Lessons in Discipleship(24) دروس في التلمذة

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LID#24 – Interpreting the Bible: Principles of Hermeneutics

          This is Dr. Ed Hoskins welcoming you to Lessons in Discipleship, a series designed to help new believers become established in their Christian faith.  Today’s presentation is on Interpreting the Bible: Principles of Hermeneutics.  Let me start by telling you a little about myself.  I am a retired physician who spent 34 years in family medicine and student health.  I became a Christian 50 years ago and was helped early in my faith by the Navigators, a non-denominational international Christian organization whose stated goal is To Know Christ and to Make Him Known.  I have been on associate staff with that organization since 1980.  Lessons in Discipleship is a compilation of what I learned from the Bible under the guidance of the Navigators during that time.  What I learned then I now pass on to you.  Today’s session is Interpreting the Bible: Principles of Hermeneutics.

          Hermeneutics is the branch of knowledge that deals with interpreting ancient texts, usually Bible or literary texts, to find out what they actually mean.  What is the biblical basis for hermeneutics?

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15)

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (II Timothy 3:16)

Much of the material from this presentation came from a book by  Walt Hendrickson and Gayle Jackson (Studying, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible – Zondervan 1990).  From page 144 of their book, “we must also assume certain things.  First, the Bible is authoritative.  Second, the Bible contains its own laws of interpretation which, when properly understood and applied, will yield the correct meaning to a given passage.  Third, the primary aim of interpretation is to discover the author’s meaning.  Fourth, language can communicate spiritual truth.”  I have summarized their principles on hermeneutics in  what follows.  In addition, I have personally used this material for many years.  I find it invaluable.

Principle #1 — The Bible is authoritative.  We already saw this from Second Timothy 3:16 above. God wrote the Bible using approximately 40 authors over 1500 years.  All the writing was under the direct inspiration and control of the Holy Spirit.  Reason and tradition or church history try to compete for this top spot.  But ultimately, as Christians, we choose to submit to the authority of God’s word, the Bible.

Principle #2 – The Bible interprets itself.  Let me give you an example.  From Isaiah chapter 7, verse 14, where it says “the virgin will be with child…” is one of the first prophecies in the Bible of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.  The Hebrew word “virgin”  can mean either ‘a woman who has never had any sexual activity’ or simply a ‘young woman.’  How do we know which meaning is correct?  The answer is that the Bible interprets itself.  In the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew, verse 23 we see this same word in Greek regarding Mary (referring back to this same quote in Isaiah 7:14).  In the Greek the meaning is clear and ‘virgin’ has only one meaning.  It is a woman who has never been sexually active.  Thus, the Bible tells us the answer to our question.

Principle #3 – Saving faith and the Holy Spirit are necessary to properly interpret Scripture.  True understanding of the Bible comes from illumination of the Holy Spirit.

Principle #4 – Interpret experience and church history in light of Scripture and not vice versa.  Again, the focus is on what the Bible says, not what we think or feel, or what is based on our current life experiences.

Principle #5 – Biblical examples are not authoritative unless supported by a command.  For example, there are many things that Jesus did which we are not expected to emulate.  Jesus never married.  Jesus never traveled on anything besides a donkey.  To our knowledge it does not mean that we must follow all Jesus’ examples.  In addition, Jesus celebrated the Sabbath on a Saturday, as Jews did then.  Most Christians today celebrate on Sunday.  None of these are spiritually commanded.  It is a choice given to us by God.

Principle #6 – The primary purpose of the Bible is to change our lives, not to increase our knowledge.  There is always great danger in amassing head knowledge without moving into heart knowledge.  “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (I Corinthians 8:1)

Principle #7 – The interpretation of scripture should be taken literally unless it is obviously meant to be interpreted figuratively.  In other words, the simplest and most straightforward meaning for each passage should be taken as correct unless otherwise indicated by the context.

Principle #8 – Scripture must be interpreted in light of the historical and cultural context of the author.  In understanding what the Bible says, we always want to understand what was in the mind of the original author at the time they were writing.

Principle #9 – Parables have one primary intended meaning.  Identifying the trigger for a parable will help us identify the purpose.  In other words, what caused it to be spoken by Jesus often gives rise to the parable’s meaning.

The meaning of all three of Jesus’ parables in Luke 15 is clarified by the interaction of Jesus with the hostile Pharisee crowd at the time.

Principle #10 – Different parts of the Bible are historical, such as Genesis or Second Kings.  Other parts of the Bible are known to be  wisdom literature, such as the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.  And some other parts of the Bible are clearly prophetic like Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel or Revelation.  The type of literature that each scripture represents often gives a key to the original meaning in its  context.

Principle #11 – The entire Bible fits together into a single unit with a unified theme.  In other words, there is a promised Messiah king who will come in the form of Jesus of Nazareth to make all things new, to be a suffering servant, and recognize and reconcile humankind to God.  Every other part of Scripture takes on the flavor of this central theme.

Principle #12 – Biblical doctrine is authoritative only when it is consistent with the whole council and teaching of God in the Scripture.

Again, we use the concept of a unified biblical theme.

Finally, Principle #13 – When two biblical doctrines appear contradictory, like the Trinity or free will and God’s sovereignty or things like the deity and humanity of Christ, how do we reconcile those topics?  As Christians we accept both with the knowledge that they will eventually be resolved into a higher unity.  This tension, just like the cords of a tent, allows the whole tent to stand up correct and firm.

Well, let’s summarize what we’ve learned from this brief presentation.  There are principles of correct Bible interpretation.

This science is called hermeneutics.  It helps us to know and understand what the Bible really means.  It keeps us from making doctrinal error.  Ultimately, hermeneutics goes back to the foundation stone of the Bible being written by an authoritative mind – the mind of God.  We believe the Bible is inerrant in the original languages and sufficient for all our life and spiritual needs.  Careful attention to biblical hermeneutics can prevent us from being needlessly captivated by cults, heresies, and doctrinal errors.

Well, that wraps up today’s presentation.  We will see you next time when we cover lesson 25 in Lessons in Discipleship when our topic will be How to Identify a Cult.  Thanks for being a part.  Until next time, keep following Jesus.  He’s worth it!

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