Biblical Hermeneutics for Dummies

Got Ya!  I’m not actually talking about theories of interpreting the bible (well I sorta am, but not really) but I thought I’d put in a big word for effect. 😀

Anyways, to be perfectly frank and honest, reading the bible is like reading a book.  “Wait a minute,” you might say, “that’s too obvious.  The bible IS a book.” Yes that’s correct, but at the same time the bible is more than just a book.  Nothing that comes from God is JUST anything (that applies to you and me as well just so you know).  This is where we get caught up and trip over ourselves.  The conversation in our head goes something like this.

So-and-so suggested I read this passage.  Didn’t Pastor PHD do a sermon on that passage once?  Oh no, I can’t remember what (s)he said now.  I think it was really long though, so there must be a lot to go on in that passage.  But I don’t get it!  I mean, all it says is “Jesus wept.”  I don’t get it!    Why is this important?  Oh God, I’m such a failure I can’t read the bible on my own.

Do I exaggerate?

No much, because what happens is we put so much importance on the text that we become terrified to actually study it on our own.  Or when we do, we compare our efforts to the herculean eschatological exegesis of Dr. Whatshisface.  But if we remember that the bible is a collection of stories and essays then it suddenly becomes a bit easier.

If we take the passage “Jesus wept” from a literary point of view then we instantly have the questions we need to read and study it.

  • What made him weep?
  • Did Jesus normally weep, was he a crybaby?
  • What does this tell us about the Character of Jesus?
  • What was his response?
  • What does his response tell us about the Character of Jesus?”

In the same way, reading the epistles becomes like reading an essay.  We have certain questions we can ask ourselves as we read them to better understand and study them.

  • What is the essay’s thesis?
  • What are the principle arguments used to support the thesis?
  • Do the arguments succeed?”

Now I’m the first to admit that this is all pretty academic and a generally left brain method of reading the bible.  There are other practices such as Lectio Dvinia and visual interpretation that are better suited to creative types and I’ll probably talk about them more another day, but for right now, can I just remind everyone that the greatest story ever told is still a story.


Add yours →

  1. Simple concept, the genre of a passage should help you interpret the passage.

    Lately I have been reading and studying in the Psalms. It helps me to remember that these are songs and prayers, not theological treatises. So often times I will pray them or sing them. I look for how they inform my worship and my conversation with God. I allow them to express my emotions. I dig into them searching for ways that they can change my heart and my attitude. I seek to know the character, attributes, and heart of God as they are expressed in the psalm. I search for Jesus in the psalm, knowing that all of scripture is a testimony to our Savior and Lord.

    This process is different that how I would approach a parable of Jesus or an epistle of Paul.


    • Richard,

      Thank you for actually saying what I was trying to say. (which is something else I have to ask the LORD to work out in me). But that’s exactly it: The genre of a passage should help you interpret the passage. Ignoring the genre of the passage is almost guaranteed to get you into trouble.



  2. * What is the essay’s thesis?
    * What are the principle arguments used to support the thesis?
    * Do the arguments succeed?”

    I agree with these, but since your topic is exactly what I am talking about tonight, help me put these in more layman’s terms.


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