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Hermeneutics 3 – The Importance of Hermeneutics

October 24, 2012

Last post I offered a definition of hermeneutics and spoke a bit about its importance.  I finished that post by mentioning that in this next post I would explain its place in how we form theological truths.  I will be a little bit technical in this post, but I believe that will be helpful.

Let me start by defining the different branches of theology while relating those to how we normally talk about the Bible.  Systematic Theology is the branch of theology that attempts to summarize what the whole Bible teaches about any given subject.  In our everyday discussions we may say something like, “The Bible teaches…” this or that about any given topic and reference passages from Genesis, Psalms and the Gospels.  That is Systematic Theology.  Biblical Theology attempts to study what one author or a certain portion of Scripture teaches about any given subject.  We may say something like, “Paul teaches…” this or that about the doctrine of justification by faith, and reference Romans or Galatians.  That is Biblical Theology.  Exegetical Theology studies what one specific passage may teach about any given doctrine.  We may say, “Genesis chapter 3 teaches…” this or that about sin or some other doctrine.  That is Exegetical Theology.

Most of us tend to have conversations on the Systematic level.  Even though we are not thinking about the technical term, when we attempt to summarize what the entire Bible teaches about a topic we are “doing” Systematic Theology. We tend to think of what the Bible teaches as a whole on any given topic and reference any Scriptures we think apply to the subject.  When we do this we must be very careful.  It is very easy to “proof text” any given statement by pointing to one Scripture without considering that Scripture’s context.  Let me demonstrate.

Say I was having a conversation with you and told you that I believed the Bible said that I can do anything as long as I believed it, even throw my car into the lake through prayer.  I may “prove” that by pointing to Phil 4:13 where Paul stated, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (ESV).  Didn’t I just prove my point?  Are we now justified in believing that I can do anything I can imagine through Christ, even fly like a bird if I flap my arms?  No, as most of us would insist, the meaning of Phil. 4:13 is determined by the context.  In context, Paul had just mentioned that he knew how to be brought low, how to abound, how to be hungry and how to be full (Phil. 4:12).  What Paul is saying in verse 13 is that he knows how to do all of those things, and can do them by the power of Christ.  God gave him the strength he needed in every circumstance in which he found himself.  This is captured by the NIV when it translates verse 13 by, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” (italics mine).

So, what about hermeneutics then?  As I said in the last post, hermeneutics helps us make sure we are understanding any given verse, or set of verses properly.  Paying attention to the context, as was seen to be important for Phil. 4:13,  is one of many principles of interpretation discussed in hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics then provides us with ways to check ourselves and make sure we are using Scripture properly.  When we are trying to “prove” a certain point, these principles help us examine the texts to which we turn and make sure they are actually teaching what we are claiming that they teach.

In conclusion, hermeneutics gives us ways to check to make sure we are understanding a certain text of the Bible properly, so we can accurately say, “this is what Galatians chapter 3 teaches,” (Exegetical Theology).  That way we can more accurately say, “this is what Paul teaches,” (Biblical Theology).  So that ultimately we can more accurately say, “This is what the Bible teaches,” (Systematic Theology).

Our beliefs about God must be grounded in a proper understanding the Bible.  Hermeneutics help us make sure we are properly understanding the Bible.  Therefore, hermeneutics aids us in our efforts to worship God in truth.

Have you ever been convinced about some teaching about God and looked to a certain Scripture to validate that teaching only to find out you were misusing that Scripture and it didn’t actually teach what you thought it did?  Even though we don’t use the technical language in our everyday lives, does it makes sense that we still attempt to “do” Exegetical, Biblical and Systematic Theology even in a non-technical way?  Although more principes will be discussed as this blog series progresses, what are some other ways we can ensure that we are understanding a certain Bible text properly besides considering the context?

From → Hermeneutics

One Comment
  1. thanks Dan for clearing that up. I think understanding the differing theologies will go a very long way in learning myself and teaching God’s Word to others.

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