Some notes concerning Hermeneutics


Kathy L. McFarland


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Broadly defined, hermeneutics is the systematic study of the principles of interpretation of Scripture.[1] A newer approach to interpretation of Scripture with a focus upon philosophical analysis to make existential significance of Scripture to the modern world is changing the definition of hermeneutics today.[2] These “new hermeneutics” confuse the definition and encourage a man-centered interpretation allowing society to change the meaning of the Word of God.[3] Many present day theologists and Bible scholars’ glum exegesis and hermeneutics together in complicated, philosophical “slippery discipline” that introduces strange ideas into the meaning of Scripture and changes the definition for hermeneutics considerably.[4]

This new approach can be tamed by separating the exegesis of Scripture from the hermeneutical analyses; this narrows the definition of hermeneutics considerably and provides a solid foundation for Scripture interpretation.  Exegesis determines what was said back then and there with an analysis of the original intent of the author and hermeneutics examines its connection of God’s Word to the here and now.[5] Good exegesis requires the reader to carefully read the text and then form the right questions to fully understand context (historical and literary) and content (common meaning and grammar) to evaluate a good translation of Scripture text properly.[6] Then the hermeneutic efforts of interpretation are ready to be applied to a foundational truth-filled exegetical analysis of Scripture that contributes to application development from good interpretation of its meaning.

Fee and Stuart wisely separate the two to focus the Bible students on defining hermeneutics as the here and now interpretation of Scripture. This gives students of the Bible opportunity for growing applications of the Word of God with a better understanding and obedience to Scripture, as well as giving a good working definition of hermeneutics by placing the significance of its results in present-day applications that are separated from the examination of the role of the author and original readers.[7]

This question, however, better supports the combined field of exegesis and hermeneutics as one entity with many parts of interpretation supported by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard rather than the split process of interpretation that Fee and Stuart teach.[8] In the combined exegetical/hermeneutical analysis of the role of the author, the interpreter must identify as closely as possible the message he intended to deliver at the time of the writings.[9] This can be accomplished by examining the conditions present during the author’s life, and specific circumstances occurring at the time of the writing of Scripture.[10] The analysis of historical and sociological settings of life must be considered within the framework of what the author would likely know,[11] not upon the decades of historical analysis that provides present-day historians a well-rounded story that has developed through the preening and pruning of history by scholars and archaeologists intent on making names for themselves. It is the analysis of the time of the author with his awareness of life and the things happening around him that provides good exegesis, and trustworthy hermeneutical evaluation based upon the author’s intentions.

The role of original readers must also be considered in good exegetical/hermeneutical process of interpretation. In the exegetical analysis of the original readers, it is important to look upon the text with their eyes, rather than the eyes of a present-day witness that has advantage of much more knowledge concerning the times of the original readers, than the original readers knew about themselves and their lives.[12]

The role of the interpreter requires proper exegesis, whether hermeneutics are done in one step or two.  A good interpretation requires the knowledge about the past and insertion of present-day connections with as little bias as possible.  Even today, there are different word associations that are dependent upon generation and location, and can sway the meaning of Scripture to different places.[13]  The interpreter must take care that there are as few situational- biased efforts as humanly possible. A good start to avoiding this problem must start with a good interpretation of Scripture and proceed with a scientific, unbiased approach that takes great care with analysis and a consideration of good commentaries that record reliable interpretations, and the few areas of contention that exist today from exegesis of Scripture.. 

Interpreters don’t have to reinvent the wheel, or discover words and worlds unknown that are hidden underneath Scripture.  But, it is important for Christian scholars to recognize the moving of the Holy Spirit and the LIVING Word of God, giving fully developed interpretation of Scripture an application for the here and now of the breath of God as he delivers it.  It is His movement that creates the rich deliverance of God’s Word, and can be shared with others as long as it rests upon the solid foundation of good exegetical and hermeneutical interpretation of the Word of God.

                The nature of the Bible as being the revealed, inerrant Word of God given to human beings in their language creates a tension between the eternal relevance and its historical particularity.[14] Interpreters must consider the difficulties in navigating this difficult separation between ancient texts and the lives of historical people and modern day understanding and good analysis of the living Word of God.

            Distance of Time[15] – It is a popular declaration of ultra-liberal archaeologists to declare that there is absolutely no evidence that David actually was a king that occupied the city of Jerusalem and that his city was apart from the city of Jerusalem.[16]  Other archaeologists seeking an audience try to prove that there is a different history of ancient Israel, and that the Bible builds the empire of David and Solomon with proportions and power that are not found in archaeological tells.[17] When the City of David, his rule, and ancient Israel are questioned, then the entire Word of God becomes questionable, because so much centers upon King David, the generations that follow him to Jesus Christ, and the city of God formed upon the pattern of Jerusalem.  But, archaeologists have not found the proof, and there is little left to challenge in scholarly circles to gain notice, so the lack of evidence becomes the defining point that has modern day teeth to change exegetical and hermeneutical interpretation.

            It is my opinion that the Distance of Time is the driving force behind the liberal efforts to redefine Scripture to fit their needs as a faulty historical document, rather than the inerrant Word of God, and the most difficult to overcome with hermetical surety.  Time erases evidence, wears down stone, and covers vital knowledge with layers of misconceptions and blowing sands, creating opportunities to misrepresent and misinterpret Scripture for reasons other than seeking the Truth.

            It seems an easy jump from archaeological and liberal faulty conclusions to matching exegetical/hermeneutical efforts to come closer to their findings of present-day evidence rather than the reflection of the Truth of God as inerrant. There are gaps in the accounts of the Bible and though found time and time again to be true when new historical evidence is found and carefully evaluated, those gaps create opportunities for error to enter.  1900 years between the author and us create a tremendous problem with negotiating his intentions with our interpretations. And, we must take into account that most of the authors, especially of the Old Testament, were recording events from preexisting documents and passed down accounts, since the Hebrew language did not develop until 1000 B.C.  

            The distance of time is used by Israel’s enemies to insert their agendas into their goals to threaten the nation that was given the land by God.  The distance of time separates the liberal agenda from the conservative representation of Scripture.  And it is the distance of time that creates pockets of doubt in those unable to see that Scripture is the inerrant Word of God; those pockets are then filled in with “lack of evidence” to seal the false interpretation of critical points in the Bible.

            Distance of Culture[18] – Ancient biblical people’s lifestyle (agricultural) vs. ours (informational), reflect vast differences in culture, belief, and traditions that must be accounted for in good exegetical/hermeneutical evaluations. The difficulty that arises out of cultural issues particularly affects the authority and participation of females in the things of faith today; often, text is evaluated with the bias of early culture. 

Often, it seems the misguided Bible interpreters apply cultural differences sporadically to benefit their own agendas, and women become defined as property, rather than living beings with both the love and presence of God dwelling in them just as potent as within men.  For instance, the admonition that women should not speak in church is part of Scripture that is speaking about talking in tongues (a fact that is often neglected) (1 Corinthians 14:34); maybe the distance of culture affects the understanding of this verse…maybe not.  But, it must be considered before the Truth of God can be known.

But it is not just limited to the differences between men and women.  Fee and Stuart point out many discrepancies related to cultural errors such as the baptism of the dead by Mormons based upon 1 Corinthians 15:29, the Jehovah’s Witnesses denial of the Divinity of Christ, or the snake handlers interpretation of Mark 16:18.[19]

            Distance of Geography[20] - Visiting the places of the Bible must surely add to the depth of understanding that an interpreter can bring to Scripture.  While we cannot fully capture the geography since the apparent fertile Land of Milk of Honey seems long gone. It is replaced by dry desert lands of drought and geo-political lines moving to different places dependent upon the convictions of Israel and America, vs. the terrorism threats of Israel’s enemies, vs. brave occupiers of Israel lands declared to be Palestinian territory, vs lines drawn by a United Nations that cares more for the enemies of God’s people than for His will to be reflected.  Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Palestine, and Egypt are all moving toward bring the desolation to Israel spoken about in Scripture.  It is my opinion that this movement requires Scripture to be reinterpreted to support the effort of Israel’s enemies.  The distance of Geography, and the moving of geographical-political lines affects interpretation of Scripture, and creates a muddied mess of exegesis when these divergent views factor in to hermeneutical efforts.

            Distance of Language[21] - I think this one is the easiest to overcome, because we are specifically aware of the differences.  Textual criticism is well-developed, and the few disagreements do not seem to affect important spiritual ideas.  For instance, specific ideas, such as Klein’s example of “if any man be in Christ” does not limit salvation to only men in (2 Cor. 5:17 KJV).[22] It can be and has been translated as “if anyone be in Christ” by the NIV and NRSV Bibles, based upon text compared to Deut. 19:16 and 21:1).

            Because the words are written in black-and-white letters, and textual studies have identified the weaknesses, we can pretty confidently arrive at a good interpretation when the differences are considered.  But, the distance of language must be factored into that interpretation, or the interpreter will produce faulty hermeneutical applications for the here and now.



Carson, D.A. "A Brief Assessment of Some Recent Trends." Themelios 5, no. 2 (1980).

Fee, Gordon D., & Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

Finkelstein, Israel, Ido Koch "The Mound on the Mount: A Possible Solution to the "Problem with Jerusalem"." The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 11, no. 12 (2011): 24.

Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004.

Kruger, Thomas. "Recent Developments in the History of Ancient Israel and Their Consequences for a Theology of the Hebrew Bible." Biblische Notizen 144,  (2010).

Shealy, Brian A. "Redrawing the Line between Hermeneutics and Application." Master's Seminary Journal 8,  (1997).

[1] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004), 6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Brian A. Shealy, "Redrawing the Line between Hermeneutics and Application," Master's Seminary Journal 8, (1997): 83-105.

[4] D.A. Carson, "A Brief Assessment of Some Recent Trends," Themelios 5, no. 2 (1980): 20.

[5] Gordon D. Fee, & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 23.

[6] Ibid., 23-29.

[7] Ibid., 29.

[8] Even Fee and Stuart perform the important exegetical analysis of the role of authors, readers, and interpreters; however, the hermeneutical process is a second task once the first task of exegesis is accomplished.  Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard combine the two tasks into one process; though much more muddied and apt to become confusing to the interpreter, both camps should arrive at the same end ideas if proper exegesis/hermeneutics are accomplished.

[9] Klein, 10,11.

[10] Ibid., 11.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 12.

[13] Ibid., 7.

[14] Fee, 21.

[15] Klein, 13-14.

[16] Israel Finkelstein, Ido Koch, "The Mound on the Mount: A Possible Solution to the "Problem with Jerusalem"," The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 11, no. 12 (2011).

[17] Thomas Kruger, "Recent Developments in the History of Ancient Israel and Their Consequences for a Theology of the Hebrew Bible," Biblische Notizen 144, (2010): 5-13.

[18] Klein, 14-16.

[19] Fee, 30.

[20] Klein, 14-15.

[21] Ibid., 16-17.

[22] Ibid.

Last modified: Wednesday, 18 September 2013, 12:32 PM