Mar 04

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Yes, the word of our title is one of the more hated words among those who say they believe the Bible. Why is this? One replies, “It is not in the Bible; therefore, why should I know anything about it?” Another says, “One interpretation is just as good as another!”
Merriam-Webster gives this as the meaning of the word, Hermeneutics: ”the study of the methodological principles of interpretation (as of the Bible); a method or principle of interpretation.” Phil Sanders, in his course at the Nashville School of Preaching and Biblical Studies, wrote this: “Hermeneutics is the skill and art of interpretation and is especially applied to the Bible.” Bernard Ramm gives us this: “The science and art of Biblical interpretation. It is science because it is guided by rules within a system; and it is art because the application of the rules is by skill and not by mechanical imitation.” (Protestant Biblical interpretation, p.1). Finally, notice what D. R. Dungan wrote: “Sacred hermeneutics is the science of interpreting the Scriptures.” (Dungan,1). So, now you are less interested than ever! Well, be it understood or not, like the word “hermeneutics” or not, if you read the Bible and make any effort at all to understand it, you are using hermeneutics; even if you know what you are or not!
Now that you know you use “hermeneutics,” why not understand a little about how to correctly use it? Years ago, in fact, one of the first things I learned about studying the Bible was to ask four questions: 1) Who said it; 2) When was it said; 3) To whom was it said; and 4) Why was it said? These four questions in my mind are the beginning of any understanding of “hermeneutics!” Now, if we approach our Bible study, by first answering these four questions, many misunderstood teachings will be avoided!
First case, is a command: “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Now, how do we learn who was responsible for obeying this command? We can learn the answer by asking our four questions:
1) Who said it: “And the LORD God” (Gen. 2:15);
2) When was it said: it was said after the first man was created from “the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7);
3) To whom was it said: “And the LORD God took the man” (Gen. 2:15) and we learn as we keep on reading that “the man” was Adam (verse 19);
4) Why was it said: “And the LORD God took man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (verse 15).
From these four simple questions and their answers, we have learned that God held Adam responsible “to dress it (the garden of Eden) and to keep it;” therefore, Adam is the one who was commanded. No one today is responsible for dressing and keeping the garden of Eden! However, we also learn that if the earth is to produce good plants, it must be dressed and kept!
The second case, is a command: “Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch” (Gen. 6:14). Now, how do we learn that the command is not for us today? We can learn this by asking and answering our four questions:
1) Who said it: “And God said” (Gen. 6:13);
2) When was it said: “And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth” (verse 12), thus, we learn that the command given by God was before the flood;
3) To whom was it said: “And God said unto Noah (verse 13);
4) Why was it said: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (verse 8).

Now we know that the command was given to Noah and no one else!
We have used these two simple cases as examples as to how we may learn to answer more difficult cases! We will get into the more complicated cases in the second article. In the meantime, why not try to use these four questions to better understand?

Frank R. Williams

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