Hermeneutics – The Beginner’s Theological Vocabularium


“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”—2 Timothy 2:15

from the Greek χερμηνευτικός (hermeneutikos) meaning “of or for interpreting.” It’s origins comes from the name of the Greek god Hermes (Ἑρμῆς) who was said to be the interpreter as well as the messenger of the gods.

The study of Hermeneutics is the study of how to translate the Bible. Grace Theological Seminary offers this definition…

Biblical hermeneutics is the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation. The word most often refers to how to interpret the Bible or other sacred texts from other religions. This is not to be confused with exegesis. Where exegesis refers to the interpretation of a specific Biblical text, hermeneutics is deciding which principles we will use in order to interpret the text.

There are three main rules of Hermeneutics (these are the three most important. Other sources will list many other rules)…

  • Rule #1. The Bible is literal in everything the text affirms. If the Bible says Jesus fed 5,000, then He did indeed feed 5, 000. However, in 1 Samuel 31:1-6 we are told Saul committed suicide. But in 2 Samuel 1:2-10 we have a different story. But, in the second passage we are told what an Amalekite is telling David, not a narration of what actually happened. So in the first passage the Bible is telling us how Saul died, in the second passage the Bible is telling us what some random enemy, caught by David is telling him (obviously a lie in hopes that his life would be spared). The Bible affirms the first account, it only affirms that someone is telling the second account.
  • Rule #2. Scripture Translates Scripture. For example, Isaiah’s condemnation of Judah’s desire to seek Egypt’s help and their reliance on a strong cavalry (Isaiah 31:1) was motivated, in part, by God’s explicit command that His people not go to Egypt to seek horses (Deuteronomy 17:16).*
  • Rule #3. The Bible must be translated in light of history, grammar and context. For example, in order to fully understand Jonah’s flight in Jonah 1:1-3, we should research the history of the Assyrians as related to Israel. Interpreting a passage grammatically requires one to follow the rules of grammar and recognize the nuances of Hebrew and Greek. For example, when Paul writes of “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” in Titus 2:13, the rules of grammar state that God and Savior are parallel terms and they are both in apposition to Jesus Christ—in other words, Paul clearly calls Jesus “our great God.” Interpreting a passage contextually involves considering the context of a verse or passage when trying to determine the meaning. The context includes the verses immediately preceding and following, the chapter, the book, and, most broadly, the entire Bible. For example, many puzzling statements in Ecclesiastes become clearer when kept in context—the book of Ecclesiastes is written from the earthly perspective “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). In fact, the phrase under the sun is repeated about thirty times in the book, establishing the context for all that is “vanity” in this world.[ibid]

For further study see…