Hermeneutics 101: Reasons, Challenges, and Benefits of Biblical Interpretation
Almost ten years ago I was introduced to hermeneutics by William Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard in the first semester of my M.Div. program. Thanks to their sturdy textbook resource I got a goodly introduction to the important practice of biblical interpretation. Which is why I’m thrilled they’ve updated and revised it!
Now in its third edition, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation offers concise, logical, and practical guidelines for discovering the truth in God’s Word. With updates and revisions throughout that keep pace with current scholarship, this guide offers the best, most up-to-date information needed to interpret Scripture.
But how are we to learn what the Bible says? How do we mine its resources? What are we to learn and how are we to respond? Can we know if we have understood the message correctly? Our goal in writing this book is to help answer these questions, to unravel some of the mystery of biblical interpretation. (33)
Leveraging insights from Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, we’ve put together a hermeneutics 101 quick guide that will help you understand why biblical interpretation is necessary, some challenges to it, and how hermeneutics will benefit your study of God’s Word and walk with Christ.
Why Biblical Interpretation Is Necessary
Any discussion about biblical interpretation has to answer “why.” Why do we need interpretive processes and methods to understand the Bible? Their are at least three reasons:
- Interpretation Is Both an Art and Science. The artistic and scientific methods of biblical interpretational provide “a strategy that will enable us to understand the meaning and significance of what an author or speaker intended to communicate” (43).
- There Are No Objective Observers. Just as the Bible arose within historical, personal circumstances, so does our own interpretations. This requires methods “to guide us in navigating through the variable and subjective human factors to enable us to arrive at the most likely understanding of the biblical texts’ meaning” (45).
- Determining “Meaning” Is Complex. Leveraging the insights of speech act theory, the authors explore the complexities of meaning arising from what the Bible says to how it’s understood and what it means. “Any appraisal of ‘meaning’ must take into consideration this complex interplay of text, author, and audience” (47).
Some Challenges of Biblical Interpretation
“A word that captures one of the greatest challenges (and frustrations) the Bible interpreter will face is distance” (53). Hermeneutics is needed to overcome four barriers caused by our distance:
- Time Distance. Given that biblical events and their writings span many centuries, and it’s been 1900 years since the last word was written, “we may be at a loss to understand what a text means because it involves subjects far removed in the past” (54).
- Cultural Distance. “On the pages of the Bible we encounter customs, beliefs, and practices that make little sense to us” (56). Therefore, we must inform ourselves of the foreign cultures and customs of the Bible, and be aware of our own which color interpretation.
- Geographical Distance. “Unless we have had the opportunity to visit the places mentioned in the Bible, we lack a mental, visual databank that would aid our understanding of certain events” (57).
- Language Distance. Perhaps most importantly, there is the reality that the Bible is written in languages inaccessible to most people. “We depend upon trained biblical scholars to translate the biblical languages and their literary devices into our native tongues, but their work is necessarily interpretive” (58).
How Correct Biblical Interpretation Benefits You
Correct principles and methods for interpreting the Bible are needed. Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard offer three ways such methods will benefit you and your study of God’s Word:
- You’ll Discern God’s Message. “A careful system of hermeneutics provides the means for the interpreter to arrive at the text’s intention, and more importantly, to understand what God intended to communicate through human minds and hands” (63).
- You’ll Avoid Erroneous Conclusions. “Ideally, correct interpretation undermines erroneous teachings that people use to support aberrant beliefs and behavior” (63), because how one interprets key passages should drive one’s conclusions and actions.
- You’ll Apply the Bible to Life. God’s Word means something for real life and our lives. Yet the applicational task is difficult, for God’s message applies univocally (biblical truths written to the ancients apply today) and analogically (biblical truths apply today in ways that parallel their original intent). Biblical interpretation “help readers discover God’s message to Christians today from the teachings and stories ‘back then’” (65).
The basic goal of Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard’s introduction to biblical interpretation is to “establish, explain, and demonstrate guidelines and methods to guide those who want to understand and apply Scripture correctly” (42).
If you haven’t already added their trusted, valuable resource to your library, do that now. If you have their previous edition, I’d encourage you to upgrade to this latest one in order to better understand how to interpret God’s Word and apply it to all of life.