Hermeneutics - Lesson 6

Thinking Theologically About Meaning

From this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the theological aspects of interpreting texts, especially the Bible. You'll learn that meaning in texts is not inherent but constructed through human thought. The author, not the reader, controls the meaning of a text. Hermeneutics is essential due to the diversity of readers' aims and interests. Understanding God is central to interpreting the Bible accurately, as the Scriptures have dual authorship. God's lordship, knowledge, and obedience are crucial elements in this process. Lastly, approaching the Bible with presuppositions about God and human nature is necessary for accurate interpretation.

Todd Miles
Lesson 6
Watching Now
Thinking Theologically About Meaning

I. Review of Meaning

II. God’s Nature

A. God is covenantal

B. God is transcendent and immanent

C. God is knowable

D. God speaks

E. Human nature

  • This lesson explores John the Baptist's role as the Messiah's forerunner, his imprisonment for condemning Herod's affair, and Jesus' response in Matthew 11, rooted in Old Testament prophecies. Jesus' omission of judgment references confuses John about the Messiah's timing. Believers in the New Covenant, with deeper insight into Jesus, are seen as greater. The lesson promotes patience during suffering and the duty to identify Jesus as the Messiah.
  • This lesson on hermeneutics teaches you to approach the Bible with humility, seek divine guidance, analyze context, consider character roles, examine structure, use cross-references, apply sanctified imagination, and emphasize Jesus in interpretation, all while relying on the Holy Spirit.
  • This lesson introduces general and special revelation, emphasizing their roles in inviting people to know God and providing specific truths for salvation. It explores the process of inspiration, defining it as a concurrent work of a holy God and a human author, ensuring every word of Scripture is both human and divine, crucial for biblical interpretation.
  • This lesson reveals the Bible's divine authority, unity, and human relevance, stressing accurate interpretation for life transformation.
  • Learn about hermeneutics, understanding author intent, and different views on interpretation. Dr. Todd Miles discusses realism vs. non-realism, authorial authority, and introduces speech act theory to show how the Bible engages with readers, transforming beliefs and behavior.
  • This lesson delves into theological text interpretation, emphasizing that meaning is human-made, not inherent. Authors, not readers, shape text meaning. Accurate Bible interpretation hinges on understanding God's authorship, emphasizing His lordship, knowledge, and obedience. Presuppositions about God and human nature are vital for accurate Bible interpretation.
  • From this lesson, you will gain insights into the challenges of translating the Bible, understanding the continuum of translation philosophies, and the importance of selecting a translation that balances accuracy and readability in contemporary language. Dr. Todd Miles underscores the significance of using the best available manuscripts, avoiding theological bias, and staying updated with the latest knowledge of language and culture to ensure a quality translation.
  • From this lesson, you will gain valuable knowledge and insight into hermeneutics and biblical interpretation. You will understand that hermeneutics is not about uncovering hidden secrets but about utilizing your natural ability to interpret communication. Reading and becoming familiar with the Bible is crucial for effective interpretation, and it is essential to address biblical illiteracy.
  • Learn the significance of interpreting Bible passages in the context of redemptive history. Discover the Bible's continuous narrative, emphasizing revelation's progression and God's plan through the David and Goliath story. See how context ensures accurate interpretation, connecting the Bible's parts into a cohesive story of God's redemption.
  • Understanding the Bible through biblical theology is crucial, as it reveals the overarching narrative of God's redemptive plan, centered on His glory and the role of Jesus Christ, enabling a more profound comprehension of individual Bible passages and their relevance to our lives.
  • Dr. Todd Miles underscores the vital role of historical and cultural context in interpreting the Bible. Understanding the era when a passage was penned is crucial for grasping its genuine significance. Using examples like the virgins' parable and Revelation 3:14-22, it demonstrates how historical context aids in discerning interpretations and adds depth to the message. The text emphasizes that, while the Bible offers some historical context, external sources can also enhance comprehension. In conclusion, historical and cultural context is essential for accurate biblical interpretation.
  • In this lesson on Hermeneutics by Dr. Todd Miles, the focus is on understanding the cultural context when interpreting biblical texts. Dr. Miles emphasizes that culture plays a significant role in both the biblical author's writing and the reader's interpretation. He discusses the concept of cultural conditioning, highlighting that everyone, including the biblical authors, the original audience, and modern readers, is influenced by their respective cultures.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Miles highlights the significance of studying words in their original language and using etymology to decipher their original meanings.
  • Learn how recognizing and applying literary genres in the Bible is crucial for accurate interpretation, avoiding misinterpretations, and approaching Scripture with a nuanced understanding.
  • In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of interpreting biblical narratives. It begins by discussing the distinction between historical narratives and parables, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the markers of historical narrative.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Miles review biblical narrative interpretation. He emphasizes the importance of context, adding that each narrative should be examined within the broader biblical and book context. He illustrates this with Mark Chapter 5, where Jesus interacts with demons, breaking from the norm to underscore his authority.
  • From this lesson on Hermeneutics and Law, you will gain insight into the intricate relationship between the Old Testament law and New Covenant believers. Dr. Todd Miles emphasizes the challenge of applying ancient laws to contemporary life and introduces the key factors for understanding them: comprehending the nature of covenants and situating oneself in the timeline of redemptive history. This process is likened to using a mall map to find a destination.
  • Dr. Todd Miles discusses prophecy's significance beyond predicting the future. It validates God's deity, reveals future realities, and guides our present actions. Most prophecy is about forth-telling and emphasizes covenant understanding.
  • In this Hermeneutics lesson, you'll gain insights into the challenges of interpreting prophecy, including wrong expectations, historical context, conditional fulfillment, and various forms of prophetic proclamations, while also being reminded not to let contemporary agendas override the biblical text.
  • In taking this lesson, you gain insight into the concept of typology in biblical interpretation. Typology involves finding resemblances between Old Testament figures, events, and institutions and their fulfillment in the New Testament, particularly in relation to Jesus Christ.
  • Learn about poetry in the Bible by exploring Hebrew poetic parallelism and its emotional power in Psalms. Discover how poetry enhances biblical narratives and offers unique insights.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles discusses various types of psalms found in the Psalter and delves into their unique characteristics and theological significance. He begins by providing a list of different kinds of psalms, emphasizing that this list is not exhaustive but illustrative, highlighting the diversity of poetry within the Psalms.
  • By studying this lesson, you gain insight into essential figures of speech in the Bible and learn to interpret them effectively, enhancing your hermeneutical skills and deepening your understanding of the Scriptures.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles discusses the interpretation of parables. Parables are a specific literary genre with their own rules of interpretation. Parables are designed to teach a single point, although there might be exceptions. Historical context remains essential in understanding parables, as they are shaped by the situations of the day. 
  • This lesson explores Proverbs and wisdom literature, focusing on its distinct genre, interpretation rules. Dr. Miles highlights its purpose, living wisely with God. It emphasizes the fear of the Lord, touches Ecclesiastes' question of meaning, and Job's theodicy.
  • In this lesson on interpreting epistles, Dr. Todd Miles underscores the importance of understanding their structure, argumentative methods, and central theological focus on Jesus Christ and the gospel, even when addressing practical issues within the early Christian communities.
  • Dr. Todd Miles delves into apocalyptic literature, emphasizing its distinct features like revelatory communication and angelic guidance. It unveils profound truths through visions, promoting understanding and righteous conduct.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles explores the concept of perspicuity, which refers to the clarity of the Bible. He begins by explaining that perspicuity is a theological term used to describe how clear the Bible's teachings are. It means that the Bible is written in a way that its teachings can be understood by anyone who reads it, seeks God's help, and is willing to follow it.
  • This lesson provides practical guidelines for applying biblical principles. Dr. Miles emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit, examining the original context, and identifying parallel situations in the present. He encourages applications to be personal, specific, measurable, and time-bound, ensuring they lead to tangible actions in your life.
  • In this lesson, you'll grasp the Holy Spirit's vital role in biblical interpretation, going beyond changing hearts to enabling comprehension and acceptance of the text. Dr. Todd Miles stresses the Spirit's role in illuminating the Bible, making it relevant to believers, challenging the idea that unbelievers interpret it as effectively, and emphasizing the importance of understanding the text's intent. The ultimate aim is not mastery but being mastered by the text, with the Holy Spirit as a key player.
Hermeneutics is the science and art of the interpretation of the Bible. It's a science because it is an orderly process based on rules you can apply. It is an art because of the nuances in communication and translation.



Dr. Todd Miles


Thinking Theologically About Meaning

Lesson Transcript


Let's think about what meaning is, and let's do that from a theological perspective here. Where does meaning come from? We might say, well, the text you've been you've been saying that over and over again. Is there a meaning in this text? What does the text say? Of course, the text was written by someone. The text really doesn't convey meaning autonomously. It's like, I mean, what is a text? It's paper and ink. It's inanimate. How can an inanimate object give meaning? Meaning is really a thought process. Meaning is a construction of thought. The text doesn't construct thought. It conveys thought. So. Well, then who? Who reads the text? Maybe it's the reader that creates meaning. And of course, I've already denied that that was that reader response idea. The what it means to me and it's it is not that the reader discerns the meaning, but that the reader gives meaning to the text that is implied in reader response. And, and I've already said, no, that's that that's not the case or that not to be the case. Is the text a window or a mirror? Does it in some way facilitate our own illumination? Does it give us access to another world? And, and of course, as I said before, that that meaning is conveyed by an author. It's the author who is to control meaning. And so as again, another Kevin Vanhooser, whose are quote I've quoted him a number of times now he says hermeneutics is inevitable, not because the biblical texts are unclear, but because the aims and interests of the interpreter often are. God is a very good communicator. The biblical authors are very, very good writers. Not everything they say is equally clear, but most of the time. Most of the time the fault lies with us, the reader who are trying to interpret this. So where does meaning come from? It comes from the author. And as I've said before, the Scriptures have dual authorship. The Scriptures are all inspired by God. They are everywhere to the Scriptures, the Word of God. And yet simultaneously, simultaneously, every word is a human word written by a human author. So if that's the case and if hermeneutics is inevitable or necessary, because readers and interpreters have different aims and goals, having a theological interest is is not arbitrary, It's actually necessary. We have to understand who God is in order to rightly read the scriptures. If we're going to do justice to the nature of the Bible itself, we have to understand it to be what it is. A collection of human speech acts, certainly, but also a unified divine speech act as well. And so we have to know something about who God is. And here are some basic presuppositions, it seems to me that we have to have if we're to understand the Bible correctly. Our doctrine of Scripture is ultimately directly related to our doctrine of God. And here's here's here's one very obvious presupposition we have to have. God is the Lord. We find that in Genesis one, one, right off the bat, you might notice that we're not given any sort of apologetic. There's no like preamble, there's no prolog that argues for the existence of God. We're just told right off the bat God is the creator of everything. And throughout redemptive history, God seeks to identify himself to people as Lord and to teach and demonstrate to them the meaning of that concept. We could say that God is the Lord is the message of the Old Testament, and then narrows down Jesus Christ is the Lord is the message of the New Testament. But this Lordship in the Bible is always covenantal. Lordship is covenantal The covenants are those those pacts, those agreements, those contracts that God makes. And they are not contracts between equals. God is God and we are not in the Old Testament. God as covenant Lord. He selected a certain people from all the nations of the Earth to be his own. He rules by law, but the covenant is not merely law. It's simultaneously a demonstration of grace. God chose Israel by grace because he loved them, not because they were any great shakes and because all people are sinners, including God's promised people. His chosen people. It's only our sinners. It's only by grace that there is any covenant blessing at all. The creator creature distinction is a covenant relation. It is a lord servant relation. We never interact with God as equals. God is Lord of all. And in all of His relations with the world, He speaks and acts as Lord. This God that we encounter in the Bible. If we're to write and understand the Bible, we must understand him to be simultaneously transcendent and imminent. If God is the covenant head, He is highly exalted above his people. That is, He is transcendent, the one who is wholly other, wholly other. But God is not merely the Covenant head. He's the covenant head. He's deeply involved with us. He gets in the weeds of our life. He is near. So an imminent means. He is so God is simultaneously God who is high and lifted up, who also stoops down, as the Scriptures say, to meet us where we are at. This combination of transcendence and imminence results in both authority and present. God is imminent. He is present, but even while present, he's simultaneously transcended by virtue of who he is. He has the right to be obeyed. God, if you will, embodies both might and right. He is authoritative. The Scriptures marvel at the transcendence and immanence of God. If you were to walk down the street from from where I teach, it's a it's a hipster street. And you were to ask people at Tell me what God is like. Tell me what God is like. If they believe in God at all, which which most would would say that they believed in God. They would describe God as loving, that that's His God job. God. God loves me. God loves me. That that that might be the truest thing to them, that they know God loves me. But the Bible never assumes the love of God. The Bible never takes it for granted. That the Scriptures marvel at the love of God rather than, Oh, God loves me. It's more like God loves me. This this awesome God that we serve the high and lifted up when the one who was highly exalted is simultaneously the God who stoops down, takes up his children in his arms as a shepherd cares for his sheep. This is the God of the Bible. To rightly understand the scriptures, we need to have this understanding of who God is. Imagine, if you will, reading the Scriptures convinced that God doesn't exist. That's like a nonstarter because the Bible just assumes the existence of God. And then imagine reading the Bible convinced that God hates you and is against you and wants nothing but cursing for you. What sense are you going to be able to make of God's redemptive story where God takes into himself at great cost that the means of our salvation? It will make no sense at all. So so these are the kind of presuppositions that are necessary in order to rightly understand the Bible. Now, now these things are spelled out in the Bible as well. But there's going to be a bit of a of a hermeneutical spiral, if you will, As we come to know God better, we will understand the Scripture better. And as we understand the Scriptures better, we will come to know God better. And hopefully we are spiraling in on on what is true. Another presupposition we have to have is that God is knowable. God is knowable. Again, imagine reading the scriptures. If you're convinced that we cannot possibly know God, it would be an exercise in futility. It would be like a religious studies thing. Like, you know, like for me reading, you know, the Bhagavad Gita or something like that, where I just want to know what bizarre things other people believe. But the Scriptures are not a collection of bizarre, bizarre things that some people believe. The Scriptures are divine speech for God engages us. And so we need to understand that God is knowable and that that doesn't mean that my thoughts can be God's thoughts precisely because God is the creator and I'm not. So there's there's definitely going to be discontinuity between God's thoughts and my thoughts as I attempt to know God. God's thoughts, for example, our uncreated and eternal mind are created and limited by time. God's thoughts decree. What is to come? I can't even get my kids to obey, let alone decree. What is to come. And God's thoughts always bring glory and honor to Him. Ours often do not and generously put it that way. God's thoughts are original. Ours our derivative. I'm amazed at movies and science fiction and fantasy and horror movies. And we really haven't made anything up. Everything that we create is just copying something that God has already made. Some sea creature that, you know, God is the true creative one. Ours are largely derivative. By in large, I mean entirely. God doesn't need anything revealed to him. We're utterly dependent on revelation from God. God thoughts when taken together, constitute perfect wisdom. Our thoughts are often chaotic and dissonant, sometimes contradictory. And no matter how much of himself God reveals to us, there is an essential disproportion between the fullness of His deity and the capacity and intelligence of us as his finite creature. We'll never know. God exhaustively will never be able to wrap our mental arms around God. But that doesn't mean we can't know Him. Truly. For our part. So there are continuities between God's thoughts and ours. Divine and human thought are bound by the same standard of truth. After all. God. What's. What's true for God is true for us. Divine and human thought may be about the same objects. I live in Portland, often called the Rose City, and there are roses grow really well here for for whatever reason, I'm not much of a botanist or whatever. A person who likes flowers would be called. I look at a rose and I think it's a thing that's pretty and often red, yellow or white and and smells good. But but I can appreciate it for what it is. Imagine God who knows that Rose As creator, I imagine his ability to rejoice in what was made. But we're both thinking about the same thing. He just knows that his creator, I know it as creature. And then both divine and human thoughts can be true. As well. If if I am thinking God starts after him, then I'm thinking truly. And again, I may not think truly in an exhaustive sense, but I can think of something as as being true. So I give you a quote from John Frame here, who's heavily influenced my thinking on this. He writes in his Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, in scripture reality, but God in particular is known. And our senses, reason and imagination are not barriers to this knowledge. They do not necessarily distorted. Rather, our senses, reason and imagination are themselves. Revelations of God means that God uses to drive His truth home to us. God is Lord. He will not be shut out of His world. God exercises this Lordship in knowledge. Knowledge of him because? Because we're servants. Our quest for knowledge should reflect the fact that we are servants of the living God. We are to be servants. That is in our knowing. As such, our servant who had should be reflected in our knowledge about God and our knowledge should be subject to God. So we want to have knowledge about God. Certainly we not. We want to know right things about him. But. But the way that we know knowing is subject to God as well. We believe, for example, in order to understand. 2 Corinthians chapter ten versus four and five, Paul writes, The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments in every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ. This means that we are not merely to think about the right things. Just make sure you're always thinking about the right things. Don't think about other bad things. Think only about right things. Like a Philippians four eight sort of thing. Think about those things that are lovely and admirable and praiseworthy, but I don't think that's what Paul's getting at here in this passage. I think he's not telling us. Just think about the right things. He's saying, think rightly about all things. Submit the very act of knowing to the Lordship of Jesus. And then there's the strange things that happens in the Scriptures, especially as you read through the New Testament. What we find out is that knowledge of God actually produces obedience. Peter wrote Second Peter one, verse three. He says, His God's divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. Then verse five, for this reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge and knowledge with self-control. As we as we grow in our knowledge of God, we are moved towards obedience. Because God is God. But it works the other way around too. Obedience of God leads to knowledge. And both are necessary. We obey in order to know. We know, in order to obey. Both of those things are true. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 111, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever. Isaiah Chapter 33 verse 6, the Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high. He will fill Zion with justice and righteousness. He will be the stability of your time, abundance and salvation. Wisdom and knowledge. The fear of the Lord is Zion's treasure. Jesus said that if you want to be my disciple, if you want to be a follower of mine, then you obey. You obey all those who have my commands and obey them. Those are the ones who love me. Jesus says so. So knowledge is necessary for obedience. And obedience is necessary for knowledge. And knowledge must be sought in an obedient way. James Chapter three verses 13 through 18 is is very helpful in this. Who among us is wise and understanding by his good conduct? He should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don't boast and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly and spiritual demonic. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering without pretense. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. Let me give you another quote by John Frame. He writes, When we seek to know God obediently, we assume the fundamental point that Christian knowledge is a knowledge under authority, that our quest for knowledge is not autonomous, but subject to Scripture. And if that is true, it follows that the truth and to some extent the content of Scripture must be regarded as the most certain knowledge that we have. If this knowledge is to be the criterion for all other knowledge, if it is to govern our acceptance or rejection of other propositions, then there is no proposition that can call it into question. Thus, when we know God, we know him more, certainly more surely than we know anything else. God is knowable. And he exercises his Lordship in our knowledge. And our knowing. God also speaks. Imagine again. Imagine reading the Bible, trying to interpret it correctly. If you didn't believe God was capable of communication. What would be the point? We see that God's speech is prevalent and powerful in Genesis one. He creates the cosmos through his speech, but his speech is also personal. We read earlier Deuteronomy 29:29, the secret things belong to God, but He's revealed things to us for our good, God intentionally speaks. We see from Genesis 11 with the Tower of Babel that God is Lord over language. And and we speak we speak as well. But but I would argue that we speak because God speaks not vice versa. God doesn't accommodate to us by speaking. He may accommodate his speech to us, but his him as a speaker predates us as speakers. So there's lots of necessary presuppositions about God when it comes to openly interpreting the Bible. But there's presuppositions about us as well, and we need to have the right understanding of who we are. And again, all of these presuppositions necessary to interpret the Bible correctly are in the Scriptures themselves. What does the Bible say about who we are? Well, prior to belief, we're not neutral. Bible. Romans five calls us enemies of God. We also know that all unbelievers know enough truths about God to be without excuse. We looked at that in Romans one with general revelation earlier that their knowledge of God, it's more than propositional. They actively suppress and rebel against it. Romans one teaches that as well. And so I would argue, not sure that you should lead in evangelism with this, but I would argue that that response of suppressing and rebelling, it's first and foremost a stupid response to shake your fist at God and say no to the creator God. That response is also a form of lying, if you will. When we disobey God, we testify to others and to ourselves that God's Word is untrue. We don't believe it. It's false. Lying and fighting the truth involve affirmations of falsehood, and not every sentence that an unbeliever utters is false. But disobedience always involves acceptance of, like, a functional atheism. These falsehoods may conflict with true beliefs that sinners hold. And at some level, every unbeliever holds conflicting beliefs. For example, every unbeliever knows that God is not the God is Lord. But every believer and every unbeliever states that God is not Lord. That's a contradiction. Therefore, because of this active cognitive dissonance in both believers and unbelievers, we can't assume neutrality. We have to instead read the Bible on its terms. Following its leads with its presuppositions. Those are some of the theological presuppositions that I think are necessary to read and understand the Bible rightly. We don't come to those automatically. But they're necessary as we read the Scriptures, our understanding of God and of ourselves. It gets it clarifies. It gets more and more accurate. And then as we understand ourselves and God better, our understanding of the scriptures will grow. And and this is what I referred to, again, as that hermeneutical spiral. So how we understand the scriptures. Well, that's going to be the task of the rest of this class.