“Hermeneutics” is a word from the Greek that means to “explain” or “interpret”. The Bible student’s task then, is to establish rules that will help him to read the scriptures responsibly, and to interpret them wisely and well.
RULES FOR UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE
(A) YOU CAN UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE
The Bible can, and should, be read like any other book: it uses ordinary language, and its words carry their ordinary meanings. There are times when certain words will need to be researched because of the changes in meaning that may have occurred. The message of the Bible can be taken at face value, and acted upon without further influence being necessary.
“For this commandment which I command thee this day, is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it. Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?
But the Word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” (Deut. 30:11-14)
All reliable Bible study begins at this point: simply read; believe what you read; and act upon it!
Failure to observe this rule can lead to foolish interpretations; See Proverbs 30:4, etc. “Who hath ascended up into heaven, or who descended: Who hath gathered the wind in his fists? Who hath bound the waters in a garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth? What is His name? And what is His son’s name, if thou canst tell?”
However, while the Bible can be understood, many people fail to understand it. Why should that be?
(B). THE BIBLE CAN BE MISUNDERSTOOD
Many warnings are given against mishandling the word of God:
“Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord, that they strive not about words to no profit.but to subverting of the hearers.
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
But shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
And their word will eat like a canker; of whom is Hymenaeus and Philletus.
Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” (2 Tim. 2:14-18)
“And Jesus answering said unto them, do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?” (Mark 12:24)
“As also in all his epistles speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)
“For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. (NAS) (2 Cor. 2:17)
Not even sincerity, prayer, or fasting provide adequate protection against error if wrong principles of interpretation are followed. There are many erroneous books where authors base their certainty upon much prayer and/or fasting, instead of study.
Why is this so?
Because we are separated from the biblical authors:
This gap is difficult to cross; we are prone to think wrongly that they were the same as we are. It is true that Elijah was a man just as we are; subject to the same passions, but because of the differences in culture and historical back- ground there is a significant difference between the perceptions and understandings of the writers of the Bible from modern man.
They had a different lifestyle, and different social relationships between men and women, adults and children, rulers and subjects, etc.
Imagine a world without books, little music, magical medicine (there was little medical research, because disease was thought to come either from demons or God).
There is no Hebrew word for “family”: they spoke instead of the “household”
There is no Hebrew word for “marriage”; they saw the event only as a contract arranged by two fathers or guardians; the girl usually had no say in the matter.
No doubt many men loved their wives, as Boaz loved Ruth; but he loved her as a precious possession, not as a friend or partner; hence Ruth placed herself at his feet, acknowledging him as her lord. There was no place in the culture for the kind of conjugal love that is our ideal. For example:
Daughters could be sold as concubines.
“And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as menservants do. If she please not her master who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed; to sell her to a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he hath betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife; her food, raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish. And if he shall not do these three things then shall she go out free without money.” (Ex 21:7-11)
See Lot offering his daughters.
“And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him. And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.
Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.” (Gen. 19:6-8)
See Moses’ peculiar test of conjugal fidelity, laid upon women only, not men.
“And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly swell, and thy thigh to rot; and the women shall say Amen, Amen..
And the high priest shall write these curses in a book, and shall blot them out with the bitter water; and he shall cause the women to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse; and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her and become bitter.” (Num. 5:22-24)
Notice that the daily labor of all the people, both men and women, was long and hard.
Note their use of exaggeration, such as in the curse formulae, etc. Many of the stories and proverbs make use of idioms. One of the problems with idioms is that they tend to change their meaning from one generation to another. Idioms represent the most complex part of a language. Consider the idiom in English, “Saved by the skin of our teeth.” Foreigners would have trouble understanding the meaning of such an idiom. During the failed coup in Russia in August of 1991, a Russian diplomat was heard to misuse an American idiom. He said the that people had, “the over hand” in the situation, instead of the “upper hand.” The full meaning of many Old Testament words seem uncertain.
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