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Hermeneutics: Some Common Pitfalls

Last week I began our series on hermeneutics. Our goal is to study, not just read, God's Word so that we can understand it, apply it, and therefore, be sanctified by the Holy Spirit's work through the Word.

Before we get started with the actual process it's important to understand some of the pitfalls that are easy to fall into when doing hermeneutics–namely, the pitfall of US!! What do I mean? When we do hermeneutics we often approach it with a few biases that we weren't aware may of not been there:



  1. Theological bias - Most of us already have theological disposition of some kind. When we approach a text we tend to view it through that theological lens. To be sure, many passages can come to the same conclusion despite those theological tendencies, but when other hard passages come into play, such as Romans 9, Revelation 3, the Levitical Law, etc., our biases really start to shine through. Hopefully, the hermeneutical process will squelch much of that to produce an honest interpretation of the passage.
  2. Cultural connections - The culture that we are most accustomed to can even be a stumbling block sometimes. For example, a person who has grown up in the Middle East may read the sections about polygamy much differently than their Western counterparts. I remember in college two young men in the cafeteria debating over this very issue, both from different cultural backgrounds. Duvall & Hayes give other examples of this in Grasping God's Word
  3. Social status - Jesus had a heart for the poor, and so should we. But we cannot interpret every single passage through that lens. Most of us struggle financially and can relate to many of the stories of the poor. However, we should not let that bias affect every interpretation of a given passage that we are studying. 
  4. Personal upbringing - This has a lot do to with the first bias. The way we were raised to think about certain issues will also affect what we pre-bring to the text. Were we raised in an environment where social action was at the front line? Did our parents thrust us into the ministry with them? How were "non-desirable" people to be treated? This and scores of other things will most certainly affect our hermeneutics.
This is not to say that we can never properly interpret a passage of Scripture. It is simply to remind us that as we begin the interpretive process we must be aware of our own prejudices, and consequently, do our best to thrust them aside as we study Scripture. 

Can this be done? With that question looming I would just like to close this post with a few statements that remind us that it most certainly can be done!

  1. Hermeneutics follows a set pattern of rules. We interpret every Scripture the exact same way. In other words, one would not use one particular hermeneutical process for the book of Genesis and then use a totally different approach to the Pauline epistles. This guards our own tendencies as stated above and gives accountability as we approach our own hot button issues in the Bible. 
  2. Rules are "added" depending upon the genre you are studying. I know, I know. I just stated that the entire process is always the same. And it is. Particular genres introduce different dynamics to the equation and while the process itself doesn't change a number of other variables come into play which must be accounted for. So, when you are studying the book of Genesis it helps to understand that it is an historical narrative verses studying the book of Revelation which is in the form of an Apocalyptical/Epistle (letter). I will talk more about genres further into this series. 
  3. Hermeneutics is process. Way too often we tend to jump straight to the interpretation of any given passage without fully going through the process. Understandably, time restraints often play into this. But for personal study we are really cheating ourselves by not following through on the entire process. Don't get too jumpy! It's going to be a long process but the pay-off will be well worth the travel. 
In our next post I will begin to lay out the process in steps. We will discuss the entire journey in a brief overview. From there on out we will pick a passage and actually begin to put some time in on the study of God's revelation to us. God bless, and keep coming back.

Steven 

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