Hermeneutics: Knowing and Living the Text

By David E. Briones: I teach biblical hermeneutics—how to study the Bible—at Reformation Bible College. I enjoy teaching all of the subjects assigned to me, but hermeneutics is certainly one of my favorites. I especially enjoy the first couple of class sessions. We spend significant time thinking about what constitutes a good and faithful hermeneutical method—a good, explicitly Christian way of interpreting Scripture. To set the context for that discussion, I read a quote to the class that comes from Augustine’s On Christian Teaching: “So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them” (27). This quote challenges every interpreter of Scripture—professor and student alike—not only to know the text but also (and especially) to live out the text. Putting the text into practice is absolutely essential to knowing Scripture truly. A person successfully attains knowledge

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How to read the Bible, and how not to

There are two ways to read the Bible.  We can read it as law or as promise. If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us we should do.  Even the promises will be conditioned by law.  But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do.  Even the law will be conditioned by promise. In Galatians 3 Paul explains which hermeneutic is the correct one.  “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Galatians 3:17-18). So, if we want to know whether we should read the Bible through the lens of law or grace, demand or provision,

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Are You REALLY Interpreting the Bible Literally?

Stephen Altrogge: Interpreting the Bible literally can be a good thing. It probably means that you want to know exactly what God says and obey his words. It means you don’t want to play Bible roulette with which verses you obey. It means you’re willing to obey all the commands of the Bible, even the painful ones. It means you’re in less danger of drifting into the post-modernism, the Bible is Jello interpretations. But, interpreting the Bible literally can also get you into a lot of trouble. Harold Camping thought he was interpreting the Bible literally, which in turn led him to mispredict the end of the world…twice. Pinstripe wearing, silk handkerchief mopping, prosperity preaching pastors think they’re interpreting the Bible literally, which leads them to teach that God never wills illness. Heck, the hellfire, hate-throwing folks at Westboro Baptist Church probably think they are interpreting the Bible literally. Today there is a total solar eclipse. There are definitely some

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5 Tips for Reading the Book of Revelation

Leah Baugh: The book of Revelation is a tough book to read. It is full of strange and often scary imagery, confusing numbers, time references, and much more. However, with just a few tips for understanding certain confusing elements, the book opens up as an important and helpful book for Christians. 1. The book is visual prophecy. One of the first things that help us understand the book is understanding what kind of book it is. John tells us in the opening chapter that what he has written is a prophecy from Jesus. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev. 1:3) 2. This prophecy was given to John in a series of visions.  I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see.” (Rev. 1:10-11)

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How Should We Interpret the Book of Revelation?

Sam Storms: Perhaps the single greatest controversy surrounding Revelation and the most important issue when it comes to interpreting the book, is the question of its structure. Many, perhaps most, evangelicals read Revelation as if it is describing a short period of time that is still in the future. Those who embrace what may be called the futurist view of the book most often will argue that what we have in Revelation 6-19 is a description of events that will take place in the future in a period of seven years they call The Great Tribulation. And as you know, there are many who insist that Jesus will return and rapture his people out of this world prior to the outpouring of divine judgment in the “Great Tribulation.” The result is that what we read in Revelation 6-19 has little, if any, immediate practical relevance for a lot of Christians. For them it is fascinating to talk about, but it

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8 Questions to Help You Understand and Apply the Bible

Matt Harmon: Sometimes the most important things in the Christian life can be the most difficult. That can certainly be true of understanding and applying the Bible. As believers we know that reading Scripture is essential to following Jesus. But if we’re honest, we often find it difficult to understand and apply. The Bible talks about so many different things; how do we know what to focus on? It’s set in a world very different from ours; how do we apply it to our lives today? One simple and effective tool is asking good questions. The questions we ask when we read the Bible largely determine how we understand and apply the Bible. So we need to make sure we are asking the right questions, the kind of questions the Bible was designed to answer. But how do we know what those questions are? The Bible is first and foremost a story about God displaying his glory through creating and

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10 Things You should Know about Interpreting the Bible

Sam Storms: Today we look at 10 things we should know about how to interpret the Bible (or conversely, how not to interpret it). But before we begin, it’s important to remember that the Bible is not an answer-book that provides ready-made explanations for all problems or solutions to puzzling questions. When I run into a problem with my computer, I click the Help button and find a topically organized list of solutions to virtually every difficulty I may be facing. But the Bible did not come to us with an Index of topics or a Table of Contents. With that in mind, we begin. (1) We should never forget the incredible privilege and responsibility that falls on every Christian to interpret the Bible for himself/herself. This is the principle of private interpretation, based on the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. But don’t misconstrue what it means. Private interpretation does not mean that we should rely solely on

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Should We Interpret a Bible Verse Literally or Figuratively?

David Roach: It depends on context. A person’s soul is in peril if he thinks Jesus was using poetic exaggeration when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). On the other hand, a Bible reader might maim himself unnecessarily if he fails to recognize the hyperbole in Jesus’ statement that we should cut off our hands and gouge out our eyes to avoid sin (Matthew 5:29-30). Like all people who have ever spoken or written, biblical authors use different styles of communication at different times. Of course, everything the Bible affirms is true, regardless of its literary genre. Still, every time we open our Bibles, we must determine what style of communication is being used and read accordingly. As a primer, here are a few of the literary styles used in Scripture and some rules for interpreting them taken from Robert Stein’s helpful book, A

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