How you read the Bible matters.
This is what the study of Hermeneutics is all about, the theories of interpretation and application of a text, usually referring to how we approach God’s Word. There’s an excellent article on Theopedia that explains what is meant by hermeneutics: but I’ll give a brief summary here:
A sound Biblical hermeneutic considers the the context of the passage, the genre and literary devices of the passage, and the situation of the author and the intended audience of the passage in order to understand the meaning and application of the text. In other words, a good hermeneutic seeks to draw out the meaning of the text and apply it to our lives today, rather than read our lives today into the text and see how it fits.
Still, having an “originalist hermeneutic,” or an exegetical approach to the Scriptures, does not keep one from also reading with a very personal view. Reading exegetically does not keep me from inserting myself into the story.
For example, when Paul addresses saints or the Church, I can read that as being addressed to me as well. I may not share in their exact experience, but the word still applies to my life. When the Scriptures describe the struggle of the faithful in this life, I can see comparisons to the struggles that the faithful still face today, and draw from the same well of hope that has comforted God’s people through the generations.
Today, this Personal Hermeneutic hit a little close to home. M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Plan, which I’ve mentioned often in previous blogs, brought me back to Genesis with the start of the New Year, and this morning I came to the reading of Genesis 6. Here we read of the increasing corruption of the human condition, culminating in the damning passage of Genesis 6:5:
“The Lord say that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5 ESV).
Wow. Such a judgement on the wickedness of the heart of humanity, it was only evil, all the time. Ever affection, every plan, every thought, every hope of every person was self-centered, self-indulgent, self-promoting, and self-seeking. Nothing was directed toward God. None (except for Noah) sought His ways or sought His face.
It’s easy to see the connection to Paul’s review of the state of humanity in Romans 1:29-32:
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:29–32 ESV).
And it’s easy to see how this applies to our age today. We look around us and we see this in our culture, in the media and entertainment, and even preached within many churches that have abandoned the gospel in order to gain the praise of the world.
But the point of the personal hermeneutic is how I read myself into this story. Where do I fit? By nature, I’m not Noah, nor one of his children. I’d be one of those scoffers, mocking him for building a boat when there wasn’t any rain. I know my heart, and apart from the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, it’s intentions are always evil all the time. I know that I am, by nature, like those in Romans 1:29-32.
My personal hermeneutic does not allow me to be the hero, the one righteous out of all the others. Instead, it brings me back to the reality of my own heart. I stand, like all the rest of humanity, as a sinner before a righteous and holy God, in desperate need of salvation. This hermeneutic is humbling, crushing…
But this personal hermeneutic is also life-giving. This view allows me to see that when Jesus says He came to save sinners, I know he came for me. I can read myself as Gomer, the bride who has been redeemed, never to stray again; the church purified and adorned, waiting for the day of the Bridegroom’s arrival. I see how Jesus took the flood of God’s wrath reserved for me, so that, because I am in Him by faith, I am safe and secure from all harm.
Every day I read the Bible, I don’t just read of some old story from long ago. I read of the wondrous, ongoing working of our eternal God in our gracious Savior Jesus Christ. I see how God has worked, and continues to work, to bring about His good will for His own glory and for our benefit.
I pray you find yourself in God’s word today, too.