On the Families for Life Podcast, Pastor Brian Van Doren and I have started a new series called Understanding God’s Word. This series deals with things like hermeneutics (the science of interpretation), genre, and application of the Bible. If you haven’t listened yet, check out the first two episodes at oakhillbc.org/f4l.
The subject of hermeneutics is so important to our study of God’s Word; however, most Christians have never heard of it. Until I attended Bible college in 1998, I was one of those people. As I attended school, my mind began to explode with new concepts, and I became fascinated with this subject. The reason it is so important is because when hermeneutics, or proper interpretation, is applied to our study of God’s Word, the Bible comes alive.
Proper interpretation deals with not just reading the words on the page, of course that is part of it, but it goes deeper than that. It means understanding context, history, genre, authorship, theology, and language. This may seem intimidating at first. It was for me when I first began my journey. However, today we have access to unparalleled resources in our time. Every Study Bible I have gives a brief summary of the author, the historical context, the audience, outline of the book, etc. before each individual book of the Bible. We also have access to other resources like commentaries, concordances, dictionaries, theology books, etc. that all help us understand God’s Word. You can log onto a website like blueletterbible.org and find a wealth of resources to help you interpret scripture.
All of this became clear to me as I sat in hermeneutics’ class, but access to resources was not my biggest revelation. The thing that hit me the most dealt with the meaning of the text and how it applied to me. Before I began learning this, I would read the Bible and would immediately ask, “What does this mean to me?” Why is this the wrong question to ask? For starters it assumes the reader is the one determining the meaning. Proper interpretation tells us that God’s Word is first inspired by the Holy Spirit and written down by human authors. This means they have written down things in their historical period, using their language, and their context. The goal of studying God’s Word is not to find out what a text means to me, rather, what does the text mean, period. What is the meaning the author is trying to convey? Once we ascertain the author's meaning then we can ask the question, “How does this apply to me?”
Do you see the difference? When we approach God’s Word to discover the author's meaning first, the word comes alive to us; it is a God-focused endeavor instead of a selfish one. The application is very important, but it comes second to discovering the meaning of the text. Often the text will have one meaning but it will have many applications. The reason is because we are applying the lesson to our lives in our historical time, in our language, and our context. This is the proper order that must be maintained to properly interpret God’s Word.
The danger for us if we ignore proper interpretation is that we miss discovering the truth of God's Word. We are also in danger of making ourselves the center of the scriptures when we know that Jesus is the center. If we become the center, we can easily fall into heresy when we come across something we don’t like or when our cultural context calls for something different. If Jesus is the center, then no matter the time or place, God's message is maintained.
The encouragement for all Christians is to do what we are called to do in 2 Timothy 2:15, “rightly handling the word of truth.” To do this we must first read God’s Word, then we must seek to understand it using proper interpretation; but then we can't stop there, we must apply God’s Word to our lives. The Scriptures are living and active (Hebrews 4:12), which means it is meant to be used to change our lives. If you do not know how to study God’s Word and do not know where to begin, start by listening to the Families for Life Podcast series on Understanding God’s Word then seek out someone to help you. I am always available to help with this or any other matter (contact me by email at ).