Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hermeneutics and Homiletics: or Big Fancy Words for Interpretation and Application

I believe that one of the most important things that our recent study (Thread) has done for us is to reinforce our belief in the reliability of the Bible. Last week we threw out some words that may have been unfamiliar to you. So this is a joint effort to bring some clarification and hopefully some depth to your study of the Bible. My (Vic’s) words will be in blue.

First a couple of definitions:

Hermeneutics: is the interpretation of Scripture.

Homiletics: is the application of scripture.

The goal of bible study is to discover the meaning intended by the original author. While there may be many valid applications for a text, there is only one valid interpretation.

A Christian's essential (hug-the-dot) doctrines ought to be in place and solid before delving into the realm of typology. Our orthodox doctrines, clearly presented in Scripture (i.e. - Salvation by grace through faith, etc.) must inform our exploration of types. Babies need milk. Adults eat steak.

Jen asked me if I could think of a type that someone, not having laid a solid foundation of doctrine first, might be able to take and interpret wrongly. I couldn't think of any, and still can't, but I'm open to suggestions. But things like God's attributes (holiness, righteousness, justice, love, etc.), a Biblical anthropology (including Imago Dei and the Fall), Salvation, and others must precede study into types.

Mike is exactly right. One of the most important things you can do as a Christ follower is build a solid foundation. I think everyone should own a copy of Wayne Grudem’s book Systematic Theology. Not because Dr. Grudem has all the answers but because it is the most balanced and easy to read systematic theology out there. I still refer to Dr. Grudem’s book with great regularity. It can even be read devotionally.

I stand by my statement made this morning, that the ultimate hermeneutic (rule of interpretation) is found in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me...” Every page in the OT screams the name “Jesus.” Vic's right – its ALL about Him. So here's where I need to make a careful delineation. I don't think you can take the types too far IF 1) your focus is on the Person and Work of Christ, and 2) you're letting clear doctrine inform your interpretation.

You must always keep in mind that the Bible tells one story. The overarching theme of the Bible is what God has done for us. It is the story of God’s plan of redemption of man through the work of his son Jesus. The bible is not some simple collection of nice ideas or good advice it is THE STORY.

Homiletics is basically life application. "What does the text mean for me?" Not “to” me – it's not a relativistic thing open to cultural interpretation. God, the Author, intended to communicate meaning, so the question becomes, “What is God saying here?” (hermeneutics) and then “What does that mean for me?” (Homiletics). I think the area of homiletics is where people mostly go astray. And I think that they do it in a particular way – they begin with the homiletics instead of the hermeneutics. Am I losing you? They're quick to read a passage like the one this morning and ask questions about life application before taking the time to flush out the Jesus aspect of it all and how it reflects Him.

I am planning on writing a one page guide to biblical hermeneutics this week. I will post it next Monday when I return from vacation.

Now some of you astute folks will note that I asked, in our discussion time, so application-type questions. Isn't this hypocritical of me? Not at all. And the reason why is because we took the time to thoroughly flush out the type in the text, connecting it at several points to Christ's Atoning work before we got to the application points.

So make sure your hermeneutics precede your homiletics.

One thing to keep in mind is this: God gave us the Bible as a revelation of who he is. His goal is that we know Him, so most of the Bible can be easily interpreted by simply taking the language (either in the original or in the translation) in the usual way (John 3:36; Acts 1:11). In other words, "if the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense."


  1. Hey! I've been reading to try and keep up with the lessons, and I'm a little confused. I looked up the scripture mentioned, but niether John 3:36, nor Act 1:11 say "If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense." I like the idea, and I would love to find the verse that actually says that, but niether of these say that.
    John 3:36 says, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
    and Act 1:11 says, "'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'Why do you stand here looking onto the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back into the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'"
    Do you have any clarification on where that verse is?

  2. My point in using those verses was to show that what they mean is what they say. There is no hidden meaning in either one of those texts. The "plain sense" is the interpretation.