Why Is Context Important in the Study of Hermeneutics?

By Paul Bailey Question # 2 Why is context important in the study of Hermeneutics? Why is context important in the study of hermeneutics? Introduction “All licensed London taxi drivers need to pass a special test before they can drive one of the Capital’s famous black cabs. This test is called the Knowledge”. [1] Likened to the special test, called the ‘Knowledge’, that taxi drivers in London need to pass in order to drive a black cab; so it is in order to know the route to righteousness and eternal life we need to have the ‘Knowledge’ of God’s inspired ‘Words’ in the Bible.

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Without the ‘Knowledge’ a taxi driver will be lost and will carry his passengers astray. When we apply that to the context of reading the bible and gaining knowledge, wisdom and understanding; as Children of God to have limited knowledge or to interpret the Word incorrectly would carry us down the wrong road or route and this would also lead our ‘passengers’ (those we want to minister or evangelise to) astray. “God gives us knowledge to help “fix” broken people, protect ourselves from the difficulties of life, and allow love to express itself in good works. [2] All throughout the Bible Man has been instructed to acquire and study this ‘Knowledge’ to show himself approved. In fact the word ‘knowledge’ spans the bible 171 times and the verb ‘know’ occurs 763 times. So we can safely say that knowing the “Knowledge” is extremely important to our spirituality and evangelism ministry. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. ” 2 Tim. 2:15 (KJV)

Let us not forget that taxi drivers may pass the “Knowledge” test but they may lack the understanding and most importantly, the wisdom to be ultimately effective in their job. God has given us the Bible as our “Knowledge” and we may even be able to read it from Genesis to Revelation, but if we lack the understanding to interpret the Word effectively we will never achieve the needed wisdom to show ourselves approved and to evangelise properly. This is where Hermeneutics is so important to the Believer or the Biblical scholar. Definitions

We will look at some definitions of Hermeneutics and some the basic principles of this important process. “Hermeneutics is the study of the general principles of interpretation”[3] “Biblical hermeneutics is the science of knowing how to properly interpret the various types of literature found in the Bible”[4] “Hermeneutics is the art and science of elucidation of the meaning of text oracles: especially ancient messages held to contain divine truth. ”[5] The word Hermeneutics originated from Hermes who was a Greek god and was a messenger or a mediator from the other gods.

Hermes was responsible for transmitting and interpreting the messages from the other Greek gods to the mortals. He was regarded as the god of science, invention, eloquence, speech and art. [6] Around the 1st Century the verb hermeneuo was used and meant ‘explain or interpret. Hermeneutics is an anomaly of processes as it is considered to be both an art and a science. This is because as an art form it is flexible in regards to its communication and ‘because the application of the rules is by skill and not by mechanical imitation’. 7] Hermeneutics follows and is guided by rules within a system. Exegesis is another word important to hermeneutics which needs to be defined. The Greek meaning for exegesis is to interpret and it literally means to ‘lead out of’ or extract. The word is derived from exegeisthai to interpret, from ex-1 + hegeisthai to guide. [8] The full definition as given by www. thefreedictionary. com states: “A critical interpretation or explication, especially of biblical and other religious texts”

Exegesis uses guidelines or rules to interpret religious texts and usually follows a process outlined below[9]: 1) Observation: what does the passage say? 2) Interpretation: what does the passage mean? 3) Correlation: how does the passage relate to the rest of the Bible? 4) Application: how should this passage affect my life? Exegesis is concerned with discovering the true meaning of the text, respecting its grammar, syntax, and setting. Whereas exegesis seeks to delve deeply into the facts of the matter EISEGESIS tends to read into the text looking for hidden meanings.

Why do we need hermeneutics for Biblical interpretation? We have cited a few definitions of what hermeneutics is but Bill Gothard’s definition sums up the need for its use: Hermeneutics is defined in one dictionary as “the art of finding the meaning of an author’s words and phrases, and of explaining it to others. ”[10] In the grand scheme of things it is the ‘explaining to others’ that is what is important especially when we want to evangelise and spread the ‘Good News’ or the Gospel. G.

Waldemar Degner[11] posits that the use of hermeneutical approaches to extracting biblical meanings is “a way of life” and is done among many Christians (and others) everyday. For example, he suggests that we use these hermeneutical approaches… ‘in every private devotion, in each letter we write that contains a verse of the Bible, in each bedside visit, in all of counselling-whether with a person who has a problem with drugs or alcohol, a family engaged in a dispute, or a delinquent member.

We are always using and applying the word of God to the lives of people. ’[12] A pastor or those called to minister the Word or evangelise to others have to delve into the scriptures more deeply than the ordinary Christian. Evangelists who do not look into the hermeneutical approach in a systemic and positive way will be more prone to giving their own ‘opinions’ rather than disseminating the true Word of God. “The purposes of biblical hermeneutics – to help us to know how to interpret, understand, and apply the Bible. ”[13]

It is also believed that another main purpose of Hermeneutics is to fill in the ‘gaps’[14] that may cloud one’s proper and effective interpretation of a scripture. These ‘gaps’ are: linguistical, cultural, geographical and historical gaps. To truly interpret Biblical Scriptures we have to understand that the parts of the scripture is just as important to the whole and that taking just snippets of the text will not extricate the ‘whole’ meaning of the scriptural text. According to Rev. W. Hylton “the two great needs for Hermeneutics are: ) That we may know what God has said b) That we may span the linguistical, cultural, geographical and historical gaps, which separates our minds from those of the Biblical writers. The goal of Biblical Hermeneutics is to establish an active, meaningful and purposeful engagement between the interpreter and the text in order that the interpreter’s own knowledge may develop and come to maturity. ”[15] This brings us to the basic system of interpreting a scripture. It is documented that the single thread that runs through the whole method of Biblical Hermeneutics is context.

The context includes the history, the grammar and language, the geographical and culture. These are the same variables that we called ‘gaps’ earlier and can be interchangeable to be known as linguistic/grammatical context, cultural context, geographical context and historical context. Each text has to be looked at within these contexts to ascertain the main meaning. Degner[16] also maintains that context is extremely important and although his four contexts are slightly different, it encompasses all of the ‘gaps’ that needs to be considered.

He states that there is The Theological Context; and this has to be of premium importance as this deals with what God’s meaning of the text and not what the human writer or reader perceives is meant from the text. The central person is God or Jesus Christ and the repentance and remission of our sins (Luke 24:46-57) are the main themes that should be consistently coming out of each text. The second context is The Historical Context, which according to Degner determines and answers the questions of who, when, why, and to whom? To explain this Degner was looking at James 3: “Who?

The author is “James, servant of God and of Jesus Christ” (James 1:l) He was the brother of Jude (Jude 1). James is either the son of Mary and Joseph or, much more likely the son of Alphaeus and Mary, thus a cousin of Je~us. H~e was head of the church in Jerusalem in A. D. 49, when the Apostolic Council was held (Acts 15). He carries much authority in the early church in Jerusalem. When? The dates suggested by different scholars vary between A. D. 45 and 90. The early date is preferable. Hence, James was perhaps the first book written by and for Christians. Why? This short letter is not an evangelistic book, nor is it a book on doctrine.

It is a treatise or diatribe in letter form, encouraging Christians to live their faith in ways that honor God. The thoughts are similar to the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12). The theme of the letter is expressed in 1:12: Blessed is the man who endures testing, for after he is approved he will receive the crownof life which has been promised to those who love Him. ” James is a “general” or a “catholic” letter. It speaks a message for Christians everywhere. Its purpose, in sum, is to exhort Christians to practice what they believe, to be doers of the word and not hearers only. Faith without works is dead. [17] Next is The Literary Context: We all tend to take texts out of context all too often and Degner states that The Literary Context has to do with the ‘setting of the text in the book. ’ Many who have memorised text are not able ‘to fit them into the context from which they came. ’[18] So one look at something said in 49 BC and try to find what it could have meant when heard at the time and not just take the whole and interpret it to what it means today. The Context of Culture places importance to traditions, customs, norms and the way of life of all, including the writer, at the time the text was written.

The idea in Hermeneutics is to contextualise or take the meaning of the old culture of which the text was written and bring it together. For example, the covering of a woman’s head is a custom of Paul’s era but it is not enforced in totality now because of the cultural shift. APPLICATION There are many scholars who have theories on how to apply Biblical Hermeneutics and many are similar in content. We will just look at the outline of one which sums it up effectively[19]: •“Study the context of the passage and the theme of the book. Look up the actual meaning of each word in the original languages. •Note the verb tenses, the cases, and other grammatical determinants. •Learn the cultural setting of the passage. •Determine what the original readers understood it to mean. •Check out cross-references to see how the words are used in other contexts. •See how the first mention of the word or topic is presented in the Bible. •Confirm an interpretation with two or three similar passages. ” SUMMARY Biblical Hermeneutics, when applied properly, is an effective tool in extracting the correct interpretation from Scripture.

Without exploring the theological, historical, literal and cultural contexts those interpreting will not get an effective and correct meaning from the texts read. BIBLIOGRAPHY Degner, G. W. From Text to Context: Hermeneutical Principles for Applying the Word of God, Concordia Theological Quarterly, Volume 60: Number 4, p262 – 266 Hylton, Rev. W. , WOLTC Hermeneutics Lesson, December 5, 2009 Richardson, A and Bowden, J (eds)A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, p250 Ting, K. H. How to Study the Bible, translated and published in Shatin, N. T. ,(Hong Kong: Tao Fong Shan Ecumenical Centre, 1981), 29-35. http://www. cts17-11. com/know. html http://billgothard. com/bill/teaching/hermeneutics/ http://www. gotquestions. org/Biblical-hermeneutics. html www. tfl. gov. uk http://www. thefreedictionary. com/exegesis ———————– [1] www. tfl. gov. uk [2] http://www. acts17-11. com/know. html [3] WOLTC Hermenteutics Lesson with Rev. W. Hylton, December 5, 2009 4www. gotquestions. org/Biblical-hermeneutics. html 5Richardson, A and Bowden, J (eds)A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, p250 6 WOLTC Hermenteutics Lesson with Rev. W. Hylton, December 5, 2009 7Hermeneutical Buzz Words Handout – WOLTC Hermenteutics Lesson with Rev.

W. Hylton, December 5, 2009 [4] http://billgothard. com/bill/teaching/hermeneutics/ [5] Degner, G. W. From Text to Context: Hermeneutical Principles for Applying the Word of God, Concordia Theological Quarterly, Volume 60: Number 4, pp259 -276 [6] http://billgothard. com/bill/teaching/hermeneutics/ [7] http://www. thefreedictionary. com/exegesis [8] Degner, G. W. From Text to Context: Hermeneutical Principles for Applying the Word of God, Concordia Theological Quarterly, Volume 60: Number 4, p259 [9] WOLTC Hermenteutics Lesson with Rev. W. Hylton, December 5, 2009 [10] WOLTC Hermeneutics Lesson with Rev. W.

Hylton, December 5, 2009 [11] http://www. gotquestions. org/Biblical-hermeneutics. html [12] Degner, G. W. From Text to Context: Hermeneutical Principles for Applying the Word of God, Concordia Theological Quarterly, Volume 60: Number 4, p262 – 266 [13] Degner, G. W. From Text to Context: Hermeneutical Principles for Applying the Word of God, Concordia Theological Quarterly, Volume 60: Number 4, p262 – 266 [14] Degner, G. W. From Text to Context: Hermeneutical Principles for Applying the Word of God, Concordia Theological Quarterly, Volume 60: Number 4, p262 – 266 [15] http://billgothard. com/bill/teaching/hermeneutics/

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