A Quick Lesson in Hermeneutics
There are various approaches people take when it comes to reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible.
They are engaged in what is known as hermeneutics, the science of interpretation. As soon as you open your Bible and begin reading, you are engaged in the art of interpretation. And to be fair, one act of interpretation has transpired even before you picked up your English Bible. That’s right. You picked up a translation of the Bible.
It isn’t hard to see how radically different the modern world is when compared with the ancient Biblical era.
WHO CONTRIBUTED TO THE BIBLE?
The writers of the Bible are kings, peasants, men, women, slaves, free, fishermen, doctors, lawyers, philosophers, generals, artists, poets, rich, poor, and so on. The Bible is not a list of do’s and don’ts. It isn’t just monolithic and one dimensional; it has multiple genres (law, prophets, poetry, gospels, history, letters, and apocalyptic). These genres contain information about geography, authors, audiences, population, genealogies, and much more.
The Bible is composed of 66 books written by approximately 40 authors and we even have a few books that we don’t know for certain who wrote! To widen the gap a bit more between the “then of writing” and the “now of reading”, consider that the Bible was written from 1400 BC-93 AD, spanning the entire Roman world, using 3 languages.
This is an incredibly complex book or, rather library of books, and really does take some rigorous intellectual engagement to begin to get your head around what you hold in your hands.
Do my culture and personal desires trump the authority of Scripture?
EXEGESIS VS. EISEGESIS
The Bible is old and you are new. Now, let me give you a 10 second crash course in hermeneutics. There’s no way we can come to the Bible unbiased. We all approach Scripture with a worldview, preconceived ideas, theological persuasions, political stances, personal baggage, and so forth. And that’s not always a bad thing!
However, when it comes to actually interpreting the Scriptures, there’s basically two ways of going at it and the two methods are what theologians refer to as exegesis and eisegesis.
Exegesis means “to lead out” or “extract from.” Maybe think ex-odus. We want to extract from the original meaning of the text, understand it in the world in which is was originally penned, and then make the hermeneutical jump over into the 21st century.
Many others choose another way to read called eisegesis. This means to “read into” and happens when someone imposes their own personal or cultural beliefs upon the Bible. This can be an attempt to make the Bible less offensive or more palatable to suit one's way of life and avoid being conformed to the image of Jesus. It ultimately undermines the authority of Scripture.
CHRISTIAN, ASK YOURSELF
- Who’s Word is this, actually?
- Am I out to exegete or eisegete the Bible?
- Does my culture and personal desires trump the authority of Scripture in my life, or am I willing to obey, love, and proclaim Scripture regardless of whether I am accepted or rejected?