Never has the need for responsible interpretation of the Bible been as critical as it is in these days. This will affect our missiology and views of culture/contextualization like nothing else. What follows is a series of quotes on the meaning of hermeneutics, as well as the affirmation that Christ is the hermeneutical key to all of the Scriptures. After that, three resources from R.C. Sproul, BiblicalTraining.org, and Monergism are highlighted. May God open his Word to even greater riches of knowing Him and making Him known as you “rightly divide the Word of Truth” (2 Tim 2:15).
Specifically, if you would like just a few key resources to help you in your Biblical missiology, check out Sproul’s Scripture and Culture video, Strauss’s Contextualization lecture, Stein’s lecture on Hermeneutical Issues Involved in Translation and D.A. Carson’s article Must I Learn How to Interpret the Bible?
- Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation; biblical hermeneutics is the art and science of interpreting the Bible.
D.A. Carson from “Must I Learn How To Interpret The Bible?”
- We affirm that the Person and work of Jesus Christ are the central focus of the entire Bible.
We deny that any method of interpretation which rejects or obscures the Christ-centeredness of Scripture is correct.
Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (Article III)
- We ought to read the Scriptures with the express design of finding Christ in them. Whoever shall turn aside from this object, though he may weary himself throughout his whole life in learning, will never attain the knowledge of the truth; for what wisdom can we have without wisdom of God?
John Calvin Commentary on John 5:39
- The history of Jesus is thus the hermeneutical key to the biblical canon as a whole. Jesus Christ is the hermeneutical key not only to the history of Israel but to the history of the world, and hence to the meaning of life, for he is the Logos through whom all things were made.
Jesus Christ is the content of the Scriptural witness, the one who interprets the Old Testament witness, and the one who commissions the New Testament witness. Accordingly, Jesus is both the material and the formal principle of the canon: its substance and its hermeneutic.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer from The Drama of Doctrine (pg. 223 and 195)
- By referring to the gospel as the hermeneutical key I mean that proper interpretation of any part of the Bible requires us to relate it to the person and work of Jesus. This was recognized in Article III of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, which says, “We affirm that the Person and work of Jesus Christ are the central focus of the entire Bible.” We have already considered some of the ramifications of Jesus’ post-resurrection claims that all the Scriptures are about him. This is another way of saying that Jesus is the sole mediator of the truth of God. This mediatorial role has great significance for how we understand the Bible. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human who gave himself a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:5-6). The Jesus who mediates the word of God to us is the Jesus who is defined in terms of his historic saving act. The meaning of the Bible, in that case, is tied to the saving work of Jesus
Graeme Goldsworthy from Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (pg. 84)
Three key resources
In a very helpful series of videos, R.C. Sprouldiscusses the many different facets of reading, studying, and interpreting the Bible. He uses practical examples as well as his knowlede of church history to illustrate his lectures.
Video # 1: Why Study the Bible?
As Christians, we are all called to master the most important tool of the Christian life–the Bible. In this first message of the series “Knowing Scripture,” Dr. Sproul shows us the importance of diligent study of the Scriptures.
11:00ff–addresses the idea that “the Bible is too difficult to understand”
13:29ff–addresses the question “What does perpescuity mean?”
24:40ff –uses Deut 6:4ff to suggest that the answer to the title of the video is that it is our duty and privilege to study the scriptures in order to live life to the full.
Video # 2: Private Interpretation
There are magnitudes of different interpretations of the Bible, so which one is right? Don’t we all have the right to private interpretation without the church telling us what to believe? In this message, Dr. Sproul will help us understand our right and responsibility, and the potential benefits and dangers of “Private Interpretation.”
11:30– “There is only one correct meaning of any Biblical text”…but there may be “a multitude of applications”
19:17– Sproul examines the statement of theologian who asserts “contradiction is the hallmark of truth” and says “God does not speak with a forked tongue”
25:03–explains “The right of private interpretation carries with it the responsibility of correct interpretation”
-presents concrete practical rules that prevent eisegesis or reading into the text what we want it to hear
Video #3: The Science of Interpretation
Everyone who reads the Bible is engaged in a method of understanding the Bible. The question now is, does the method of interpretation you use really reveal the truth of God as intended by the Holy Spirit? Dr. Sproul looks at this in “The Science of Interpretation.”
5:31ff–God is the ultimate author of the scripture so the question must always be “What does God have in mind here?”
7:44–analyses the term ‘hermeneutics’–to understand the message of scripture”
14:20–looks carefully at the term “we have to make the Gospel relevant to modern man”
16:25–explains: the ‘grammatico-historical’; the ‘religious-historical’; methods of interpretation
23:12–warns against the danger of ‘re-interpretation’ of the Scriptures due to the philosophies of relativism
Video # 4: Literal Interpretation
As Christians, we know that the Bible is more than merely an ancient book with ethical instructions. Knowing that, how should we read and understand the Bible? What does it mean to read the Bible literally? In this message, Dr. Sproul explains that the only way to interpret the Bible is by “Literal Interpretation,” and looks at what that means.
2:00–responds to those who say to him: “You don’t interpret the Bible literally, do you?”
5:15–explains the Latin term used by Luther called the ‘Sensus Literalis’
Video #5: Literary Forms (Part 1)
Christians are to take Scripture seriously and literally. But how exactly do we do that? If we take every word “literally” we find ourselves painted in a corner surrounded by critics. How do we understand some passages and sayings of Jesus when, if taken literally, are difficult to comprehend? Dr. Sproul looks at these thoughts in “Literary Forms”
–examines the use of phenomenological language, hyperbole [useful exaggeration], round numbers, metaphors and figurative language, anthropomorphic [human forms to describe God]language, and
Video #6: Literary Forms (Part 2)
Many biblical accounts and narratives have been written off as fable or myth. How do we understand these stories in light of Redemptive history? How can we tell the difference between myths and history? Dr. Sproul shows us the key fundamental differences between the two as he explains more on the various literary forms found in Scripture.
–personification [the use of personal forms of description for impersonal objects; i.e. the “hills will clap their hands”], the problems of an anti-supernaturalistic bias
16:34–the importance of historical prose, especially in the first chapters of Genesis
–stresses the critical need to believe in the historicity of actual events in actual history for the actual people of God. For example, “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…”
–historical narrative most frequently conveyed in prose form
–presence of genealogies attest to truthfulness of historical narratives
Video #7: Reading the Bible Existentially
Dr. R.C. Sproul discusses the challenge of reading Scripture “existentially.”
–differentiates between the philosophy of existentialism and its methods, and “we ought to read the Bible as people who are personally, passionately, and intimately involved with what we are reading.”
Video # 8: The Explicit and the Implicit
Throughout church history there have been many obscure, or less clear, passages in Scripture that have attracted a variety of strange — and wrong — interpretations. How do we avoid the error of drawing something from Scripture that is simply not there? What principle do we call upon to guide us in our efforts to understand God’s Word? Dr. Sproul will help us with that as he explains the difference between “The Explicit and The Implicit.”
00.55—explains what it means that “the historical narrative must be interpreted by the didactic.” He sees the Gospels as primarily narrative and the Epistles as primarily didactic or having to do with teaching material. Thus he says, “the Gospels record the event and the Epistles interpret the meaning of the event.” He uses the story and interpretation of the cross as an example.
15:00–carefully examines the statement “What would Jesus do?”
27:00–“the Bible interprets the Bible”
Video # 9: Parallelisms
What do we do with passages and statements that seem contradictory or impossible to explain? What does Scripture really mean when it says that God creates evil? In this message, Dr. Sproul explains and helps us recognize the ancient Hebrew technique of writing called “Parallelism,” which is found all throughout Scripture.
–also examines categories of law in the Bible: case law and moral absolutes
Video # 10: Scripture and Culture
R.C. Sproul discusses the question of Scripture and culture.
–examines the interpretive difficulties of the roles of women and the church as the church wrestles with the question of applying Biblical truth which might have been local customs or whether they are timeless principles
–Sproul is genuinely concerned that people will either reduce timeless principles to temporary local customs, or elevate temporary local customs to a timeless principle
e.g. “carry no purse when you go out as a missionary.” Does this mean that a contemporary missionary must apply this literally?
Video # 11: Principle vs. Custom
Looking at various customs described throughout Scripture, how are we to understand the application of them in our modern setting? Is there deeper meaning rooted in these teachings, or are they simply cultural issues? Dr. Sproul helps us recognize the difference between temporal local customs and universal principles in the Bible as he wraps-up this study of biblical interpretation.
–examines the use of ‘head coverings’ (I Cor 11:5) as a sample exercise in interpretation with the four following views possible.
1. all of this passage is a matter of ‘pure custom’ and has no application today
2. the whole passage is principial and all of it should be applied today
3. partly principial [i.e. female subordination] and partly custom [i.e no head covering]
4. partly principial [i.e. female subordination] and freedom with the use of the head covering
–suggests 4 helpful principles to tease these areas apart with respect for the Biblical text: 1. Language. 2. Styles of Dress–avoid putting rationales into the Biblical authors that avoid the rationales that the author’s have spoken. 3. Be aware of creation principles which are timeless. 4. In areas of difficulty of interpretation it is best to lean towards treating it as a timeless principle. Humility requires that “…when in doubt…unless there is good and sound reason for treating a Biblical mandate as a custom, then we ought always to treat it and apply it as principle.”
B. Courses at BiblicalTraining.org Registration is necessary to take these free courses.
- Biblical Hermeneutics by Dr. Robert Stein
This course is an introduction to the principles and practice of biblical interpretation. These lectures were given at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky during the fall of 2002.
Dr. Robert Stein covers the history of the English Bible and then moves into the rules for interpreting the biblical text, including the role of the Holy Spirit in the hermeneutical process. He then spends considerable time moving through the different genres of literature (e.g., proverbs, poetry, parables, narrative).
- Biblical Hermeneutics Essentials by Dr. Mark Strauss
Consistently applying basic principles of biblical hermeneutics leads to accurate interpretation and practical application of Scripture. The canon of Scripture was determined over a period of many years using specific criteria. Bible translations will be different in some places depending on their translation philosophy.
C. Hermeneutics collection on the Monergism website
 Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida and is known as a leading proponent of Reformed theology. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president and professor at Reformation Bible College at Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies, and currently serves as senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL.