Hermeneutics and Its Critical Role To Biblical Interpretation
The task of interpreting what the world views as the “antiquated literature” of Scripture has been one of special challenges down through the centuries. Unlike other written works, however, man’s eternal soul and fate rests on its correct translation and application. For this reason, a thorough understanding and working knowledge of Hermeneutics is an absolutely necessary tool for the Bible student. Hermeneutics is simply defined as the science and art of Biblical interpretation. While its definition may be simple, it correct use and application is something of a weightier matter.
The study of Hermeneutics accomplishes many things for the Bible student, of which the most important is without question to rightly understand what God has said to mankind in His Holy Word. An improper or absent use of a hermeneutical principle can yield something as small as an ignorant idea to as something as serious as an occult teaching. Another useful benefit of correct hermeneutical practice is that it helps the Bible student to better understand what the Biblical writers actually penned. Whether it be a language, culture, geographical, or religious barrier, Hermeneutics helps to clear the picture of the past and translate the true meaning into the “thought” or “language” of today.
There are two basic approaches to the interpretation of Scripture: Literal and Allegorical. It is how one views these approaches that ultimately shapes his Biblical doctrine and Eschatological beliefs. For example, if one approaches Scripture with the Literal approach, he would expect the Book of Revelation to describe events yet still in the future- including a thousand year reign on Earth by Christ Himself upon the throne of David. The Literal approach takes God literally when it is possible to do so. Literal interpretation takes God’s message delivered to the Writers and trusts exactly what has been penned down to have occurred or to occur exactly as it has been recorded. There is little room for compromise or alternative definitions when the Bible student takes this approach. The logical conclusion of Literal interpretation, therefore, is that the Bible student will come away from the study of the Scripture with a very definite and clearly defined view of the passage. When the Bible student taking a Literal interpretative approach reads: “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire,” it is with clear understanding that it is realized that a devastating and physical future judgment awaits those who reject Christ. (Revelation 20:15, KJV) 1
In sharp contrast to the Literal interpretation of Scripture, the Allegorical interpretation leaves much room for misinterpretation and even gross misuse of Scripture. The Allegorical method would move away from a “statement” that the Scripture is teaching to more of a global “idea” of the passage. Literal words and sayings become nothing more than “pictures” and “symbols” used to support the view of the one doing the Interpretation. Because of this, the logical conclusion of using this method of interpretation of Scripture can be summed up in one word: chaos. The Bible student who employs this approach to his studies does nothing more than put his faith in what or whom he is learning from. Sadly this approach has been used to condone homosexuality, polygamy, drinking, and other Sociological problems of today. It has also robbed the Bible student of the “blessed hope” of the future Rapture and Millennial Kingdom as this approach commonly denies the two events. This approach commonly takes the Bible student from relying on the Holy Spirit for illumination of Scripture in personal study to a dependency upon “scholars” who claim to know how to interpret the sayings of old. It is a means of Interpretation best left in the waste can of liberal teachers from which it originated.
1All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Bible version, Royal, 1971.