A couple of weeks ago, I told my children that I was taking a seminary course called Intro to Hermeneutics. They playfully attempted to pronounce the word. My four-year-old daughter stood up and exclaimed, “I know! It’s Herpa-tooth-picks!” Once the laughter subsided, my oldest daughter asked a thoughtful question, “Daddy, what is hermeneutics?” Taking a deep breath, I replied, “Well, it is the task of trying to figure out the intended meaning of a specific passage in the Bible so that we follow it correctly.” With a look of satisfaction, she slumped back onto the couch. I thought to myself, “NAILED IT!”
I realize that this definition may be a little simplistic for the academically elite, but it might just work for us blue collar Believers. If we split the definition into two parts and add a little explanation, we can begin to understand why we need hermeneutics and how we do it.
The first part of the definition says, “It is a task of trying to figure out the intended meaning of a specific passage of the Bible.” This is the purpose and the process. The purpose is “to figure out the intended meaning of a specific passage of the Bible”. Whose intended meaning are we trying to figure out? The author who wrote it. It is very important to remember that we are not trying to figure out what “I” think it means. We are always trying to determine what that author who wrote it intended it to mean. Determining the author’s intended meaning is why we need a process. The process of discovering the author’s intended meaning is often referred to as the inductive Bible study method. This method employs three simple steps: Observation, Interpretation, and Application. Observation involves looking for clues like repeated words and phrases, structure and style, special words, and asking questions. Observation leads to interpretation where we think about the context, compare with other passages, and consult commentaries. From our interpretation will flow application. Application is when we determine how we should respond.
The second part of the definition, “so that we follow it correctly”, is the goal of hermeneutics. We want God’s word to make a difference in our lives today. To say it another way: We don’t just want to interpret God’s word, we want His word to interpret us. Hopefully this simple definition will help you as you study God’s word.