hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is defined as methods of Biblical interpretation, although this term would also apply to other religious texts such as the Greek Iliad and Odyssey or any other ancient document. The Bible is a historical text, much like the array of Greek and Roman writings yet in existence, so the correct method of treating the text should be similar. The guiding principle of anyone wishing to seek the truth is to figure out what the original author was attempting to communicate to their original audience. An important note: this does not reveal what the original author necessarily believed, but instead what the original author wanted his audience to believe. The particular genre of the work should be taken into consideration (poetry, historical narrative, proverbs, etc).

Because the Bible was written by more than one author, each book should be able to stand alone. In other words, hypothetically the author of Genesis might be convinced that God had hands, while the author of John might believe God is ethereal. If the books contradict, they should not be forced into harmonization. A very dishonest way to treat the text is to deny the straightforward teaching of one book due to the implications that might not line up with an entirely different book by a different author. If harmonization is possible, it should be possible within the realm of human idioms and the contextual point of the problem passages.

The Bible is true or false based on its own merits and internal consistency. No one should stretch the text to force a harmonization of the text. No one, also, should import outside theology and force it upon the text. If the Bible does not portray God as outside of time, ever, then to impose that belief onto the Bible is particularly dishonest to the text. If God, in reality, is outside of time then the Bible is false and unsalvageable.

Any valid interpretations of the text should line up with human understandings of writing genres (poetry, historical narrative, myth, allegories, etc.). Any valid interpretation should also fall in line with known idioms and figures of speech. It is not valid for someone to make up a figure of speech utterly foreign to human experience and then label the text as that figure of speech.

The great thing about the Bible being written by multiple independent writers is that the Bible often serves as its own commentators.

Were the events in Exodus 32 (where Moses convinces God to not destroy Israel because foreign nations would think less of God) historical, mythical, allegorical, poetical, or a figure of speech? Luckily, this event is recounted throughout the Bible:

In Deuteronomy 14, this is taken as a historical event (presented from Moses’ perspective).
In Ezekiel 20, this is taken as a historical event (presented from God’s perspective).
In Psalms 106, this is taken as a historical event (presented from a future Israelite’s perspective).

The ancient Israelites took Exodus (at least that part of Exodus) as a historical event; not poetry, not an idiom, not a made up concept that invalidates the events described. As such, the face value reading of Exodus is that Exodus is a historical narrative advocating a particular view of God that the author wanted the audience to believe. In other words, the Exodus is historical advocacy. The events are written as true events in history which also contains a particular view of Israel and God that the author wants the audience to believe (as opposed to competing views of history, Israel, or God). The text should be read with that outlook in mind. To say, “the author was just dumbing down the events for the sake of man” is extremely dishonest to the text because the opposite is true. The author was building a picture of God to supplant other views of God held by his audience.

In short, if we do not understand the genre of a book (some people claim that Job is a mythical allegory), then we should look to the earliest commentaries by Israel (Ezekiel 14 treats Job as historical).

Whenever we want to know the meaning of any book, especially the Bible, it is important to read the text with the intent to understand what the original author was attempting to communicate to his original audience. In no case should we ignore what the author writes due to the implications of the statement.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Figures of Speech, Textual Criticism. Bookmark the permalink.

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