Hermeneutics is the first thing people should study if they want to learn the Bible, but with a name like “hermeneutics” it’s hard to convince anyone. Hermeneutics is simply the study of how to correctly interpret communication. To illustrate the need for this skill watch this video.
When the locals ask “how ya doin’” they are simply acknowledging the other’s presence. Being raised in New Jersey they learned the local hermeneutic growing up. In the commercial, a country boy walks into the bar without the proper hermeneutic and thinks the guys in the bar actually want to hear how he’s doing. In the same way, we post-Modern, post-Enlightenment Westerners come to the books of the Bible, written thousands of years ago, and assume that we know exactly what David and Paul meant. This is understandable but misguided. Yes, we can understand the meaning, but only after we have learned to interpret properly. That is why we study hermeneutics.
The Church has around 20,000 denominations. Each of these denominations believes they are reading the Bible “straight,” but really each group is reading the text through their own lens – their cultures, experiences, personal preferences, etc. The sheer number of denominations is the best evidence I can give for the need to study hermeneutics. We all think we are right, but we need to be humble and open to the possibility that we could be missing some things.
Unfortunately, I can’t explain hermeneutics in a blog post. What I can do is recommend a couple of good books that you can study on your own.
To ease into the study of hermeneutics start with 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer. If you read this blog you know I love the 40 Questions series; it’s so accessible. In this book there are 40 short chapters on important subjects such as “Which is the Best Translation” and “How Do We Interpret Parables.” A quick read and will get you started.
If you really want to learn how to interpret the Bible (and you do, right?) then you should get Invitation to Biblical Interpretation by Kostenberger and Patterson. This just came out last year and will most likely be the new standard in the coming years. It has 13 pages of recommendations in the front from a who’s who of evangelical scholars. It’s a big book, 807 pages. Don’t be intimidated. Take it slow, one chapter at a time. This is really, really important stuff.
I am not saying that all Christians need to read Kostenberger. That’s unrealistic. What I am saying is the teachers and preachers in the Church should read it. Non-teachers will learn Biblical hermeneutics the way the learn hermeneutics for the rest of life – by observation. In other words, Christians learn to interpret the Bible by listening to their pastors and Bible study leaders. That is why it is so important for teachers and preachers to know what they’re talking about – they determine how the Church reads the Bible. If you are a teacher in the Church study hermeneutics.