What on Earth is hermeneutics? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Hermeneutics is a big word to a lot of people. If you have grown up in the church. chances are sadly that you’ve never heard it. Sadly, many of today’s popular preachers don’t have a clue about it, such as in how we like to share this joke meme concerning someone like Joel Osteen.
The word is a strange one still and we need to know what it is. The Collins English dictionary lists it as the art of interpretation, but especially of Scripture. As to the word origin, it has the following:
from Greek hermēneutikos expert in interpretation, from hermēneuein to interpret, from hermēneus interpreter, of uncertain origin
In Greek mythology, Hermes was known as the messenger of the gods. They had a message and he would take it to the recipient. In other words, he would be an interpreter.
Today, when we read any document, we are engaging in hermeneutics. In fact, this isn’t just reading. If you hear a message or if you even see body language taking place, you are trying to interpret it. Many a woman has been stymied by the way that a man does not catch on when she is flirting with him. My own wife has told me about two times specifically she was trying to flirt with me while married and I did not catch on. (Excuse me while I go and mourn thinking about those two times.)
Some of you have a mindset that when we approach the Scripture, we should do it literally. Properly understood, this is true. Improperly understood, this is a disaster. Properly understood, a literal interpretation means an interpretation done according to the intent of the author. Improperly done, it means that you just read everything as if it was straight forward without anything like metaphors, similes, figures of speech, hyperbole, etc. In fact, we often use the word literally when we don’t mean literally. For instance….
How do you get to the intent of the author? Is there some magic formula? Well, no. This can often be a problem in dialogue because it’s thought by some that there’s some magic technique you can use to automatically tell. There’s no more some magic technique for Scripture than there is for Shakespeare and there’s no piety in taking everything in Scripture as if it was written to 21st century Americans.
So over the next few times as we continue our look at basic apologetics, I’d like to give some rules of hermeneutics that I try to follow. These will largely focus on Scripture, though you can use them for various other texts that you come across throughout the day. (This also includes messages that are not written.) Hopefully in the end, you’ll also be paying attention to the words that others use much more and you’ll be paying much more attention to the way that you use your own words. Your own words can dig you into a hole very easily if you’re not careful with them.
Hope to see you as we continue this journey!