Introduction 2

Login to download lecture and curriculum

Please create a free account and login to be able to download the lecture and curriculum (if any). All content is free and you can attend the lecture without logging in, but we do request that you login to download.

Create account    Login


An Introduction to Hermeneutics


The Goal of Interpretation

Part 2

I. An Introduction to Hermeneutics (part 2)

A. Origin of the word "hermeneutics"

B. Three Components Involved in Communication

C. What determines meaning?


D. The Roles of the Three Components

1. Author

a. Meaning is history and therefore unchangeable.

b. The author wills a meaning.

c. Meaning has implications.

2. Text

a. Share-ability of symbols

i. Norms of language - words

ii. Norms of utterance - context

b. Subject matter

3. Reader

a. Must decipher literary form

b. Ascertain authorial meanings of symbols

c. Seek significance


Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: An Introduction to Hermeneutics - Part 2

We are going to look at the different roles of the people involved in these three components. Let us then look at the role of an author. What does an author do in the communication process. Texts don’t just magically appear in history. 

It is not like people walk along the Nile and see papyrus sprouts there and all of a sudden before their eyes, they begin to peel and form into scrolls and magically words appear on it.  Or you are walking in the country and you see a flock of sheep or some goats up there and their skin begins to peel off and all of a sudden, again letters appear on [Hard to Hear] Or you look at a stone and it becomes clear and grooves start appearing in it. Communication takes place somehow.

No. If you are going to have a text, that means that someone, somewhere, sometime wanted to communicate. An author willed a meaning. A thinking person wanted to communicate something –whether they used papyrus, whether they used the clay tablet, stone – whatever they used is irrelevant. Whether they wrote right to left, left to right, up or down – all that is irrelevant. What is important is that some person, some time in history wanted to write something.

Now that is something that is a historical fact of the past. What it means then is that what the author wanted to say in this text can never change. It is past. It is always there. It can never change. Meaning cannot change because the meaning of the past is simply part of the past and you cannot change the past.

An author may decide to repudiate what they meant. But they can’t change what they meant. I wrote something in my 1st edition of The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teaching About The Term Abba Father and later on I no longer believed that. But I couldn’t say, these words mean something differently now. Too late right. It is history. What you can do is publically recant in class. You say, “I made something – it was wrong in that point. Here is what I mean now.” Or you can write a 2nd edition.

I was fortunate and was able to write a 2nd edition and I recanted and repented and did homage to whoever needed it and you can change. You can change your views but you can’t change the meaning of the text that is in the past, because the text is locked in the history. So meanings are locked forever in history. You can’t change them.

So when Paul writes to the Ephesians in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk with wine …” what he meant back then is the exactly the same as it means now.  It can never change.  “Be not drunk with wine…”

Now what Paul meant back then with wine, we will talk about a little later in the semester is not what we call wine. It is a mixture of water and wine. Usually around 2, 3 parts water, 1 part wine. That is what he meant by it. Then we know that … I will tell you how we know that another time.

So he says, “Be not drunk with wine”. Now imagine a situation. Paul comes to visit unexpectedly, the church in Ephesus.  He comes and visits them and he finds them all drunk. And Paul says, “Didn’t you get my letter? I said ‘Be not drunk with wine…’” And one of the deacons says “That is right brother Saul, brother Paul. We don’t touch that stuff anymore. We switched to beer since then.”

Now how would Paul respond? Would he say “Oh. That is alright. If it was wine I would be really ticked off, but don’t worry about beer.”

No. No. Well. What would he have said? “Well I meant that too.”

Now wait a minute. He didn’t say beer and wine. He just said wine. But do you believe that he also meant beer? Or did he simply mean that wine or is there something about his command “Be not drunk with wine” that has implications in it that are unstated that he may or may not have been aware of.

Alright supposing he came in one of our churches and he found us drunk with whisky.  But he say “Well. I just meant beer. What by the way, what is whisky?” And you explain, “Well whisky is a kind of thing that we get from wheat and then we distill is so that it becomes - the alcohol content goes from say 10% to about 50%.”

He says, “Oh. You know wine, we dilute it, so we get from 12% down to 3 or 4%. But you concentrate it to 50%.”   

Well. I didn’t know about whisky, but that’s exactly the thing that I am talking about. You see what he says is not “Be not drunk with wine but if other things can bring the same thing about it doesn’t bother me,” but “Be not drunk with wine and those kind of things like wine.”

In other words there is a principle here, so that whisky is included. Vodka is included. Gin is included. Bourbon is included. I say is a little silent because of Baptists traditions with bourbon. Alright now what he is saying is a principle – I’ll use the expression a pattern of meaning that contains more in it than simply the meaning wine itself.

Sure. I think most people would say “Well, yeah of course he meant ‘Be not drunk with beer, Be not drunk with whisky.’” Now so far we have said “Be not drunk with whisky” fits “Be not drunk with wine.”  Beer fits. Beer he would have been aware of. Beer was a beverage at that time. Whisky, he wouldn’t have been. Bourbon, he wouldn’t have and the others because those are 1700s, distilled and so forth and so on.

Can we interpret that way and then say “Be not overcome with too many Big Macs from McDonald?” I am a cashew nut fan. There is no such thing as a half-can of cashew nuts. It is all or nothing. It is kind of a drug for me.

Now, does he mean, stinopi – intoxicated – with cashew nuts. Well wait a minute. What is it about the wine that he is talking? “Be not drunk…” Do not come into a stupor where you no longer think correctly. What is intoxication? I would think, things that bring about an intoxication fit, but cashews don’t do that. I can still think real clearly. Upset stomach. Things like that but, no, my mind has not gone yet.
And so what you have to say is then “What is the pattern that he is talking about in something like?” I would say maybe what he means if you want to break it down into the pattern or principle – paradigm – something like that. It would be something like this.

Don’t take into your body, substances that cause you to lose control of your thinking and your doing. Something like that. Now is caffeine something that does that? That might be easily debatable. Does it effect the mind so that you no longer control what you are doing or does it control other physical aspects of your body more.

I don’t drink coffee or something like that. I drink caffeine-less pop so I … its not that. See what you are a wrestling with is “Does it fit within this pattern?” Something for instance that cause you to overeat I don’t think fit.

So it is not like these commands or these teachings are endless and they are just a kind of an amorphous amoeba that you throw anything in. There is a principle here. You have to arrive at that principle and you say now coming out of that principle what are some of the implications that Paul might not have been aware of.

He wasn’t aware of the kind of alcoholic beverages that we have today. But let me ask another one. Would there … is it possible that he is a talking about something has implications for narcotics? Morphine? Cocaine? Marijuana? Are those similar in the kinds of things they do? Ok. Then I think… Yeah. Then they fit here?

It is not like all of these are just an amorphous mass you could make them be anything you want. You have to arrive at the principle and say, “Now what other implications are there that fit this principle that Paul might now have been aware of?”

There are all sorts of commands that we have like that, that a person may not be aware of that flow through this. For instance, Mark 5:21-48(= Matthew 5:21+) has a list of what we call the antithesis.

“You have heard it said of old, thou shall not…” Alright – then Jesus said “But I say…”

Now I don’t think what Jesus is saying “I don’t care if you do that but I’m going to give you a different – a totally different – command.”  I think what He is doing is bringing out an implication of that. For instance,

“You have heard it said of old, you shall not commit adultery. But I tell you, if you look on a woman to lust, you have committed adultery already with her in your heart.”

My understanding of that is that in this principle or pattern “thou shall not commit adultery” are implications which involve looking on a woman to lust. There would be implications I think with regard to pornography and things of this nature that flow from that pattern.

“You have heard it said, you shall not kill” but Jesus … If you want to know the implications of that, it means you can’t hate a person, because if you hate them you are already beginning on that path of violating that commandment. And so what Jesus is doing is the very thing we have done with Paul’s command about be not drunk with wine. We are looking for implications that flow out of the principle and pattern of that particular saying or teaching and I think the best way I would understand Matthew 5:21 and following is this particular way.

How many of you have a 12,10, 11 year old son? Alright. Christmas time, grandma comes and grandpa gives your son named Trevor.  He gives Trevor a $50 dollar bill for Christmas and Trevor knows exactly what he wants to do with it.

With tax for $49.69 is this game down at Target that he is been lusting after since Thanksgiving. He is going to use that $50 dollars from Grandma down at Target. You know that however and you say, “Travis. I don’t think Grandma and Grandma want you to go down to Target and buy that game.” I think they want you to use it this summer at camp. And so I am telling you don’t go down to Target and spend the money on that game.

Well. You go off to school and you come home that night and Travis is playing with that game.  And you say to Travis, “Travis, didn’t I tell you, you should not go down to Target and buy that game.”

And Travis responds, “Oh. I didn’t go down to Target. I went to Wal-Mart. It was $2 cheaper.”

How do you respond? Do you say well it is different then? It could be. Maybe there is something about Target you are boycotting or something like that. But most probably you meant, “I don’t want you to buy that game,” and even though you meant every possible store, you meant that and he knew that.

So that when we give teachings we don’t list every hypothetical. You wouldn’t say, “I don’t want you to go down to Target, Walgreens, K-mart … I don’t want you to go down to Toysrus and list every hypothetical one in the world. If you list one, either have – the understanding is there. So there is an implication there that even though it was not stated, you meant it. And Travis knew it. So that when we speak there are implications to what we say many times as parents, that our children, you know, like Travis – probably – a good kid wouldn’t do this, but might look for, whats not mentioned, how can he get around it, but would violate the command itself and the implications.

So when we say something like this there are frequently implications like this that we expect the person to carry through and understand so that an author oft times includes in their meaning, implications they may not have even been aware of, but are nevertheless there

Sometimes you talk about these implications as unconscious meanings that the author might not have been thinking of or in our conversations somebody might not [Hard to Hear] be thinking of.

I use the word … I will talk about something like that a little later. Now let me just stop here for a minute and deal with an issue. Some people say, “Yeah. Dr. Stein but isn’t God the author of Scripture?” All this emphasis on Paul or Luke or Mark – Isn’t God the ultimate author of Scripture?” That sounds real devout. A popular way of speaking. But is it an accurate way of speaking?

When you look at Paul’s letters, I have yet to see one of them that starts out “God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To the Church at Corinth.” It starts out with Paul.  No … No book of our Bible claims God as its immediate author. The divine meaning of the text is that meaning which God has conveyed through his authoritative spokespeople – the prophets of the Old Testament, the gospel writers, Paul and others in the New Testament. To understand therefore what God means, we must understand what God’s inspired authors mean.

And I found too much in my own life that those who have an ultimate meaning that God intended that Paul doesn’t – I don’t think have God’s meaning at all, because what God meant is what the Apostles meant. They are his spokespeople. When they speak, they speak with divine authority and it is that meaning that they are intending to find. That’s what we are assigned to look at. What does God’s authoritative author mean by this?

Another question: When we talk about interpreting the Bible literally – during the Reformation, the Reformers argued strongly that we are not interesting in allegorical meaning or something, we want the literal meaning of the text. But now, the Reformers knew that there are a lot of things in the Bible that would be figurative. Parables, exaggerated language and what they meant is the way I am going to define literal meaning of the text.

The literal meaning of the text is what the authors meant by the words. That’s the literal meaning of the text.  And I would say yes, that’s what we are after. After the literal meaning of the text when you interpret it like the Reformers – the author’s meaning. 

But the literal meaning of “If your right hand offend you, cut it off. If your right eye offends you, pluck it out.” The literal meaning of that text is what the authors meant by that and what they meant by that is something fairly simple: there is no sin worth going to hell for. Better to repent even if it is as painful as plucking out the right eye or tearing off a right arm and going through that pain of repentance and entering life than not doing that and perishing. That we take very literally. But the imagery? No. No.

What the author meant by these things – that we take literally and that’s the literal meaning of the text.  Later on when we talk of historical narrative, that sometimes in the Bible, we have actually two authors. For instance Peter preaches at Pentecost – what is the meaning of that text? Who gives the meaning to that text? Well. If you want to know what the meaning of the text is in our definition at this point, it is what Luke means to convey by Peter’s speech to Theophilus. But you also have another author and that is Peter himself and you can investigate this to understand what Peter meant.

And sometimes they are identical. They are never contradictory in my understanding. They are frequently complementary. When you get to the Gospels, you have Jesus’ teachings.  You could try to understand the text in light of what Jesus meant and we will talk about the study of the subject matter of the Biblical text.  Or we can seek to understand what the Biblical author, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John meant by these words. Those are authoritative words as far as I am concerned but we will talk primarily of the meaning of the evangelist of that text as the meaning of the text. We will then talk about the investigation of the subject matter to find out what the Son of God who is inspired of God in His teaching also meant.  But the text meaning is primarily what the writer, the penner, not the speaker, but the writer of that text means.

We are going to now talk about the role of a text. In the communication process, what function does a text have in the issue of communication? Again texts are a collection of symbols, written in various ways and one thing about authors is that when they write, they write surprisingly enough to be understood. You might not always think that, but that’s what they intend to do.

Very few people write not wanting to be understood. Now there is an exception to that and that is in time of war, people write codes in order that those who they want to understand and they can communicate with, but those who they do not want to understand what they/you are saying will not because they do not understand the code.

And there is all sorts of famous examples of codes and code breaking. For instance the deciding battle in the second World War in the Pacific was the Battle of Midway. And American cryptographers had broken the Japanese Enigma Code just in time.  And they found out that they were planning a major battle at the island of Midway, attempting to lure out the American Navy, and they prepared accordingly and the battle [Hard to Hear] the war took place at that point because there were four major Japanese aircraft carriers that were sunk and from then on the Japanese fleet was always not in aggressive offensive mode but in a defensive mode.

In a similar way the British had broken through the German code through the help of Polish cryptographers and the Germans till the end of the war never knew that. They simply could not believe that their code-work was being broken because of the machine involved in that regard. The possibilities of breaking that were just astronomical and it caused some very interesting problems, for instance the British broke a code in which the Germans were preparing an air raid to bomb the city of Coventry and Churchill was informed of this. 

Should we warn the people? There is a moral dilemma. If we warn the people, then the Germans will know we have broken their code. So for the sake of hiding that secret, the city of Coventry was bombed and only later at the end of the war to the complete surprise of the Germans, recognized that their - were told that the German code had been broken.

On the other hand, the Germans had broken the British code too at times, so you almost wonder why don’t you just share with one another and stop going through all of this problem. But in codes you don’t want people to understand. People do not write codes. No author writes a book saying, I don’t want anybody to understand what I am saying. As a result when somebody writes, they use the principle of share-ability by abiding by the norms of the language.

And the French used the word, lingua, to explain this – the norms of language. In other words, they used words in accordance with how those words are understood by their audience.  They use grammar in accordance to the way grammar is used. They use verb tenses and clauses as they would be understood. There is a sense in which the author may wish to write anything they want, but when they write this to their reader, they become in a sense the servants of their reader because they must use language as their readers will understand it.

For instance in writing the Stein text, there are a number of times I could have used other kinds of language, but I didn’t think some of that technical terminology would be shareable and I thought there are other simple English terms that can be used. Why don’t we use them instead? So there was a sense in which I was placing myself in your place saying how will you read this text? Shareability so that texts are always written in light of how the audience would understand that.

Now the norms of language or the langua involves such things as looking up a word. If I use the word, love, there are [Hard to Hear] a number of possible meanings for this. It could mean deep emotion. It could mean sexual relationship. It could mean the end of a letter. It could mean a score of zero in tennis. It could mean fond affection.

The possibilities you could look up in a dictionary.  You say when Stein uses this word love, because he wants to be understood, he is using it in a shareable manner, it has to be one of these twelve ways. Now therefore love can’t be mean potatoes. You say “Well why not?” Well if I want to be understood, I have to use it in the way an audience would understand.

Now there are sometimes when a biblical writer uses a word in a way that is not normal. For instance in John 2, John has Jesus saying, “Destroy this temple in three days and I will raise it.” Now John knows that that is [Hard to Hear] what Jesus means by the temple is not in norms of language and so he explains it and says “By this He meant, His body”. 

So I can use words in ways that are not found in the dictionary but if I want to be communicative, I have to explain it that way.  If I don’t explain it it’s a dictionary definition – one of those possibilities. Now what an author does – or what we do when we communicate is to provide not isolated words but words in a context and so the word love can be explained in different ways.

For instance I remember at a faculty/student seminary retreat when I was teaching at Bethel Theological Seminary, John Cionca, one of my colleagues in the faculty – we were going to play some tennis and two new students said to us “Why don’t we play doubles? Would you mind if we play doubles with you? Dr. Cionca and Dr. Stein?” And so I said John, “Yes. Why don’t we and John, let us love them.” Now John knew that I meant let us not let them win a game. Let us beat them 6-0, 6-0.”

But the word love in different contexts have different meanings. When Jesus says to His disciples, “Let us love one another,” that meaning is very different than Hugh Heffner’s mansion when he says let us love one another.  The possibilities are limited. The context allows you to zero in on what is meant in that way, so the norms of language, the possibilities. The context provides the norms of the utterance or if you want to use French, the parole in which you get to the specific particular meaning and once again, share-ability is what allows you to communicate.

You know in the English words that I am using, that it has to follow one of the normal meanings in the definitions of those words. As far as finding share-ability, the norms of language, the best help in the norms of language is a dictionary. Or since we are seminary graduates and we are dealing with graduate work, we call it a lexicon because other people don’t know that word. We want to be educated and use a more refined word.

The norms of utterance? The way to get at that is most helpful tool here is a grammar. How are verbs in these constructions used this way? And for us, we have a different form of grammatical importance.  Word order is very important for us.  In Greek, word order is quite irrelevant. If I say Bob loves Joan, the only one possible meaning. If I say Joan loves Bob, one possible meaning.

Now in Greek, doesn’t matter where you put those words. If you say Bobus loves Joanine, the endings on those say one is the object, one is the subject.  And whatever order you want to put it in, put it in a blender and mix it up any way you want. Doesn’t matter. The norms of language are different for different languages so that primarily for the individual words, dictionary is helpful – main tools.

For the norms of the [Hard to Hear] how they are used in combination, grammars are more important.  Now another thing about a text is that it provides for us a huge storehouse of information. The Bible is like a great mountain full of gems and precious metals and you can mine them for all sorts of reasons. What we want to do then is to find out information sometimes. Is it perfectly alright to study the Bible to learn about things. That’s different however and we should not confuse that with the learning – studying the Bible to learn about the meaning of the text. So what we can do and this will become most apparent in a historical text.

Reading Acts. You can read Acts as a mine to learn information about the early church. What was their view of baptism? What was the role of the Holy Spirit in all of this? Who were the leading apostles? What was the missionary strategy of the apostles Paul? What was the Roman law about the citizenry – citizenship and so forth?  You can study Acts for all of that information.

None of that involves a studying of Acts for what the meaning is.  If you take any historical passage, you can study it for its information, but if you want to learn the meaning of historical narrative – Acts, the Gospels, Exodus, Judges, Samuel, 1st Chronicles and so forth – then you say, the author, I – the author, whoever it may – John, Mark, Matthew, Luke have told you this story about – and I give the story – and because.

Now you are not interested in information per se but meaning and such.  Why did the author teach this story? That’s meaning. What the author uses and the material he is talking about, that’s the subject matter and there are all sorts of examples of that.  In the text I talk about the example of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm comes up. Well you know you could preach about the shape of the Sea of Galilee.  You can talk about why storms come up so surprisingly in the Sea of Galilee. You can talk about the kind of fishing boat they used. When Jesus was sleeping on a pillow in front of the boat, what does that mean exactly?  And you can show pictures of the particular kind of boat that must have been used that was discovered about 10 years ago in the Sea of Galilee when the Sea of Galilee had a drought.

They discovered this mud covered boat dating back to the time of Jesus. You describe it. That’s all subject matter. What Mark doesn’t say – “I am telling you this story about Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee because some day he may find one of these archaeological relics and I want to explain that to you.  Its not what… You can show your slides by the way of the Sea of Galilee when you are preaching a sermon. That’s subject matter.

But now if you ask the question, why did Mark tell this story? There is something about the end of the verse where he talks about Jesus’ stilling the storm and the disciples say “Who is this man that even the winds and the waves obey Him? I want to tell you about this man, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, verse 1 in chapter 1 because He is Lord of nature Himself. He can stand up and tell the storms ‘Be still”. There is no one like Him. He is the Son of God.”

So the meaning versus the subject then. Lots and lots of subject matter in the text.  Now what about the role of the reader? What is the first thing that a reader must do? The first thing a reader must do is to find out about the literary form that is being used.  What kind of form do we have here because let us face it, different forms have different ways of conveying that meaning. For example, do you interpret poems the way you do historical accounts? No.

Would you interpret Romans ex- verse by verse exegesis – the same way you would do the symbolism of Revelation? How do you know for instance how to interpret the story about the rich man and Lazarus? Some people say “Well. This must be a real story.” Its not a real story. It’s a parable. Well how do you know it’s a parable? Well because Luke introduces this the same way he does other parables.

“There was a certain man who …”
“There was a man who had two sons …”
“There was a judge …”
“There was a certain rich man …”
And He introduces it and you know this is a parable and the point is what is the parable? You don’t interpret by saying well, “You know this indicates that you can see between Heaven and Hell because this man was in Hell and he was able to see in Heaven.” That’s part of the parable and you interpret a parable differently than you do a narrative as such. So you need to understand the literary form that’s being used and we are going to talk about 7 or 10, 12 specific literary forms and deal with the rules governing them.

One of the big problems we have is that the writers and the readers knew about this. We don’t. They knew things about prophesy and poetry and proverbs that we really don’t know today. We have lost in a 2-3,000 thousand years in between – these materials. So we need to learn those forms and the rules governing them.

What we want to do then is also learn what the author means by these particular symbols. We talked about implications and let me talk a little about implications. We will define these shortly. But at first, who determines the implications of a text?

Question was raised during break time. Well – do we give these texts implications? For instance, when Paul says, “Be not drunk with wine”, do we say there is an implication and give to this text and implication – this also means whisky, vodka, beer and the like. I think there is a distinction here we must be careful of. Who controls the meaning of a text? Who determines it? If it’s the author, then the author controls the implications. And therefore all these implications are thereby the author. He determines it. We discover them. We don’t create them. They are there already.

When Paul said “Be not drunk with wine”, the minute he penned that to the Ephesians, he meant also “Be not drunk with whisky”. He wasn’t aware of it, but it fits the pattern and you would say, he wasn’t thinking of it but, yeah, that’s what it means.  That’s what it means.

We discover them and much of good preaching today is to discover the implications of authors meaning. What are the implications of this for today? For instance if you talk about “Thou shall not steal” – alright or “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesars,” what are the implications of this with regard to income tax and the like? What are the implications about this about deductions and claims that we do on our income tax form? The implications of this are what are most necessary for many times our sharing with the congregation.

We are going to look at another word and we will look up the word significance. We will define these more fully in just a few minutes. Implications are determined by the author.  Significance is how you give credence or credibility to what the author says. Implications and meaning are determined by the author. You determine significance. Implications are our mental understanding of what the author meant.  Significance involves not the mind but the will. 

Simply put, once you know the meaning and its implications, your yes, your no is the significance. What you do with regard to the significance of a text, your yes or no, your volitional response – that is your doing – you are master. You are king, you are queen here. When it comes to meaning and implications, the author is king.

A term that we will not use in our text is the word application. Now the reason for that is that application is a combination of two things. Our definitions are essentially elements in regard to our nuclear structure. Compounds or combinations.

So water is not an element. It consists of two elements – hydrogen and oxygen. When we talk about the application of a text to our lives, we are combining two things. We are combining, the implications of that text that are especially relevant for us and the responding to that. But since they are two elements forming a compound, we don’t want to inter-mix those two. We will leave these as separate entities. Implications, significance - application combines those two. So we will not deal with them in our definitions as such.


Name Description
1 Biblical Hermeneutics - Quiz 6

Introduction to Hermeneutics (part 2)


38 min

Sharing Links