BIBL2220-Biblical Hermeneutics

6I just saw a sight so beautiful it made my heart skip a beat. Better than a blue-orange sunset. Better than Mt Shasta on a snowy day.  Better than Walter Payton streaking like a gazelle toward the goal line.  I saw young people digging into God’s Word.  I mean really digging in.  We had a Bible research day in my hermeneutics class at Simpson University.

Click “more” for some pictures… Click the thumbnails to enlarge. Read below if you want to download their worksheets and give it a shot yourself.

So I had a bunch of slips of paper with a Bible verse on each one.  Each student picked one verse. Then I explained the project, and we dismissed class to head to the Simpson University Library.  

Enough lectures! It’s time to start applying the stuff we’ve learned: the proper steps in biblical interpretation. These are: 

  1. The Setting (history, culture, context)
  2. Lexical/Syntactical Analysis (words and sentences)
  3. Theological Analysis (based on the Theological Big Ten)
  4. Genre/Literary Analysis
  5. Commentary Check
  6. Application

Our class remembers the sequence with the sentence, “Sam loves the good coffee always.”  

We only did steps 1-5 today, and if you’d like to do the same research, click here (libraryworksheet1) to download their worksheet.  They used research books like Strong’s Concordance, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vines Dictionary, Wilson’s Word Studies, and a host of other books.  They learned where to find commentaries in our library, and that they are arranged by books of the Bible, Gen to Rev.  They learned how to identify Greek and Hebrew Words and how to look up their meanings. 

I am so proud of our young scholars.  They all did great. They were highly motivated.

When I say it was beautiful, I mean I got a lump in my throat and pulled out my camera (phone). Now it’s your turn. Let me know how you did!  Oh, you only get 1 hour to complete the project! 

Here’s the list of verses, just pick one:  library-verses

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. (3 John 1:4, NKJV).


22 thoughts on “BIBL2220-Biblical Hermeneutics

  1. Hey Bill – Thanks for sharing this. I am taking the challenge! I love the worksheet and reminds me of the good ole days when you were my youth pastor and you shared those incredible lessons with your signature bubbles/clouds. I still remember – The Character of God and The Barrier – and still have them!

    Praise God for your gift of teaching His Word – with such excitement and passion!

  2. Could you please list (explain) the Theological Big Ten? I’ve never gone to seminary and just wonder what these are….probably could come up with a few myself.

    I think it’s amazing just how much I can learn from my teacher, the Holy Spirit.

  3. Well, I didn’t take your challenge, but I did read the verses. I memorized Ps 119:11 KJV long ago, and it sounds fine in my NIV, but the NKJV grates!

  4. Just wanted to say thanks for giving me the oppertunity to put to practice what you have been teaching since September. I really enjoyed this project and I look forward to doing it again! 🙂

  5. Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You! (Psalms 119:11, NKJV).

    Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. (Psalms 119:11, KJV).

    I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalms 119:11, NIV).

    Janet… I’ll grant that the NKJV has the worst cadence of the three, but do you really think it “grates”? I like the NASB:

    Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. (Psalms 119:11, NAS95).

    Or how about the Bill translation (follows the word order in the Hebrew):

    “In my heart I have treasured your Word, that I might not sin against you.” (Ps 119:11, BG)

    I like mine the best.

  6. Jean… EVERYBODY knows the Theological Big Ten! I’m so surprised!!!! (Just kidding :)) Here they are:
    1. Theology Proper (nature and character of God)
    2. Bibliology (about the Bible)
    3. Soteriology (about salvation)
    4. Christology
    5. Pneumatology
    6. Eschatology (about Last Things)
    7. Angelology (demonology)
    8. Anthropology
    9. Ecclesiology (nature of the Church)
    10. Hamartiology (doctrine of sin)

    You need to know which area of Systematic Theology your verse addresses so you can build a well-rounded view of your topic, and see if theology helps you interpret your verse properly, or, most importantly, if your verse helps you adjust your theology!

  7. Matt,

    I’m glad you answered, whether I asked you or not!

    How or in what manner does Biblical Hermeneutics “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” or lead one to that sort of thing?

  8. Jonathan… I’m not sure what you mean by goal. Of course, MattA stated the ultimate goal of everything. The goal of biblical hermeneutics, in a more narrow sense, is to determine with as much confidence as possible the author’s original intent in writing a section of Scripture. For example, in person to person communication today, hermeneutics runs on auto-pilot. It is a barely conscious act by which we decode a person’s communication. The more distance in time and space there is between a sender (the biblical author) and a receiver (the reader), the more we need to account for our differences and bridge those gaps. Hermeneutics is the process by which we place ourselves in the shoes of an original reader, and try to read through their eyes.

  9. Bill,

    I love that you’re teaching this in this way. Do you have anything (or are you aware of anything) on hermeneutics that could be done on the lay level? Seems to me this is a huge unmet need in our congregations. We continue to fall deeper into the “here’s what this passage means to me” pit.


  10. JB…
    It’s a lot of fun in class. There is an decent workbook that I use in class called God’s Transforming Word, by Lea… it has some good exercises, but it doesn’t cover all the basics of Hermeneutics.
    Yeah, we have sunk to “what does this mean to me?” as a fundamental hermeneutic.

  11. Sorry to take a while to get back to this question. I think its a really interesting one, but I’ve been down w/ a really mean flu. Being fallen people is often lame-o.

    Hermeneutics, Bill said, is the act of “decod(ing) a person’s communication.”

    Can I safely assume that behind this definition is a model of communication that is something like this:
    -(A) intends a “meaning” or a thought and would like to communicate that meaning or thought to (B).
    -(A) encodes that meaning/thought into a language (very, very quickly, of course). Doesn’t matter too much which one. Could be farsi, could be english, could be ig-pay atin-lay.
    -So long as (B) can reverse the process and decode (A)’s meaning/thought out of language and into their own meaning/thought, communication and, thereby, understanding will occur.

    Understanding is getting whats in my “in here” to match what was in your “in here.” And language is just a means of transference of meaning/thought. Its like 1’s and 0’s in computers.

    I’m having trouble on one part of that though. What is a pre-linguistic thought? Is there such a thing? What is this non-linguistic stuff getting “encoded?”

    If anyone knows Augustine really well, we could use your help here re: the inner verbum.

  12. Jonathan,
    I think you’re misunderstanding me a bit. When I used the word “decoded” I was not referring to the act of encoding thoughts in language; I’m not sure we have non-verbal thoughts. I’d have to think about that.
    The encoding happens because we are crossing cultures and languages when we read the Bible.
    For example, when my wife and i talk to each other, our interpretive process is virtually instant and unconscious. We belong to the same culture and speak the same language–we operate from the same code.
    But when I read the Bible, I have to account for cultural and linguistic differences. That accounting is called hermeneutics. We aren’t using the same code, and I have to decode the information. Fortunately, Scripture is perspicuous, and we have enough commonalities that we are able to “crack the code” so to speak. Proper hermeneutics plus the Holy Spirit plus the whole history of doctrine equals clarity on Scripture’s meaning.

  13. Bill,
    Hmmm. Seeing as how you and the Margi have achieved the promised land of “same culture” and “same language,” would you please put “Nuptial Hermeneutics” on your list of books to write? The rest of us would like a peek at the decoder ring. 😉

    Thank you!

  14. hehehe, being unmarried myself, I didn’t want to challenge you on that particular claim… thanks, other BG.

    besides, when speaking with someone, there is a whole slew of extra-linguistic communication happening to clarify the discourse. Body language, tone of voice and inflection, immediate context, knowledge of the other’s character, etc.

    Imagine trying to operate a marriage by e-mail only. I smell a disaster. This is the hermeneutical difficulty. It’s not just historical distance that’s a problem It’s TEXTUAL distance, one we face in every text.

    but you’re right, I think I did misunderstand what you were saying. Sorry ’bout that.

    However, I’m not sure it gets us out of the problem. There is still this non-linguistic unit (“thought-data” lets call it) that gets transferred via language/syntax/etc in this model from in-here to in-here. Even if we bracket for the moment the problem of personal expression in a shared language/syntactical structure/culture/etc, there remains this problem of what this mysterious thing is that is communicated when we decode one language/syntax/culture (the biblical authors) and re-code it into another (ours). If language is just empty, static signification, then what the heck is its thought-content?

    If it’s just the author’s intention, but that intention is entirely linguistically bound, why not just address the text w/o being concerned w/ the author at all? That is to say, if language is all there is, if there is no “inner word” as augustine says, then why busy ourselves with getting into the author’s “in-here.”

    If the intention is some pre-linguistic “meaning,” isn’t language (and syntax and culture) always going to be a problem and a hindrance? Doesn’t it create a gap that can never be overcome without pre-linguistic telepathy? Isn’t it a distorting mediation?

    And if there is some methodological guarantee, what lens was used to validate that method for its objective certainty?

    To say nothing of the problems of attempting to access the “in-here” of an author. Why assume the author’s intention is perfectly clear to themselves? Perhaps in their sinfulness, they meant to write something un-biblical, so to speak, but the Holy Spirit intervened and healed their writing for the sake of scripture? Or what if they meant one thing but that’s not the meaning of the words and grammar they chose to use? language, after all, is conventional and not private.

    furthermore, how does one psychologize inspiration? is it really the authors intention or the Holy Spirit’s? If people’s intentions are confounding in their finitude, is the Holy Spirit’s “intention” likely more knowable in its infinity?

    Even further, why this assumption that scripture is perspicuous? because Luther said so?

    Whoa….a lot tumbled out there. But in any case, I understand that authorial intent as a standard of correct interpretation seems reasonable in common sense, but I think its got lots of problems.

    maybe not insuperable problems though, I don’t know. Might be worth grappling with, since the dirty, rotten post modern alternative I might offer is likely pretty unpalatable for most.

    but this is why you don’t let your kids be philosophy majors. 🙂

    Thanks to anyone still reading! Godspeed.

  15. Jonathan… yeah… but…

    Premise: God knows how to communicate.
    Premise: The authors of Scripture know how to communicate
    Premise: Communication is possible (I guess this should be first)
    Premise: Normal people know how to communicate.

    As the Reformers correctly taught us, Scripture is Perspicuous. (See my blog entry here)

    This doesn’t mean that all communication is infallible… only God’s communication is infallible. Our task is to hear him as he meant us to. Hence hermeneutics.

    Plus, we evangelicals are not starting as blank slates in the interpretive process. We have the history of doctrine to help guide us, though we always let Scripture trump tradition.

    If God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, then it illuminates more than it obscures, right?

  16. Bill, you said:
    “If God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, then it illuminates more than it obscures”

    I think you’re absolutely right. The reason I’m getting so pushy about hermeneutics of authorial intent is not that I’m worried its going to have us saying we know more than it is possible to know through communication… (though it might do that too)

    Actually, my issue is the opposite. I believe that any given scripture/scriptures can mean and be true (REALLY True, capital “T”) in more ways than one, simultaneously, so long as these meanings and truths don’t contain limiting contradictions w/ one another.

    I’m worried that limiting the meaning of scripture to authorial intent, something which I’m pretty suspicious about the possibility of as a standard of correct interpretation to begin with, prevents us from encountering scripture in its FULLNESS.

    I think scripture overflows w/ meaning. That’s what makes it scripture and not just “good teaching.”

    but again…dirty, rotten post modern over here. 🙂

  17. Bill–Yes, I like “treasured,” too, and I do like your version. “Grates” may be strong, but changing object, verb, subject to object, subject, verb in the NKJV doesn’t work for me.

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