UNDERSTANDING PRINCIPLES OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION
I want you to meet Hermen. I don’t know him well, but what I know I appreciate. He’s opinionated, but I respect his wisdom. Since we share an interest in books, I have learned some of Hermen’s ideas on how to read literature, including the Bible. Here are some:
l) Take the simple meaning first. Don’t allegorize unless the author gives you a clue that you are supposed to. Interpret words literally, unless given a reason not to. Don’t look for “hidden truth” until you understand the clear meaning. Words contain a socially acknowledged meaning. It isn’t fair pool to redefine a word to fit one’s private interpretation. Words should normally be understood in the customary way they would at the time written. To find the simple meaning, we try to understand the culture in which the term was used.
2) Let easier passages explain hard ones. Don’t make a case about difficult texts unless the easier passages make the same point. Cults make a big deal about scriptures over which much controversy swirls.
3) Let the author explain himself. Don’t tell him what he meant. If you read enough, he will probably tell you. Scripture explains Scripture more accurately than a commentary can. Inductive study hopefully keeps us from reading something into a passage, called eisegesis.
4) Expect a book to agree with itself. Unless an author is losing his marbles, he will not say one thing in one passage that he contradicts in another. Apparent contradictions are probably in the reader’s mind, not the author’s.
5) Context helps with text. Check the environment. Hermen agrees with the axiom, “A text without a context is a pretext.” To discover what an author is saying, find out what he already said or says in the next chapter. It gripes Hermen when people lift a quote out of context and make it say what the writer isn’t.
6) Authors write books to say something. Discovering the main message helps you understand supporting points. The whole should equal the sum of the parts.
7) If you don’t understand chapter one, maybe you will after you read chapter two. The end clarifies the beginning. This is called progressive revelation. Revelation completes the big picture. What happens in the New helps to interpret the Old. For instance, Hebrews helps us understand Leviticus and Revelation, Genesis.
Hermen won’t budge much. If you have occasion to be involved with him, you will get along better if you understand these rules. Hermen’s last name, in case you wish to contact him, is Eutics. His full name, Hermen Eutics,has an interesting origin, coming from a Greek word “hermenea,” meaning “interpretation.” Hermen helps us interpret the Bible, an important skill.