About Hermeneutics

“Hermeneutics” comes from two Greek words hermes meaning “message” (Strong’s Greek 2060) and pneuma (Strong’s Greek no. 4151) meaning “spirit”. Hermeneutics is the study of methodological principles of interpretation. Some may object to “interpreting” the Bible. However to “interpret” is “to explain or tell the meaning of: present in understandable terms.” It is therefore very important that we “interpret” the Bible since interpreting the Bible means understanding the Bible. While some would object to “interpreting” the Bible no one would argue that we should not seek to understand the Bible.

Yeshua himself used hermeneutics. In Luke 24:27 we read:

“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets,
he [Yeshua] expounded unto them in all the scriptures
the things concerning himself.”
Luke 24:27 – KJV

The word for “expounded” in the Greek version of Luke is Strong’s Greek no. 1329 diermeneuo taken from dia “through” (Strong’s Greek no. 1223) and hermeneuo “to interpret” (Strong’s Greek no. 2059). (The Aramaic has M’PASEK “to interpret”). This Greek word is a form of the Greek word hermeneutic. Thus Yeshua himself engaged in the use of hermeneutics.

Paul also makes reference to the concept of hermeneutics when he writes:

“Study to shew thyself approved unto Elohim,
a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,
rightly dividing the word of truth.”
2Tim. 2:15 – KJV

Here Paul implies that there is a right way to interpret the Scriptures and this implies that there is also a wrong way to interpret the Scriptures. Now if there is a right and a wrong way to interpret the Scriptures then this implies the existence of methodological principles of interpretation or hermeneutics.

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Eisegesis and Exegesis

Now the key to hermeneutics is to be objective rather than subjective in ones approach. “Objective” means “existing independent of mind” while “subjective” indicates that which comes from a person’s point of view. That which is objective is factual and does not depend on a person’s perspective. While that which is subjective is dependent on a point of view. Facts are objective while opinions are subjective. The New Testament tells us that we should understand the Scriptures objectively rather than subjectively:

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man:
but holy men of Elohim spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
(2Pt. 1:20-21 – KJV)

Unfortunately in Christendom subjective interpretations are often the rule. Often a Bible study will involve going around the room and asking “what does this passage mean to you”. Our aproach should be totally different from this. We should be asking “what does this passage mean apart from you? What did this passage mean before you were born and what will it mean after you are dead?”

This brings us to two important hermeneutical terms:

Eisegesis: Reading ideas into the text.

Exegesis: Deriving ideas from out of the text.

The Jewish Approach

Now there is a major distinction between Jewish and Christian Hermeneutics. Judaism has a very refined and systematic agreed upon system of hermeneutics. Christianity differs not in having a different agrees upon set of rules but in having no agreed upon set of rules whatsoever. This fact was well established by the fourth century “Church Father” Jerome who wrote:

“The Jews insist upon a literal interpretation of the Scriptures
based on thirteen rules, but we know that the spiritual interpretation
is far superior.”

The Scriptural interpretations of the Christian “Church Fathers” are generally ito two basic schools of thought the Alexandrian and the Antiochan. The Alexandrian School of Interpretation was founded upon the following principles:

1. All the Scriptures have a Spiritual interpretation

2. The Scriptures exist to reveal truths.

3. Scripture should be interpreted by parallels with other Scriptures

4. Allegorical interpretations reveal hidden meanings.

The Antiochan School of Interpretation was somewhat more literal and exegetical emphasizing the historical reality of the Scriptures and maintaining that any deeper sense be grounded and based on the literal sense. However even the Antiochan school often preferred a spiritualized interpretation over the use of rules, as Jerome who made the statement above is generally classed with the Antiochan school.

There were two schools of thought in Jewish Hermeneutics which parallel these two Christian Schools of thought, but the Jewish schools of thought were not so extreme.

The School of Akiva taught that since Elohim is all knowing, when He speaks, every word and every letter is divinely inspired and has some implication. Akiva’s school therefore sought and found hidden meanings in the text. The school of Ishmael countered this approach and claimed that when Elohim speaks to man He speaks as a man would to another man, without buried hidden meanings. These two schools were ultimately reconciled when it was determined that Ishmael’s approach was true on the literal and implied levels of understanding while Akiva’s approach held true on the allegorical and mystical levels of understanding. The literal and implied meanings of the text could be derived from accepting the text as if a man were speaking to another man while the allegorical and mystical meanings could be derived by recognizing that the text expressed the infinite mind of Elohim with meaning buried in every word and letter.

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