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Long For Truth: Outlining the Hermeneutical Process

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Outlining the Hermeneutical Process

One of the most influential books in my Christian life was Grasping God's Word. I became a Christian in April of 1997, and I desired to understand the Bible in greater depth. The only outlet I had at the time was church (not that that is bad). For first several years of my Christian walk I didn't really have any concept of personal study accept for what I could soak up from regular attendance at church and Christian radio. These were great sources of learning and comfort to my soul.

But life really begin to change for me in 2012 when a fellow brother in ministerial training handed me his copy of Grasping God's Word. By that time, I had been walking with the Lord for nearly 14 years. The pastor I was training under took me aside and began teaching me how to teach. I knew about context and application but almost everything else in between was foreign to me–at least until that book hit my hands!

 I had already read two other books about hermeneutics: Gordon Fee's, New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, and Walter Kaiser's Towards and Exegetical Theology. Both were excellent books and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to students of hermeneutics. However, they focused more on the exegetical process rather than the entire process of beginning-to-end hermeneutics.

But Grasping God's Word was different. It seemed to start with the assumption that the reader had no hermeneutical knowledge whatsoever. That was exactly what I needed! Sure, I could keep Scripture in context. Yes, I could point out some background information about the culture. I could even draw up an application of sorts for the congregation. But I was still lacking in that I was all over the place with the text without any real coherent sermon outline or points. 

In this post I will assume that you, the reader, is exactly as I was. The process I am using is straight from the book Grasping God's Word and is straightforward and easy. That's where we're going to start. So let's begin the hermeneutical process.

Like every other thing that is done hermeneutics has a process. That process includes steps which need to occur before moving on to the next step. In this post I will give the basic process with a brief explanation of each one. Be aware, though, that each step has their own steps, or sub-steps, if you prefer, that also must be followed. One of the greatest temptations of hermeneutics is to rush the process and "skip steps" so that the next step can be completed. As tedious as each step is it is important to go through the entire process of each step before continuing.

There are four basic steps to the hermeneutical process:

  • Grasping the text in their town - what did the text mean to the Biblical audience? 
  • Measuring the width of the river to cross - What are the difference between the Biblical audience and us?
  • Crossing the principlizing bridge - what is the theological principle in the this text?
  • Grasping the text in our town - how should individual Christians today apply the theological principle in their lives? 
That's it! Sounds simple, doesn't it? Actually, it really is. One of the dangers that the author's point to should be mentioned here, as well. That danger is the student's expectations. Hermeneutics is a slow, tedious, long, and hard process. The payoff isn't immediate, and many people become frustrated and quit because they desire to become Bible scholars in a matter of months.

Grasping the text in their town

Crossing the priniplized bridge

Grasping the text in our town

In the next several posts we will take each process and define it in narrower terms. As we continue this process I would encourage you to practice each step. I will be using the examples from this book. After all is said and done we will pick a chapter of the Bible and walk through the entire process of hermeneutics. Hopefully, this will give you the confidence to continue studying God's Word independently.

God bless you as you seek to honor Him by diligently meditating on His Word.


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