Hermeneutics agrees with how we can discern difficult to understand passages or verses.  We can use the adjacent Scriptures, the chapter itself, or even the entire book to see the specific purpose of one verse.  For example, the hard sayings of Jesus allow us to look at the broader picture and understand that He is using hyperbole or an extreme exaggeration to make a point that gets our attention.  When Jesus speaks the name of a person twice like Martha, Martha, Saul, Saul, or Simon, Simon (Peter), we realize that Jesus is not just repeating the name for no good reason.  When a name is repeated twice, it is symbolic of an intimate relationship.  When Jesus warned about many coming to Him on the Day of His return, He said that Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”  Twice Jesus says that people will come to Him on that day and say, “Lord, Lord” meaning that these people thought that they had an intimate relationship with Jesus but He will say to them, I never knew you.  Away from Me, you evildoers!”   Jesus not only didn’t know them at one time…He never knew them!  They claimed to be a Christian but perhaps they never read the Bible, never attended a church (where the Body of Christ worships), they never stopped sinning, and they never repented.  Knowing why a name is repeated twice is important to know the reason that was.  Good biblical hermeneutics brings this out clearly.

Conclusion

The next time you hear the word hermeneutics used, I hope you can see the importance of using good biblical hermeneutics for Bible study, for preaching, for Sunday school, and for reading the Bible.  In many Bibles there are margins or footnotes with numbers given that tell of the original word in Hebrew or Greek.  Lower-case letters are attached to many verses that give helpful cross-references where the verse you are reading is either quoting another chapter and verse or it is associated with another Scripture that helps to bring clarity to the verse you are reading.  Many good Study Bibles are very helpful in learning to discern the context, the content, the author’s original intent, the historical setting, or the original translation of it from another language.  Any good Study Bible already applies the use of hermeneutics and you may not even know it.

One last example of good hermeneutics is where Jesus says that whoever believes in me has eternal life (John 6:47).  We know that we are still human when we place our trust in Jesus but in John 6:47 and elsewhere, we see that Jesus says that we already have eternal life.  It may not look like it, feel like it, or seem like it but Jesus said we already have it!  The Greek word for believe is “pistevo” which comes from the Greek noun “pistis” which means to trust, have credence in, have reliance on, and assurance in.  This little Greek noun, used over 550 times in the New Testament, means a lot more than most people think “believe” means.  When we read the word “believe”, it may mean that we think that someone will call us back or that our team is up by 6 runs in the 7th inning and we believe that they should win the game.  However, that is a hope-so and not a know-so which the Greek word believe (pistis) means.  When we believe on Jesus Christ for eternal life, we can rely on Him to save us, we can trust Him to forgive us, we can give credence to His promises, and we can have assurance that we have eternal life.  Good, biblical hermeneutics brings the Scriptures alive, just like the Holy Spirit does to the former sinner and to the Scriptures.  In that you can be assured of, trust in, rely upon, and believe with all your heart, mind, and soul.

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Sources:

New International Version Bible (NIV)
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide





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