Biblical Hermeneutics - Lesson 5

Various Issues in Hermeneutics

Inerrancy of the Bible is an important foundation for the process of translation. Some translations focus more on "word-for-word" equivalents and some focus more on "thought-for-thought" equivalents. Some translations include footnotes to explain a verse that is ambiguous or controversial. 

Robert Stein
Biblical Hermeneutics
Lesson 5
Watching Now
Various Issues in Hermeneutics

NT510-05 Biblical Hermeneutics: Various Issues in Hermeneutics

I. Introduction to Various Issues in Hermeneutics

A. Definition of Hermeneutics B. Importance of Hermeneutics in Biblical Interpretation

II. Historical Issues in Hermeneutics

A. Pre-modern Approaches to Interpretation B. Modern Approaches to Interpretation

III. Literary Issues in Hermeneutics

A. The Role of Genre in Interpretation B. The Role of Context in Interpretation

IV. Theological Issues in Hermeneutics

A. The Role of Systematic Theology in Interpretation B. The Role of Biblical Theology in Interpretation

V. Practical Issues in Hermeneutics

A. The Use of Tools and Resources in Interpretation B. The Role of the Holy Spirit in Interpretation

VI. Conclusion

A. Summary of Key Points B. Final Thoughts on Hermeneutics

  • Understanding the roots of the English language and knowing the history of the English translations of the Bible gives you a context that can help you understand the meaning of the passage you are reading. 

  • After William Tyndale published the first Bible in English in 1539 that was translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, King James of England assembled a team of top scholars to create an English translation that was published in 1611. More recent translations are still being made to reflect new manuscript discoveries and changes in the English language. 

  • There is no such thing as an exact word equivalent when going from one language to another. Different languages as well as different cultures pose a challenge for translators. It's important to use the best manuscripts for your translation.

  • A few of the challenges that translators face are for the translation to be accurate but understandable, contemporary but universal, and to avoid a theological bias. Contemporary languages are always changing, and each translator holds theological beliefs based on years of training and experience. 

  • Inerrancy of the Bible is an important foundation for the process of translation. Some translations focus more on "word-for-word" equivalents and some focus more on "thought-for-thought" equivalents. Some translations include footnotes to explain a verse that is ambiguous or controversial. 

  • The three components that determine meaning in written communication are the author, the text and the reader. In determining the meaning of Biblical passages, it's important to know as much as possible about all three components. 

  • The author of a passage made an intentional effort to communicate a message. It is the job of the reader to determine the meaning and implications of the message by studying the text itself, then evaluating the literary form and other contextual factors. 

  • The first step in interpretation is to focus on the pattern of meaning the author consciously willed to convey by the words they used. Then, the implications of the text may also include meanings in the text of which the author was unaware but fall within the author's pattern of meaning.

  • It's important to define your terms when you are determining the interpretation and application of Biblical passages. Your goal is to begin by hearing the message of a passage as the author intended it and the first readers would have understood it. 

  • The written word correctly interpreted is the objective basis of authority. The inward illuminating and persuading work of the Holy Spirit is the subjective dimension. When 1 Cor. 2:14 says that an unspiritual man cannot understand Scritpure, it is referring to his lack of acceptance rather than his mental grasp of the words. 

  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to believers, the church, and the world. The lesson covers the Holy Spirit's work in the regeneration and sanctification of believers, empowering and guiding them, unifying the church, bestowing spiritual gifts, the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and drawing people to God. The conclusion summarizes the Holy Spirit's impact on all aspects of life.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the miracles in the Bible took place as they are recorded will affect the way you look at the Bible and at specific events. Three approaches to this question are the supernatural approach, rationalist approach and the mythical approach. 

  • Kinds of meaning and types of meaning are two of the main ideas in the book, "The Language and Imagery of the Bible," by G. B. Caird. Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth. Exceptions are allowed. A good example of an exception to a proverb is the book of Job.

  • Judgment prophecy assumes that, even if not stated, if the people repent, judgment will not come. Prophets also tend to speak in figurative language, using cosmic terminology. 

  • The prophets use figurative and metaphorical language to describe future events and spiritual reality. They also use cosmic language to describe God acting in history. 

  • Dr. Stein discusses the possibility of a sensus plenior in some passages. In Mark 13, Jesus talks about coming events that are also prophesied in the Old Testament. 

  • Judges chapters 4 and 5 describe the same events. Chapter 4 uses prose, chapter 5 uses poetry. The book of Psalms is a collection of songs, prayers and reflections about human emotions, and God, his character and his work in the world. 

  • Jesus uses parallelism in the Gospels to illustrate and emphasize who God is and what the kingdom of God is like. In order to understand an idiom, you first need to identify it as an idiom and then determine what the meaning is in the culture.  

  • Exaggeration is overstatement. Hyperbole is literally impossible. When using exaggeration, both parties must agree that the expression is an exaggeration. Jesus uses exaggeration to emphasize and illustrate important teachings. 

  • Jesus uses exaggeration to make his point clear, especially on matters of morality, but doesn't take the time to discuss possible exceptions. Jesus also uses all-inclusive and universal language, as well as idiomatic language that no longer bears its original meaning. 

  • Some of the early church writers and the reformers interpreted parables, like the parable of the Good Samaritan, as allegories. 

  • Adolf Jülicher taught that parables tend to have one basic point of comparison, and the details are just there to make the story interesting. So you should try to understand what’s the main point of the parable. To begin with, seek to understand the parable as the first century audience would have. Consider what the Gospel writers were trying to teach. Ask how it applies to you in your current situation. 

  • In the parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great price, the message of the value of the kingdom of God is more important than the character of the man. In the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the dishonest manager, it's important to focus on the main point of the parable and not to get distracted by the details. The parable of the lost sheep teaches us to pursue the lost. 

  • When interpreting the parable of the workers, determine the main characters, consider the rule of end stress and pay attention to what gets the most press. 

  • Some parables are best interpreted as an allegory. It's important to ask if Jesus with his audience would have attributed meaning to these details and if the audience of the Gospel writers would have understood the details as being allegorical. 

  • When you are determining how you should apply the parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46, who Jesus is referring to when he says, "...just as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me." In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus makes a point about what causes people to believe in him or to not believe in him. 

  • You read and interpret a passage that is historical narrative differently than a passage that is prophecy, poetry or a parable. Much of the historical information in the Bible is confirmed by archaeological discoveries including literature from other contemporary cultures. In the 1700's there was a group of scholars that began questioning whether the miraculous events in the Bible were supernatural. They tried to find meaning in the stories without saying that a miracle happened assumed that the real meaning is not the same as the author's literal intention. They did this by finding the meaning of the words, then conducting a historical assessment of what really happened. 

  • Supernaturalists believe that the miracles the Gospel writers recorded were supernatural events. The rationalists believe that either the Gospel writers knew that miracles did not take place, but they were accommodating their readers who did believe in miracles, or that they really believed them but they were just myths. This would require the Gospel writers to be liars or not very smart, neither of which seem consistent with the care and precision with which the Gospels were written. When you are preaching a narrative passage, it's important to include the whole context when you are interpreting the meaning of the events.

  • When interpreting the epistles, it's important to identify which words are used frequently, what the meaning of the words are and how the author uses them. It can be helpful to study the etymology of words and the meaning of words in their historical context. The process of moving from norms of language to norms of utterance is important. 

  • We can get information about the meaning of words from studying ancient Greek literature, the writings of early church fathers and the translators of the Hebrew Old Testament. We can also compare letters written by the same author, and also how the word is used within the same letter or passage. It can be helpful to look at the way different authors use the same word. 

  • Once you determine the meaning of the words, it's important to recognize how they are used in the sentence and how the clauses in the sentence are related. Understanding the different ways clauses can be used will help you determine the meaning of each sentence. The distinction between "means" and "cause" is significant. 

  • Romans 13:1-7 is a good example of the development of a logical argument. Most of the epistles follow the form of an ancient letter, which is greeting or salutation, thanksgiving or prayer, body of the letter and conclusion. 

  • Two types of covenants are the parity covenant and suzerain covenant. Covenant language is used in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The parts of a covenant, illustrated in the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 20, are the preamble, prologue, stipulations, provision for continual reading and witnesses.

  • God renews his covenant with Israel in Joshua 24. The three types of laws in the Old Testament are civil laws, cultic laws and moral laws. 

  • The book of Psalms is divided into five sections. The Psalms were written by different people at different times for different purposes. Some were for public worship and some were the result of personal reflection in times of joy, distress or repentance. 

  • In Jesus's day, the Scripture was the books of the Old Testament. Many of the books of the New Testament were written before 70 a.d. The Gospel writers produced a written record of the life of Jesus. Paul and other apostles wrote to churches to encourage and teach them. Eusebius, a church historian in 325a.d., recorded a list of the books that are currently in the New Testament.

  • Factors in recognizing the books that make up the New Testament were apostolic authorship, use in the church over time, unity and agreement and the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. The writing of the books of the Bible was inspired by God and it is inerrant. 

Dr. Robert Stein covers the history of the English Bible and then moves into the rules for interpreting the biblical text, including the role of the Holy Spirit in the hermeneutical process. He then spends considerable time moving through the different genres of literature (e.g., proverbs, poetry, parables, narrative). Dr. Stein did not provide us the notes he refers to in the class, but we did place links for the books he used as a basis for the class on the class page under the Recommended Reading heading.

Recommended Books

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

How do you even start to study your Bible? What are the guiding principles? Are the rules for interpreting narrative any different from parables and apocalyptic literature?...

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Words that were perfectly good in translation in the past because the language is changing today, we can’t use those words.  We have to use another one. That’s going to happen even more and more quickly nowadays than before.

That means that no translation can ever be the final one.  Even leaving aside finding additional information about Greek texts and Hebrew texts. Supposing we had the original of all of the books and we translated directly from them and it was the perfect English of 2002.

In 2050 its going to have to change because the language is changing. And what we are trying to communicate with is people who are now in 2050.  And we are not saying, you have to convert your thinking back to 2002.  You have to convert the way you worded the infallible word of God in 2002 to the world of 2050.

When you talk about the Bible being without error, what do we mean by that. I am going to argue later on beginning next week and following that what is inerrant is what the Biblical authors meant by these words. Now the translation of that into English is not inerrant but what the Biblical authors meant by these words and the English to the extent that the English translation faithfully reproduces that, it is without error.

But again, I don’t want you to think that any of these translations we mentioned tonight, King James, New King James or even those are inaccurate in the sense that it is just filled with errors. We are concerned about the smallest kinds of poor translations because this is so precious to us. This is the word of God. We will never be content without perfection. And in this life we know we can’t get perfection.

So if you say well it is 99, 44, 100% pure. You say well that may be good for Ivory soap but we are working[Hard to Hear] this is our Bible. And we will never be content with anything less. No one who reads the Bible is being led astray in these regards. One of the things you have to wrestle with is what the basic philosophy you have as to translation, in the sense of – are you doing a word for word translation or a Thought-for-thought translation.

Let me … the Tyndale Great Bible, King James, American Standard, RSV, New American Standard, all word for word. What we are trying to do is to say, what is the nearest English equivalent that we can use for that? And that’s why in Isaiah 53:6, we would use the word seal-pup for [Hard to Hear] translation, word for word. Whereas if you were doing Thought-for-thought, you might do something like a “helpless sacrificial animal” You can use a paraphrase.

Now, Thought-for-thought translations, the New International Version, the Revised English Bible – those are Thought-for-thought ones. Now the fact that the NIV is a Thought-for-thought translation indicates that we are not looking for mere English equivalence. We are looking for how best to express this. Therefore when you come to a pass – and I am not on this committee by the way. I don’t think the NIV is that great a translation, neither is it the #1. I think it is a little sloppy in some parts but leaving that aside, when you come and you are trying to translate what the author means, what do you do when the author addresses the church?

“Brothers” in the Greek. Adelphoi. That’s an interesting problem isn’t it? How do you handle that? Do you say “brothers” translates the Greek word for word, but you know he doesn’t mean just males. He means the whole church.  Do you then go “brothers and sisters”?

You have – I think – you have more of a tendency to go “brothers and sisters” in a Thought-for-thought translation than in a word for word one.  Alright, now you go to Mark 8:34, here is the King James,

“… If anyone will come after me…”

“Anyone” being the word tis in Greek, which can be male or female, let – now you go to a single pronoun. We do not have in the English language a pronoun that is good for both male and female.  Other languages do. But don’t ask me which one. I don’t know, but I know they do. In fact my daughter once, when she was young, I said, “You know you should eat this. There are millions of people starving in this world that would love to eat this.” She said “Oh. Name two.”

Anyhow,  … that was important. I just missed whole train of thought. {laughter}

Where were we?

Oh. Singular pronouns, yes. So now in the Greek text, it goes “if anyone will come after me, this is the way King James goes, ‘let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.’”

The RSV interestingly enough was much more sexist. And it says, “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself.”

Whereas really any man, could be any woman you could translate it for that matter. It means anyone, but after this you have the single male pronoun.  What the New RSV decided to do was put everything in the plural. “If any will come after me let them, take up the cross and follow me.”

So that’s the way – because let us face it, even if you have “if anyone will come after me let him …” doesn’t mean just males. Right? Are we convinced that it[Hard to Hear] just anybody come after me. So how do you deal with that? If you are doing a word for word translation you may want to do it “him” and say you should understand this is a corporate use of the male pronoun. Or if it is Thought-for-thought, let “he or she” come after me or something like that. Or let them come after me. It becomes more and more difficult.

But if the goal is to translate what the author meant and not simply words, then I think you have to say that sometimes if they use male pronouns and mean “male of female” we should reveal that in the text. That’s what the New International Version is assuming.

We will argue beginning next week that the goal of interpretation is to understand what the Biblical author meant by the words he used. And in their way how do we go about that is we are able to say we understand what these words meant back then and how the average reader would have understood. Once we understand that, now the question is – how do we translate that?  And on these issues, many times, he may be using words that are corporate terminology.

Suppose for instance, supposing you didn’t agree that the Biblical author uses “him” or “he” or “man” but they are using it in the sense of man or woman. How do you then translate that? If you do it again with Thought-for-thought, you say “Well, man is a corporate word also in English.”  Not for everybody. But if you knew it was corporate then you may want to use not man, but male or female or something like that. If I wanted to read say, tomorrow I say, “I think I want to read through Genesis.”  I would not use the RSV. I would probably go to the New International Version, I might go the New English Bible – the Revised English Bible. It reads really nicely. Or I might use the New Living Bible.

If you had children who needed a Bible, I would get a New Living Bible for them. It is a great children’s Bible. It is not a Bible I would use for studying carefully worded arguments or the letter of Paul to the Romans, but for a person to read through? Yeah. It depends on what you need it for.

Now if you have pew bible, probably a NIV or something like that. When I deal in Gospels, we use a synopsis based on the RSV. For that purpose to compare Matthew, Mark and Luke, word-for-word in English there is nothing better than the RSV. There is nothing.

The New RSV – it won’t be as good. Because you can’t compare words-for-words anymore when you get into Thought-for-thought translations on those gender passages. But you couldn’t do that with the New International Version and you can’t do it with the Living Bible, that’s for sure. The underlined Word-for-word [Hard to Hear] changes.

So I like the RSV for that purpose. But that’s not a reading kind of decision. That’s a scholarly use of the RSV which 1/10th or 1% may be interested in that.  Most people want it for how it reads and so forth.  I would say you know we are dealing with good translations and little better translations or excellent translations and little more excellent translations.

When the New King James – when the King James originally came out in its forward, the editors said, we have not sought to make a good translation out of a bad translations but from good translations and even better one if we can. And I think that’s what we are doing. We are looking for improving the 99.44/100th percent and you are getting closer to that 100% in our translations.

Now there are some where this has become a real issue and I think the reason that some Southern Baptists have become very uneasy about the New International Version is because of the New RSV. The New RSV really – I had great hopes for it and been rather disappointed in some ways.

They do a really nice job in some areas for instance in the RSV in Psalm 50v.9, “I will accept no bull from your house.” The New RSV has “I will not accept a bull from your house.”

In Luke 7:47, the RSV is really misleading. It says, “…her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much…” which gives you the impression, she is forgiven because she loved much. New RSV is very good on this issue. It says, “… her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence…” As a consequence, she has loved much. This is a sign of her forgiveness, not the cause of it.

2 Corinthians 11:25, the RSV has “…once I was stoned.” Do that in a Bible study in a college.  New RSV, “once I received a stoning.” Nicely done.

Zechariah 3:3, “Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments.” It was the dirty angel they sent day.

“Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.” New RSV. Changed from a girdle to a belt. That’s kind of nice.

The “thee”, “thou”, “thines”, the “you”, “yours”, I beseech thee becomes I beg you. In travail becomes in labor. Betrothed means taken for wife. Betrothal, marriage and things of this nature. But there are times where it has gone out of the way and I know from some people who are on the committee, that there is a lot of pressure from feminist’s in the New RSV in its translation. The editor of the New RSV was one of my professors in Princeton, Bruce Metzger and I wrote him a note because in Luke 13:8 and 9, they in order to avoid sexist language really destroyed the argument of Luke.

In 13:18 and 19, Luke reads this way. “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard” and the New RSV has, “… which a person took and sowed in the garden; and it grew and became a tree…”

“And again he said, "To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven which [Hard to Hear] and they left “a woman took and hid in in three measures of flour."

Now same thing they did in Luke 15. There are two parables side by side.  One talks about a man losing his sheep. It becomes a person who lost the sheep and the next one is about a woman losing her coin and they left a woman losing her coin.

Now Luke intentionally in His Gospel places side by side male and female examples. The Gospel, chapter 1 “and an angel appears to a man named Zechariah.” Followed by the angel appearing to a woman named Mary.

Chapter 2, Jesus is brought to the temple and He is blessed by Simeon followed by “He is blessed by Anna” and here you have a parable of a man losing something and a woman losing something. A man doing something. A woman doing something.

And I said, they are destroying the intention of Luke of placing side by side male-female images in this translation. And he wrote back a very nice letter and he said, well, I think you have a real point in when they meet to discuss that again in the future, it will receive serious attention.  So I am hoping that it will.

I am a little worried that we have made a faint issue on how to translate things which we may differ in philosophy but not in our view of the Bible, or not what we are trying to do. I would argue that if you are trying to translate what the author meant these words – if that’s our goal – then some of these things which they have talked about as being big issues are really not because, you are faithfully translating when you have brothers, you have faithfully translating according to authors, many of you say brothers and sisters. Unless you are just talking about the brothers and you are named James and John or something like that.

What – one of the things that I tend to be uncomfortable with are translations done by an individual rather than a committee. You see when the Stein translation comes out somebody might say, “That’s a totally wrong translation of this passage Stein.”

And Stein says, “Make your own. This is mine.”

Now if I am part of a committee, they say there goes Stein [Hard to Hear] we are not going to translate the way he wants it. We are going to translate the way it should be. And there is a control more. And so I feel more comfortable with committee project in this way.  I think it gives a great deal of reliability to it.

I have some real questions with footnotes in the Bible in general.  And the reason for that is, when I first became a Christian, the Bible somebody gave me was a Scofield Bible. And it wore out.  In fact they did a study back then about Scofield because they checked with Oxford Press as to whether they were using inferior materials.  And they discovered not just people who had this one read it more wore it out – normally.

But I came to a place where there was a footnote in it that I didn’t believe. As a young Christian I was wondering if I still was an evangelical Christian and I was still saved.  And I looked back at that and you kind of laugh. It wasn’t a laughing matter back then.  So footnotes take …  The infallibility of the Biblical text rubs off on footnotes in appearance. And you give more credence to a footnote in the Bible than you would do – If somebody asked “What do you think this text means?” and I gave my interpretation and they said “Well my Bible says in the footnote, this.” Who would they believe?

The Bible.

The guy who wrote the book may be as dumb as I am.  So he may not be any smarter. So who knows but “No it’s in the Bible”.  So I am very uneasy about footnotes in the Bible.  17:31

I am uneasy about study Bibles as a result of that because without knowing it, people accept the footnotes and what is in a study bible with an awe and authority that they don’t deserve.  So I am very nervous about that.  You should be careful about that as well.

Now I am passing out to you a comparison of Galatians 3:23-28 found in 6 translations. The King James Version, the New RSV, The New American Standard Bible, the NIV, the Revised English Bible, and the Living Bible. And what I would like you to do is to look carefully at these lines and we will go then one at a time and note that there are some theological differences that show up in the translation. They are – if you read them, they are somewhat different. None of them will lead you into heresy but there are some differences.

Look at that first line,

“Now before faith came, we were kept under the law.”

New RSV, “Now before faith came,

New American Standard Bible, “Now before faith came …”

The NIV, “Before this faith came…”

The Revised English Bible, “Before this faith came…”

Now notice that the first three give the impression that we were under the law before faith. Faith came later, which would have been a surprise to Abraham and to Paul. Right?

I think we are talking about the Christian faith.  And some of those translations could be misunderstood this way. Then the next line,

“We were shut up unto the faith…” or “until the faith”?

“To the faith” or “until the faith”

Did the law, protect us, leading us to the faith or were we imprisoned until faith came and we were freed from this stuff?  Is the law viewed as a mean spirited guard imprisoning us or as an instructor guiding us to this faith?

There are differences of impression here in these different translations.  And then again in the next line,

“school master unto Christ” then “we are freed from this terrible schoolmaster”

“disciplinarian until Christ” excuse me [Hard to Hear]

“Schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ”

“loving schoolmaster to help us to get to Christ”


“disciplinarian until Christ finally broke the powers of that disciplinarian and freed us.”

See the difference in those?

Then if you go down to the Living Bible in verse 25, where they simply change faith to Christ … is a poor translation there. But then at the very bottom – is the expression, “in Christ Jesus” adjectival or adverbial? In other words, in the 2nd one, the New RSV, you are in Christ Jesus, children of God through faith. In Christ this has taken place. But in the others you have,

“through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Now you are talking about the kind of faith that we have.

“In Christ Jesus” faith or you are according to the new RSV, this takes place in Christ, that you are children of God by faith.

On page 2, the 2nd passage, no one who has a New International Version today has this translation, but originally the New International Version was wrong.  It read,

“for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” – passive whereas actually the text means you have clothed, you are actively doing this. You have done this. And I think this is a probably a good example that were a lot of Calvinists in that particular translation and the idea of your having put on Christ didn’t seem to fit. And Christ does that for you. And that a theology started to interfere in that regard. But they have changed that.

That now, you have the repetition of “no longer” in some instances – single time. But the very last one, let us look down there.

Are you heirs “according to the promise” or “according to promise”?

Here you have are we heirs according to Biblical promise of the Old Testament or are we heirs according to the principle of promise rather than works or something like that?  There are some significant differences here in regard to that.

So if you look translations, now I chose a passage where there were more of these than usual.  Just to exemplify this issue at all. So it gives you an example of how translations can be different in various ways.