Dear Aebi ...


Charles J. Aebi

"What is hermeneutics, and what is 'the new hermeneutic' that I hear about?"

Hermeneutics is a word that comes from Greek mythology (Hermes was the interpreter of Zeus or Jupiter) and means "interpretation." As it relates to the Bible, it is the science of Biblical interpretation, or rules for interpretation rules that derive from logic and common sense. A similar word is exegesis, which means applying hermeneutics to bring out the meaning of difficult passages.

There are several rules of hermeneutics or Biblical Interpretation that are the logical rules for interpreting or understanding any written or oral communication. They include (not necessarily in order of importance) the need to

(1) Have the right attitude toward the divine inspiration of Scripture: believe in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. If one does not hold the Bible to be authoritative, it will not matter much to him whether he gets the meaning that was intended by the author.

(2) Desire to please God in your worship and living to both know and do what God wants.

(3) Read and study Scripture with the expectation of understanding it. If you approach it as too difficult to understand, you will not likely get the intended meaning.

(4) Use common sense in understanding Scripture as you would any writing.

(5) Use a reliable translation one that is both readable and true to the original text.

(6) Come to it with an understanding of the meaning and structure of our language (English).

(7) Consider the historical circumstances of author, time of writing, to whom it was written, the topic under discussion, the purpose of the writer, and the dispensation it was under.

(8) Carefully study the context (which includes some of the above points); note the remote or larger context and the immediate context. This is of vital importance.

(9) Remember that a passage may never mean what it never meant. One cannot be right in interpreting a passage to mean something totally different than it originally meant. For example, one cannot rightly say that "husband of one wife" now means a woman, or that "sing with grace in your heart" today means to sing to the accompaniment of an organ.

(10) Take any statement at face value unless its context or other clear Scriptures or known facts show that it is meant to be figurative.

As it is generally used, new hermeneutic refers to a different approach to the interpretation of Scripture so that the user can get a Bible passage to mean what he wants it to mean. Those who argue for a new hermeneutic often reject logic or straight-line reasoning in favor of a mystical method. Mysticism reads into Scripture what one wants to "feel" is there. A mystic does not necessarily use logic, and he may try to make his case by attacking "Newtonian physics," which means he rejects logic or a scientific method of interpretation. Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and several others) rely heavily on mysticism, and to a lesser extent many Catholics and Protestants use mysticism when they practice "a better felt than told" religion.

The new hermeneutic viewpoint is much like the reinterpretation methods of judges and lawyers who rewrite the U. S. Constitution to suit their current social agenda and, in doing so, reject what the original authors of the Constitution clearly meant when they wrote it. Liberal preachers and theologians do the same thing with Scripture: they reinterpret it by reading into it what they need in order to follow the agenda they want in worship and practice. 2660 Layman Rd., Vincent OH 45784


Return to West Virginia Christian