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Foundations for Christianity:
202 Foundations of Our Theology
and Hermeneutics



Intro: Exegesis and Hermeneutics

NOTE: This article addresses the fundamental necessities of Biblical interpretation. As such, this article is addressed to those who look to the Bible as their Truth source, namely Christians.


Inherent to Communication

"Communicate - 1a. To convey information about; make known; impart: communicated his views to our office. b. To reveal clearly; manifest: Her disapproval communicated itself in her frown." - The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

"Communication - 1. The act of communicating; transmission. 2a. The exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behavior. b. Interpersonal rapport. 3. communications (used with a sing. or pl. verb) a. The art and technique of using words effectively to impart information or ideas." - The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

1). What is the nature of communication? The nature and definition of communication is when one party (the author) has the desire to pass on specific ideas to another party (the audience).

NOTE: The following precepts presuppose that an author is adequately able to articulate their ideas. Instances where an author is not adequately able articulate their ideas to their audience are beyond the scope of the study of Biblical interpretation because such instances would require that God is either incapable of articulating His ideas or that God fails to understand the limitations of the audience to whom He is writing.)

2.) The entire process of communication presupposes the intent of the author to convey specific ideas to an audience.

3.) The entire process of communication assumes that the author has in mind an idea of who he wants to pass his ideas to.

4.) The act of communicating inherently and irrevocably implies that the author desires to succeed in communicating his thoughts to the audience. (It would do no good to speak Spanish to an audience of Russians.)

5.) To write something an audience cannot understand negates the very definition of communication.

6.) The desire to succeed in communicating one's ideas to another party inherently and irrevocably implies that the author writes in such a way that his audience can and will understand it.

7.) Furthermore, the very desire to communicate successfully requires that an author must accurately perceive and take into account the limitations and current level of understanding possessed by his audience and write to them according to such things.

8.) Consequently, to understand an author's intent, since an author writes according to the limitations and understanding of his intended audience, we must interpret his words as his intended audience would have.

9.) The Inherencies of Communication are: a) the author intends to pass on specific ideas to another party, his audience b) the author desires to succeed in this task c) to succeed the author must take into account the limitations and current understanding of his audience d) for communication to take place, an author's words must be interpreted according to the way the author's intended audience would have been able to understand them.

10.) Any break down in these precepts necessarily constitutes a break down and faltering of the process of communication.


Inherent to Inspiration and Interpretation

"Inspire - 1. To affect, guide, or arouse by divine influence." - The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

"Interpret - 1. To explain the meaning of: interpreted the ambassador's remarks. See synonyms at explain." - The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

1.) God is ultimately the author of the Bible.

2.) God could have written His truths in any way that He wanted.

3.) God did not have to choose to write His ideas through human authors who had particular ideas that they were trying to convey to a particular audience.

4.) If God wanted to communicate His truths without implying or involving the author's intent, the limitations and current understanding of the intended audience, or the historic circumstances in which a human literary work is written, God could have and would have communicated through another means.

5.) God chose to write His truths through human authors.

6.) God's choice to convey His truth through a means of communication that contains author's intent, the limitations and current understanding of the intended audience, and the historic circumstances in which a human literary work is written, inherently implies that God's doing so was intentional and that God saw these traits as valuable for conveying His truths.

7.) God's choice to express His truths through documents that contained ideas intended by human authors to be understood by their intended audience inherently implies that God is using those author's intended ideas as they were intended to be understood by the author's intended audience AS THE MEANS to contain and convey His truths.

8.) In accordance with the Inherencies of Communication, the human authors that God chose to express His truths through were writing to a particular intended audience to convey particular concepts for a particular purpose according to the limitations and understandings of that intended audience.

9.) Each human author's writing was inspired by God the moment that it was written and, as such, became God's means of conveying His truths the moment that it was written.

10.) Consequently, the author's original audience was the original audience to whom God was communicating as well.

11.) By selecting that author writing to that audience, God is also choosing to communicate originally to that same audience.

12.) If God did not intend that message for the people of that time, then God would have waited. By choosing to write at any particular point in time, God must have intended His message through that author FOR the people of that time.

13.) And by choosing to communicate originally to that same audience, as a perfectly able author who desires to succeed in communication, God must be writing in accordance with the limitations and current understanding of that original audience, which He knew would be the first to receive His Word.

14.) In order to understand God's Word as He intended it, we must interpret God's Word according to the human author's ideas whose words God originally chose and put his sanction upon.

15.) In order to understand God's Word as He intended it, we must interpret God's Word according the limitations and current understanding of the human author's original, intended audience whom God also chose to be the first to hear that inspired message.

16.) Failure to adopt these precepts constitutes a breakdown and faltering in the process of interpretation and thus, will not yield a correct or accurate understanding of God's truths.


Inherent to Reliance

"Reliance - 1. The act of relying or the state of being reliant. 2. The faith, confidence, or trust felt by one who relies; dependence. See synonyms at trust. 3. One relied on; a mainstay." - The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

1.) What is the point of reading or appealing to the Bible? To read or appeal to the Bible inherently implies that one's own opinions, preferences, or experiences do not establish what is true. To read or appeal to the Bible inherently implies that the Bible establishes what is true.

2.) If one's own opinions, preferences or experiences were sufficient authorities of truth, then there would be no need to read or appeal to the Bible in the first place.

3.) Furthermore, to read one's own opinions, preferences, or experiences into the meaning of the Bible, inherently reasserts that one's own opinions, preferences, or experiences are sufficient establishers of truth. The phrases of the Bible simply become the shape or means of expressing "the truth contained" in our own opinions, preferences, or experiences.

4.) Consequently, to determine the Bible's meaning according to your own opinions, preferences, or experiences negates the very purpose of reading or appealing to the Bible. If the goal is to understand what the Bible means, then for each person to give the Bible his or her own meaning undermines the very point of looking to the Bible in the first place. Since the reason for reading or appealing to the Bible is because our own opinions, preferences, or experiences are not sufficient to establish truth, for each person to give the Bible his or her own meaning negates the very purpose of reading or appealing to the Bible. To derive truth from our own opinions, preferences, or experiences negates God's very purpose in giving us the Bible and conveying His truth through its human authors.

5.) Therefore, the very act of reading or appealing to the Bible inherently implies that the Bible only establishes truth when its meaning supercedes and is not determined by one's own opinions, preferences, or experiences.

6.) Consequently, we must refrain from letting our own opinions, preferences, or experiences influence or dictate our interpretation of the Bible.

7.) Conversely, we must determine the Bible's meaning based upon the Inherencies of Communication and the Inherencies of Inspiration and Interpretation, as described above.

8.) Failure to adopt these precepts constitutes a breakdown and faltering of one's confession of reliance upon the Bible as the source of truth.


Summary

The conclusions of the precepts above can be summarized collectively as follows.

1.) The Inherencies of Communication are: a) the author intends to pass on specific ideas to another party, his audience b) the author desires to succeed in this task c) to succeed the author must take into account the limitations and current understanding of his audience d) for communication to take place, an author's words must be interpreted according to the way the author's intended audience would have been able to understand them.

2.) In order to understand God's Word as He intended it, we must interpret God's Word according to the human author's ideas whose words God originally chose and put his sanction upon.

3.) By selecting each particular Biblical author, God is also choosing to communicate originally and therefore primarily to that author's same audience.

4.) By choosing to communicate originally to that same audience, as a perfectly able author who desires to succeed in communication, God must be writing in accordance with the limitations and current understanding of that original audience, which He knew would be the first to receive His Word.

5.) In order to understand God's Word as He intended it, we must interpret God's Word according the limitations and current understanding of the human author's original, intended audience whom God also chose to be the first to hear that inspired message.

6.) If the goal is to understand what the Bible means, then for each person to give the Bible his or her own meaning undermines the very point of looking to the Bible in the first place. Since the reason for reading or appealing to the Bible is because our own opinions, preferences, or experiences are not sufficient to establish truth, for each person to give the Bible his or her own meaning negates the very purpose of reading or appealing to the Bible. To derive truth from our own opinions, preferences, or experiences negates God's very purpose in giving us the Bible and conveying His truth through its human authors.

Therefore, the very act of reading or appealing to the Bible as a means of learning truth inherently REQUIRES that the reader interprets the Bible according to the intent of the original author and in accordance with how that original audience would have understood that author's words, given that God has chosen to express his truths THROUGH those authors and TO those authors' original audiences primarily. Conversely, to do anything else inherently CONTRADICTS the whole point of reading or appealing to the Bible as a means of learning truth.

When one ignores the intention of God's chosen author and the understanding of God's chosen original audience, then one is forced to read their own meaning, opinions, preferences, and experiences into the text of scripture. Simply put, if one interprets scripture by asking the question, "What does this mean to me?" then one cannot derive any authoritative truth from scripture, because one is simply expressing his or her own opinions, preferences, or experiences, which have no authority even if they wear the words of scripture as clothing.

So, in order to really understand truth, we must interpret the meaning of scripture in terms of the intent of the author whom God selected to express His truths through and in terms of the original audience that God chose to pass on those truths to. This leads us to the process known as exegesis. Exegesis is a technical word that is of central importance to Biblical interpretation. The definition is provided below.

"Exegesis - [N.L. - Gr. exegesis, - exegeisthai, explain, - ex-, out of, and hegeisthai, lead.] Critical explanation or interpretation, esp. of Scripture." - The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language

"Exegesis - the critical interpretation of the biblical text to discover its intended meaning." Britannica.com

As we can see from the definitions, "exegesis" is a compound word comprised of the Greek prefix "ex," which means "out of" and the Greek word "hegeisthai," which means "lead." Or in other words, "exegesis" means "to lead out of" or more simply, "to lead from inside outward" rather than from "outside inward."

If a person simply asserts their own opinions, preferences, and experiences into the meaning of scripture, then this is "leading" from "outside in." In other words, the meaning of scripture comes from outside the scripture itself. In this case the meaning comes from the reader and is "put into" scripture. On the other hand, if a person refrains from letting their own opinions, preferences, and experiences influence how he or she perceives the meaning of scripture and instead interprets the text in terms of author's intent and original audience's understanding, then this is "leading" from "inside out," which is exegesis. Simply put, the meaning comes from inside the text itself and moves out into the perception and life of the reader.

In this way we let the text "speak for itself" rather than using the words of scripture as a ready-made, empty vessel into which we insert our own meaning so that we clothe our own views with the words of scripture, in which case the scripture ends up simply "speaking for us." And so long as it is simply our ideas that are being expressed, there is no authority or ability to establish truth and there is no point in even using scripture, since it is merely our own views and not the views of scripture that are being expressed.

This is why Britannica.com defines exegesis as the process of interpreting a biblical text "to discover its INTENDED meaning." The goal is not to put a meaning of our own invention into the text, but to discover the meaning of God's selected author who wrote the text in accordance with the limitations and level of understanding possessed by his original audience.

Consequently, the entire process of reading or appealing to the Bible to learn truth inherently requires that one interpret the text according to the intent of God's selected author. This is the only way that the meaning can flow from the text to us rather than from us into the text. This is the only way that exegesis can occur. And there are certain necessary and commonsense rules required in order to allow proper discovery of the author's intended meaning in accordance with the limits and understanding of his audience. These intuitive rules can be collected into an interpretive method called "hermeneutics." There are different hermeneutic systems, but the only system that preserves the intention of the original author in accordance with the understanding of the original audience is the grammatical historical method. In our next section we will discuss and compare these different systems and demonstrate why the grammatical historical method is necessary and also superior to all other options.