One of the key principles of my ministry, I hope, is my desire to see God’s people growing in their knowledge and love of God through the regular, prayerful, and faithful reading of God’s Word. This special revelation of grace that God has given, wherein we come know God, ourselves, and His perfect plans of salvation in Jesus Christ – there is not greater treasure given to man. “Tolle lege” (take up and read) was the cry that Augustine heard, leading him to take up the Bible and come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
As we continue to take up and read, however, it is important to stop and consider how we actually see the Bible. The way we think about what we read, how we interpret and understand what’s being said is absolutely important.
In academic parlance, this is called Biblical Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics comes from a Greek word that simply means “interpret,” and Biblical Hermeneutics, then, are the principles and means employed to interpret the original meaning of a text which was given in a language, time and culture much different than ours.
Those who practice bad hermeneutics usually rip a text out of its context, making it mean something that was never intended. Disregarding how the author intended the passage to be read or understood, isolating the text from the rest of Scripture, and forcing 1st century writing into a 21st century mindset, the text can be made to say anything you want it to.
Case in point: in Jn 14:14, Jesus says, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Now if you read that in the larger context, you will see that Jesus promises this to those whom He has called to be His disciples, to those who have been called to love Him by keeping His commands in faith (14:15), and all so that the Father would be glorified in the Son (14:13).
But if you isolate the passage from it’s context… well then it isn’t too hard to imagine how a pastor can ask for a $40 million jet, or a $15 million home. Instead of submitting as disciples to a sovereign Lord, and looking for the incomparable worth of His coming kingdom, we turn Jesus into a cosmic Santa and televangelists feel justified in asking for just about anything.
So then, what are some basic hermetical principles? Well, there are a great many books written on this, but I will offer just a few essential principles here to get you started in the right direction.
- All Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible has many writers, but one Author. When we pick up and read the Bible, we must be reminded that it is God’s word.
- God’s word is uniform, coherent, without contradiction, and without error. I, on the other hand, am not always consistent, coherent, I am often full of contradiction and error. Any discrepancy I may think I find in Scripture is actually first found in me and my understanding. I bring the shortcoming to the text, and I must learn from the word and grow accordingly. Our Confession reminds us, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture, it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”
- God employs a wide variety of genres and literary styles in His Word: there is poetry, history, proverbial writing, and letters. We must read each with the proper understanding.
- As the Westminster Confession teaches: All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.
- All Scripture is useful for our training in godliness (2 Tim 3:17). The Scriptures were given so that we may know what we are to believe about God, and what duty God has given to us (WSC 3). We may learn some things about history, the science of the world around us, and even principles of economics. But this is not the chief end of Scripture. God’s Word is given that we may know God beyond what is revealed in Creation, knowing that God is the wise, holy, and sovereign ruler over all things, who has called His creation into covenant relation with Him, and will judge all according to His perfect righteousness. In His Word learn of our creation, our fall, and God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ.
- All Scripture points us to Christ. Jesus taught that all of the Old Testament is about him (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39-46). The entirety of the New Testament is about Jesus. Christ is on every page of the Bible. The story of David and Goliath is not about me conquering the giants in my life, but Jesus being the Warrior-King who saves a helpless people. The call to be strengthened in faith is not so that we will learn to stand on our own two feet, but that we would have the strength to trust in Him whose strength is made perfect in our weakness.
As you continue to read through God’s Word, stop and check which lenses you’re wearing. How you see and interpret the Word is essential to your growth and maturity in Christ.