A Guide to Bible Study Methods - Lesson 2

Introduction to Hermeneutics (Part 2)

Hermeneutics is the science and art of biblical interpretation. The science of hermeneutics provides methods, rules, and a measure of objectivity while the art of hermeneutics speaks to the skill that is learned through practice. The goals of exegesis are to determine the meaning of a passage in its original context, and to determine the significance of the passage for today.

Mark Strauss
A Guide to Bible Study Methods
Lesson 2
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Introduction to Hermeneutics (Part 2)

Introduction to Hermeneutics

I. Hermeneutics is the science and art of biblical interpretation

II. The Goals of Hermeneutics

A. Exegesis: To Determine the Meaning of a Passage in its Original Context.

1. Key Questions

2. Clarification on Exegesis

a. Author's Meaning

b. Meaning is Text-Centered

c. The Text is Historically Positioned

B. Contextualization

III. Avoid Shortcutting the Hermeneutical Process

A. Application without exegesis

1. Subjectivity

2. Proof Texting

B. Exegesis without contextualization

1. Common Liberal Error

2. Common Conservative Error 1

3. Common Conservative Error 2

IV. Summary

  • It is important to recognize your presuppositions when you study and interpret the Bible. The writings of the Bible reflect diversity in authorship, genre and cultural background. The common theme that unifies the Bible as a whole focuses on the story of creation, fall and redemption.

  • Hermeneutics is the science and art of biblical interpretation. The science of hermeneutics provides methods, rules, and a measure of objectivity while the art of hermeneutics speaks to the skill that is learned through practice. The goals of exegesis are to determine the meaning of a passage in its original context, and to determine the significance of the passage for today.

  • The first goal of hermeneutics is to determine the author’s intended meaning of the text. The interpretation process must take into account the genre of the literature and the historical and literary context. The meaning of the text controls our application. In this lecture, you will get a glimpse of the process of interpretation by looking at four principles of exegesis, the four steps we take to cross the bridge from our contemporary culture to the original context of the Biblical authors. 

  • In this lecture, we get into the practical details for how to exegete a passage. Dr. Strauss explains the first four (of ten total) steps for English Bible exegesis: 1) identify the genre, 2) get the big picture, 3) develop a thesis statement and 4) outline the progress of thought. This lecture teaches new skills and provides examples for you to put them into practice.

  • The final six steps in the exegesis process are consulting secondary sources, analyzing syntactical relationships, analyzing key terms and themes, resolving interpretive issues and problems, evaluating your results from the perspective of wider contextual and theological issues, and summarizing your results. (At the 26-minute mark, the verse reference, John 14:6 should be John 14:26.)

  • Dr. Strauss leads us into exploring the riches of Biblical words in this lecture. He explains some common misconceptions and gives us safeguards so that we do not wander into exegetical fallacies. If you want to know the way forward in Biblical exploration, then listen in as Dr. Strauss outlines the basic principles for doing Biblical word studies correctly.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Strauss discusses two extremes to avoid when applying Scripture. He also gives us five principles to guide our contextualization of a particular passage. Listen in and grow in your ability to apply Scripture in your context to your life in meaningful ways.

This class asks the questions of what is Bible study? Why do we study these specific 66 books? What type of literature are we studying? What are the practical steps we should take? How do we determine a word’s meaning? How do we apply the text to our lives? These questions and more are answered in this course.

This is the second class in the sequence on hermeneutics. The class entitled Hermeneutics should be attended first. There is overlap between the two classes, but the first is more about your approach to studying the Bible and this class is more a practical, hands-on look at Bible study.

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A Guide to Bible Study Methods - Bible Study

Alright, we are examining how to study and interpret the Bible, what we call hermeneutics, the science and art of biblical interpretation. Last time we looked as some basic presuppositions that we come to God’s word with. Presuppositions such as the fact that the Bible is God’s word, it is inspired and authoritative for us as believers, presuppositions that we must interpret it through the power of the Holy Spirit, or by God’s Spirit, those presuppositions.

Then secondly we talked about the nature of the Bible and we talked about two key terms to describe the nature of the Bible. The first one is diversity. The Bible is written by diverse authors in diverse times and places with diverse literary forms, that is the issue of diversity. We said that was the human side of God’s revelation.

Then we use the term unity to describe the divine side of God’s revelation, that though the Bible is written in different times and cultures and contexts, though each author has their own theological perspective and cultural context, yet the Bible is one story inspired from beginning to end by God and therefore teaching truth that is consistent and that is complementary rather than contradictory.

So, those are really introductory issues. What is the Bible? What are our presuppositions when approaching the Bible? In this session we are going to actually introduce our topic which is biblical interpretation, or what we call hermeneutics.

I. Hermeneutics is the science and art of biblical interpretation.

The word hermeneutics comes from a Greek word, hermenuo which means to interpret. And we can define hermeneutics as the science and art of biblical interpretation. It is a science in that there are methods, there are rules, there is a measure of objectivity, it is not just a science it is also an art in the sense that it is a skill that is learned.

Now, the first question some of my students ask is do I really need hermeneutics. Some people say I don’t interpret the Bible, I just read the Bible. But, of course, every act of reading is also an act of interpretation; you cannot read something without interpreting it. 

II. The Goals of Hermeneutics

So what are the goals of interpretation or the goals of hermeneutics? We are going to look at two key goals. 

A. Exegesis: To Determine the meaning of a passage in its original context.

The first goal we call exegesis. Exegesis is from a Greek word meaning to draw out the meaning of the text. Our first goal in interpreting Scripture is to draw out the author’s original meaning. We contrast exegesis with what we call eisegesis. Eisegesis is another Greek word that means to read into an outside meaning. In other words our goal is to hear scripture speak to us not to bring our ideas and confirm our own presuppositions and ideas in scripture. We want to read out of it, comprehend what the original authors intended.

That brings us up to a clarification that I want to talk about. Clarifications with reference to what we mean by exegesis. The first clarification is that the original meaning refers to the author’s intended meaning; what the author originally intended. This raises one of the most important questions that hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation, seeks to answer. And that question is where does meaning reside.

In a written text there are really three possibilities for where meaning resides. There was an author, an original author, of that text, the person that wrote it. There is the text itself, that is the words on the page, the sentences on the page, the paragraphs on the page. Then third, there is a reader of the text. The one whether ancient or modern who picks up that document and reads the words that the author wrote.

So, in every passage in the Bible, as written text throughout history, there are three possibilities as to where meaning resides; meaning could be a focus on the author who originally wrote it, or is meaning in the text itself, that is in the words on the page, or is meaning in the mind of the reader.

There is modern literary theory that is called reader response criticism that puts all of the focus on the reader suggesting that we actually create meaning when we read. Every reader approaches a text differently and so really the focus of, the locus and focus of meaning is in the reader rather than in the author or in the text itself. Now, it is certainly true that meaning is a dynamic interplay between the text, the author, and the reader, but ultimately in this course we are going to focus on the fact that ultimately our goal is to get back to the author’s intention, what the author intended when they wrote their document, what was going on in their mind, what their goal was.

Now, there are important clarifications with reference to that. The original meaning we are looking for is the author’s intended meaning, but our approach has to be text-centered. Why is that? It is because the author is dead, the author of every New Testament and Old Testament document is not with us, so if we say, okay, we are looking for Paul’s meaning, but we cannot ask Paul his meaning is. We have to look to the written text, the text that that author penned and determine the meaning from that text. So the text is important, it is not just the author we are looking at. So our first clarification was that the original meaning refers to the author’s intended meaning.

Our second clarification is that meaning is text-centered. It is the author’s intent as discernible from the text, from the text itself, and its context. So, the author’s intent as discernible from the text and its context and the context refers to everything around the text, that is the life situation that prompted the author to write it, the recipients to whom it was written, the time and place in which it was written. So those are our first two clarifications.

Here is a third clarification related to exegesis, related to the author’s intended meaning, and that is that the text is historically positioned. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that the text represents what linguists call a speech act, a communication event in space and time. Why is this important to identify the text as a speech act, a communication event in space and time? Some people will say that you can make a text mean whatever it wants, because every reader, every person reading a text comes to it and comes to their own conclusion on what it means. We can get around that difficulty, however, by recognizing the difference between what we call a sentence and what we call an utterance.

What is a sentence? A sentence is a grammatically complete unit of thought. Let me illustrate this. Suppose I say, here is a sentence, “He hit the ball.” Now that is a sentence because it is a grammatically complete unit of thought. But suppose I am in my home and I am watching the television and there is a baseball game going on and the batter swings the bat and hits the ball and I say to my wife, “He hit the ball.” But then my son is out back, he loves baseball, he is swinging the bat and he throws the ball up and he hits it and I say, “He hit the ball.”

Notice what we have in that case. We have the same sentence, exactly the same sentence, he hit the ball, but that sentence now has two different contexts; one related to the baseball game that I am watching on television, one related to my son out in the back yard. So that sentence has two meanings; one meaning referring to my son and one meaning referring to the baseball game. Now, though that is only one sentence, the same sentence, it is two utterances; two different utterances.

An utterance, let me define an utterance for you. Remember a sentence; a sentence is a grammatically complete unit of thought. An utterance is a sentence which occurs in real life. Now think about my illustration. When I looked at the baseball game and said, he hit the ball. That sentence referred to that baseball game. It was a real life sentence. It had a meaning because it was a real life sentence. Then when I turned and looked at my son and said, he hit the ball, that was another utterance, a different utterance, because it was a different sentence in real life.

Now why is that important? That distinction between sentences and utterances is important, because sentences only have potential meaning. If I say, suppose I write on the board, he hit the ball. There is a sentence, but that sentence only has potential meaning, because I do not know who “he” is, I do not know what kind of a ball, I do not know what game this is, that sentence has potential meaning, but it does not have real meaning until I give it a context with reference to the baseball game, with reference to my son, and say he hit the ball, and then suddenly that sentence has meaning and it has only one meaning. It has the meaning that I meant when I stated that utterance.

So here is the important question. The important question is what do we have in the Bible, do we have sentences or do we have utterances? And the answer to that question is ultimately we have utterances. We have utterances, because every passage in the Bible was written by a real author, in a real context and they had a real intention, a real meaning in mind when they wrote that context.

So our third clarification, very important, our third clarification is that the Bible is historically positioned. Every passage, every sentence, every paragraph in the Bible has a specific place, has a specific time, has a specific historical position. And because it has a historical position it has a meaning in that position. Alright, that is exegesis, our first goal of hermeneutics to determine the author’s intended meaning.

I want to illustrate our two goals with a bridge illustration. Picture a large bridge spanning a gorge or a river, because this is a picture, this is the illustration we will be using to describe what we are trying to do in hermeneutics, in biblical interpretation. On one side of that bridge we will say is us, us in the sense of the modern reader of the text. On the other side of the bridge we will say is them, that is the biblical authors. So us is the modern reader of the text, that is you and I, and them are the biblical authors. Whether that biblical author is Moses or Isaiah or Jeremiah or one of the unknown writers of the Old Testament, say the writer of Chronicles or New Testament writers, Matthew or Mark or Luke or John or Paul or Peter or any of the other authors. That is us and them. 

But between us and them there is a great chasm, a great gorge, a great river valley. That chasm represents the time, the place, the culture, the language difference. I speak a different language than Paul spoke, I am in a different time; we have a different world view. So there is this great chasm between us and them. 

The goal of interpretation, the first goal of hermeneutics, or the first goal of interpretation is exegesis, and exegesis is crossing the cultural and linguistic bridge that separates us from them, and so I want to understand what Paul meant when he wrote this letter. Well, how can I understand what he wrote? I have to cross the bridge of time and space. I have to try to enter into the thought world of Paul. I have to learn the language, I have to learn the culture, I have to understand the life situation. 

When Paul writes his letter to the Corinthians, for me to understand that letter I have to try to understand what was happening in the city of Corinth in southern Greece. I have to understand a little bit about Paul and who he was, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I have to understand his relationship with the church, that he established this church. I have to understand the conflicts that he had with the church and then I have to understand the letter; I have to read it sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph and understand how one sentence relates to the next and how one paragraph relates to the next. 

That whole thing, that whole process is called exegesis. It is attempting to determine the original meaning of the passage in its original context. That is crossing the bridge in one direction, crossing the bridge from my life situation to the life situation of the Apostle Paul. That is the first half our task in reading the Bible and interpreting the Bible. That is what we call exegesis, determining the author’s original meaning.

B. Contextualization

But there is a second half to that process, and that is coming back across the bridge, taking the message that you have discerned in the first century, Paul’s message to his readers, to his contacts, and finding out how to apply that message to us today in our culture context, in our life situation.

If the first process, crossing the bridge back to the original context is called exegesis we call the process of bringing that message to us today as contextualization. Exegesis is determining the original meaning of the text; we are going to use that term meaning, determining the original meaning. Contextualization is determining the contemporary significance. What that text means to us today is the contemporary significance. How that text applies to our particular life situation, to our culture, to our context.

And both steps are crucial. We have to cross the bridge back and understand what Paul meant in his original context, in his original culture, and then we have to find out how that applies to us, what God is saying to us, what truth we can draw from this passage. That is contextualization.

Now, why do we need contextualization? Well, the reason we need contextualization or application is because not every command in the Bible was meant for all believers for all time.

Let me just illustrate this for you. Exodus 29:38 says, “This is what you are to offer on the altar regularly each day, two lambs a year old." Exodus 29:38 commands us to offer on the altar regularly each day two lambs a year old. So do we follow that Old Testament command? Well, you are probably aware most of us do not follow that Old Testament command, because that command was not given to us; it was given to the nation Israel under the Old Covenant. There are many, many, many Old Testament commands that we do not obey.

Deuteronomy 21:18 says, “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son,” and it goes on to say, “then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you,” calls for the stoning of a rebellious son; most of us do not practice the stoning of rebellious children today, we have other ways to deal with our disobedient children.

Or how about Leviticus 19:19? Leviticus 19:19 says, “Do not plant your field with two different kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” So the command here is not to plant, say barley and wheat, two different kinds of seed within the same field, or not to wear clothing made of say, cotton and polyester, two different kinds of material.

Now most of us break that command today. Many farmers plant different kinds of seed in one field. Many of our clothes, the clothes I am wearing right now are blended clothes, they do not have one material, they are not made of one material, they are made of more than one material. So am I disobeying God’s word? Well obviously most Christians do not believe that this command applies to us. We cannot simply say God said it and so I obey it because many of these commands were not intended for us to obey.

Take even one of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath command. Exodus 35:2 a restatement of the Sabbath command says, "For six days work is to be done but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord, whoever does any work on it must be put to death." Whoever does any work on the Sabbath must be put to death.

Now the Sabbath is of course the seventh day, which is Saturday, but most Christians work on Saturday. They do work on the Sabbath, the original Sabbath, in any case, yet according to Exodus 35:2, whoever does work on the Sabbath should be put to death. Why don’t we put to death people who do work on the Sabbath? The answer is, most of us do not believe this Sabbath command is meant for us to obey.

So how do we determine what commands are to be obeyed and what do we not have to obey. Contextualization, the second half of hermeneutics, the second half of Biblical interpretation, is to take the message as it was given, the original meaning, in its original context and determine how that meaning applies to us today.

Now take this Exodus 35:2 passage and let’s do it with this. We do our exegesis, what does it mean for six days work is to be done but on the seventh day, that is a holy day, whoever does any work on it must be put to death. Well, in our exegesis we realize that this was a command given to the nation Israel, that they were not to work on the Sabbath and that any Israelite who worked on the Sabbath was to be executed, because the Sabbath day was meant to be a day of rest given exclusively to God. That is our exegesis. We are looking at the context in its original passage and that is exactly what it means. It means that someone is to be executed, they are to be judged guilty and executed if they work on the Sabbath.

But that is only half of the process. The second half of the process is how do we apply that passage today? How do we keep the Sabbath today? Is that command given to us or it is not for us? If it is not for us then what application does that passage have? That is the question of application or contextualization.

Now we might say, okay, we have been talking about Old Testament commands, but what about New Testament commands? Are we supposed to obey all New Testament commands? Let me just give you a few New Testament commands that many Christians said they do not obey. Greet one another with a kiss of love Peter says in 1 Peter 5:14. Many Christians today do not greet with a kiss, they might great with a hand shake. Many cultures do greet with a kiss, but certainly not all Christians believe that this command is meant for today.

In 1 Corinthians 11:5 Paul says, “For every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head.” Paul says that a woman must not pray or prophesy in church with her head uncovered; she has to veil or cover her head. Now, in many churches around the world today women worship, they pray or they prophesy with their head uncovered. Are those women disobeying God? Are they disobeying the truth by praying with their head uncovered? Well, many Christians believe, at least, that this command is not meant for Christians for all time. The process of contextualization is looking at a passage of Scripture and trying to determine whether it applies today and in what way it applies today.

One more example, 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul says, “No longer drink water exclusively but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” In this passage Paul apparently commands to drink wine, but of course we recognize that Paul is writing to Timothy in a very specific situation and that command is meant for Timothy. So the question of contextualization is asking the question how does this command apply to today. How do I understand what God wants me to do?

So here is our bridge again. The first part of the bridge is exegesis, that is moving from our context, the context of the modern reader crossing the bridge backwards, the chasm, the gorge of time, place, culture and language to understand what the text meant in its original context. I can tell you Paul meant, if we understand that passage correctly, Paul meant for women in Corinth to cover their head when they were worshipping, when they were praying, when they were prophesying. That is exegesis, determining what the significance of that head covering was in its original culture in its original context.

But that is only half the process. Then we have to say okay, that is fine, that is what Paul meant for them, but how would Paul want us to do it. What would Paul want to command us and more importantly what would God want us to do in our particular culture and context, which is very different than Paul’s culture and context? Contextualization is determining the meaning for today.

I have a comic strip in front of me, it is a comic strip called Peanuts and it has two individuals, two young boys and one of them, Charlie Brown, asked the other, he says, “Where have you been?” He is speaking to Linus and Linus responds, “I’ve been to church school, we have been studying the letters of the Apostle Paul.” Charlie Brown says, “That should be interesting, studying the letters of the Apostle Paul,” and Linus, the other boy says, “Oh, yes, it is, I’m enjoying it.” He then says, “Although I must admit it makes me feel a little guilty studying Paul’s letters because I always feel like I’m reading someone else’s mail.” 

Now that is meant to be funny, because he is guilty for reading the Bible, because he feels like he is reading someone else’s mail, but in fact, that is a true point. In reading Paul’s letters we are reading someone else’s mail, we are reading the letters of Paul, this individual from the first century, this missionary, this church planter, this world traveler, he is writing letters to specific first-century churches.

The letter to the Galatians is written to a variety of churches in the Roman province of Galatia. The letter to the Corinthians, the first and second letters to the Corinthians, are written to the church in southern Greece or Achaia, in the city of Corinth. The letters to the Romans is written to the church, or the house churches in Rome. So, every one of Paul’s letters is written to a specific life situation, to a specific church or churches, to a specific cultural context.

Here is a statement that I will make to my students that can sound a little shocking to many Christians. The statement is the reason the Bible is sometimes so hard to understand is because it was not written to you. Let me state that again. The reason the Bible is sometimes so hard to understand is because it was not written to you. Now that is true. None of these books originally, in their original context, was written to us as individuals, to us as modern readers. Isaiah wrote to the people of Israel of his time. Moses wrote to Israel of his time. John wrote to the churches to which he was ministering. Paul wrote to the churches that he had established and the churches that he knew. But none of these writers were writing specifically to us as modern readers.

So one of the reasons the Bible is so hard to understand is we do not live in that cultural context, we do not speak that original language, we do not always know all the circumstances, all the situations, everything that was going on. So the reason the Bible is sometimes so hard to understand is it was not written to you. That is why we need exegesis. We need to enter into the world of the text. We need to learn the languages of the text. We need to understand the first-century culture and context and background. That is why we need exegesis.

But although the Bible was not written to you, it was written for you. We just change that preposition from "to" to "for" and this suddenly becomes a true statement. In other words, this is God’s word for you even if it was not written to you.

Now in our last session we talked about the nature of the Bible as both fully human and fully divine. We can relate this point we have just made to that whole idea of being fully human and fully divine. It is fully human in the sense that it had a real life situation; it was written by a real author, by Peter or by Paul or by Luke or by John, in a real life situation. Paul writing to the Romans, the church in Rome; John writing to his community; Mark writing perhaps to the church, the suffering church in Rome; every writer is writing to a specific situation. Every writer is writing in a human reality, in a human situation, that is the human side.

But this is also God’s word, it is meant for God’s people of all time. So even though the Bible is not written to you, it was written for you. Because the Bible is divinely inspired, because the Bible is God’s word, it has truth and application and relevance to us today. So, contextualization or application is determining how the Bible relates to you. If exegesis is the meaning for them in their original context, contextualization is the significance for us today.

Now, I have been using the word contextualization instead of the word application and it means roughly the same thing. The reason we use the word contextualization instead of the word application is because application means simply applying the Bible to ourselves. But there can be good application and there can be bad application. In other words I can take a passage of scripture and apply it to my life but I may be misunderstanding how God intended that to be applied.

Contextualization, the reason we use the word contextualization, is it means appropriately taking that message and applying to a new context; that is where the word contextualization comes from. It had an original context and now it has a new context, our context. Paul’s letters were written in one context, the context of the first-century world of the Mediterranean. We want to take the message to them that we determine by exegesis and we want to apply that message to us today. Take it from one context, the first-century context, and bring into our world, into our context.

Alright, so we have talked about what is hermeneutics, the science and art of biblical interpretation. Secondly, we have talked about the goals of hermeneutics and the basic goals, again, are two-fold; exegesis, determining the author’s intended meaning; contextualization, determining the significance of the text for today. The bridge illustration, exegesis means moving from us to them, going back into the world of the text, understanding the author’s intended meaning in its original context. Contextualization, taking that message and bringing it into our life situation and applying it today.

We will talk about both rules of exegesis and also rules of contextualization. Principles we can apply to understand God’s word in its original context and then principles to apply to determine how it applies to us today. We have seen what is hermeneutics, we have seen the goals of hermeneutics, a final point within this lecture today is avoiding shortcuts, avoiding shortcutting the hermeneutical process.

III. Avoid Shortcutting the Hermeneutical Process

A. Application without Exegesis

There are mistakes that are sometimes made and we want to avoid those mistakes as we read and study God’s word. Let me just give you two mistakes, possible mistakes, that we want to avoid. The first mistake is application without exegesis; in other words, applying God’s word without fully understanding God’s word, application without exegesis.

One form of this is called subjectivity, assuming that whatever I first understand the text to mean is what it means to me; applying the passage directly to my life without understanding its original meaning or context. So this is application without exegesis, applying it without determining its original meaning. You may have been in a Bible study, perhaps, where a passage was read and then everyone went around and described what they thought it meant, or how it applied to them.

I have one cartoon where a Bible study leader is reading a passage in Paul’s letters and he says, “Paul says that because of his chains, others have been encouraged.” And then he asks the Bible study group, “What do you think that means?”

One man responds, “Paul is writing a letter, right, so this is a chain letter, like the one I just got.” So he misunderstands Paul’s chains to mean a chain letter.

Another woman says, “No, no, you are missing the point, I am a chain smoker and God is speaking to me through this to tell me I am to encourage other chain smokers.” 

A third man says, “Well, it reminds me of that Aretha Franklin song, Chain of Fools, maybe Paul means we are fools for Christ.” 

So each one applies the passage directly to themselves. The Bible study leader says, “Those are interesting insights, but do you think Paul could simply be referring to his prison chains?” One of the Bible study participates says to another, “I told you this Bible study wasn't about practical living.” 

You see the point is that in that Bible study the people were not thinking about what the passage meant in its original context, what the passage meant to Paul, they were simply taking it and applying it in any way they felt they wanted to with reference to themselves. But that is a misapplication of the passage. Here is our point. The point is we must understand the original meaning, the meaning of the original author, before we can make a correct application for today.

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart in their book How to Read The Bible For All Its Worth say it this way; they say a text cannot mean what it never meant, a text cannot mean today something that it never meant in its original context. So that is one form of application without exegesis, applying the Bible before we understand it.

Another mistake we make by applying the Bible without understanding it we call proof texting. Proof texting is trying to find a verse that supports our perspective. We have a tendency to come to the text of Scripture and we know what we believe. Maybe we know what we believe because our church has taught it to us or we know what we believe because our parents have taught something to us and so we read the Bible assuming we know what it is going to say.

I have got another cartoon where a young man is reading his Bible and his sister comes up to him and he says, “Don’t bother me; I am looking for a verse of Scripture to back up one of my preconceived notions.” You see, he knows what he believes, he is not going to Scripture to understand what it means, he is going to Scripture to defend his own perspective.

But you see we will never hear God speak to us unless we allow the Bible to speak for itself, until we seek to understand it on its own terms. So, in that case you are trying to apply God’s word before you understand God’s word. So we need to avoid shortcutting the hermeneutical process by applying it without exegeting it. 

B. Exegesis without contextualization

The opposite is also true, however. Some people do exegesis without contextualization, or they might understand what the text meant, but then they misapply it to their life today in some way.

Let me give you a couple examples of that. A liberal error related to exegesis without contextualization is not allowing the Bible to transform your life. Reading it, understanding it in its original context, but not allowing it to change us.

I have read many commentaries that are very well written, that quite fully understand the original context and culture and background and language, but then the author is not a true believer, the author does not allow that message to change his or her life.

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." God’s word is meant to be read and understood and ultimately applied, it is meant to transform our lives. So, we cannot fully interpret God’s word until we allow it to change us.

That might be a liberal error associated with exegesis without contextualization, but there are also conservative errors that misapply God’s word. And one example is confusing eternal principles with cultural applications. Sometimes in Scripture what we have are specific cultural applications of eternal principles, but God never intended those things necessarily to apply for all time.

For example, 1 Corinthians 14:34, Paul says a woman should remain silent in church. Now, we have to first of all exegete that and understand what it means in its original context, because it is obvious that Paul does not mean that command to apply to all women in all churches for all time. We know that because even earlier in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul assumes that women are prophesying and praying in church. So, exegesis without contextualization would say, “Paul said it this way, therefore this is the way we should apply it," without fully understanding why Paul said it and then determining what its appropriate application is for today.

A second conservative error with reference to exegesis without contextualization we might call the magic answer book or the verse for the day syndrome. And that is searching Scripture for the answer to a specific problem and so taking a passage out of context.

It is like the young soldier who was in training camp, he was in boot camp, and he was really suffering under the rigors of military life and he desperately wanted to go home. So he began searching his Bible for an answer to help him, something to encourage him and he came to Genesis 31:13 where it says "arise, get out of this place," and he took that as a message from the Lord, so he deserted his army post and he went home. Well, his interpretation was fine, his exegesis was fine. He understood what that meant, that meant arise, get out of the place, but he applied it inappropriately to himself. That passage was never meant to be for him, it was meant for an entire different life situation.

In many Christian books I read stories of people who understand and discern God’s will in this way. I remember reading the story of a woman whose husband was considering taking a new job, but she just was not sure that it was the right job to take, because it would require them to leave their home and move to another town and she was reading her Bible and she came to Luke 4:43 where Jesus says, “I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” She read that verse and took that as a message from God that they were to move from this town to the other town.

Well, the problem with that is that passage was never meant to tell us that we should move from one town to another. That passage was Jesus telling his disciples that his mission was to proclaim the good news to all the towns of Israel. In fact, that woman could have read another verse; she could have read Isaiah 33:20 that says, “Look upon Zion, a tent that will not moved.” She could have taken that as a passage telling her she should stay put. The verse goes on, “Its stake will never be pulled up nor any of its ropes broken.” So she could take that verse to mean that she should stay in her town and they should not move.

You see, the problem is that is not what the verse ever meant. As Fee and Stewart said, “A text cannot mean today what it never meant in its original context." Appropriate contextualization, appropriate application has to come from appropriate exegesis, determining what the author meant in their original context.

IV. Summary

Okay, let me just summarize our points that we have looked at in this session. We have asked the question: What is hermeneutics? Hermeneutics is the science and art of biblical interpretation. It is a science in that we need to bring specific principles, a specific method to bear. We have to diligently study God’s word in order to understand it.

Secondly, we looked at the goals of hermeneutics and we saw that there were two goals. The first goal we call exegesis, that is determining the original meaning, the author’s intended meaning in that author's original historical, cultural and literary context.

Third, we saw certain ways we need to avoid shortcutting the hermeneutical process by misapplying the text without first exegeting the text or by exegeting it, determining correctly what the author originally intended, but then not applying it to appropriate situations. Application without exegeses or exegesis without application.

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