I love Paul’s reminder to Timothy (Second Timothy 2:16): “Avoid irreverent babble …” Those are good words, reminding us of the dangers of not-so-good words when it comes to our spiritual health. Especially in matters pertaining to God’s Word, you and I must never settle for junk food.
Those words of the Apostle Paul are right on the heels of his closely-connected admonition in the previous verse, with which you may be more familiar: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling (dividing) the word of truth.”
Today there is a widespread misconception about the Bible – a mistaken notion that you and I need to make sure to avoid – and that’s the idea that one passage of Scripture can have multiple meanings. So I think that I’ll begin a blog series about sound hermeneutics, if you’ll indulge me. If you’re unfamiliar with that word, “hermeneutics” is the process of interpreting the Bible. It includes all the rules, principles, theory, and methods of interpreting Holy Scripture.
An important dimension of the critical task of hermeneutics is what we call “exegesis.” Exegesis is the process by which we discover the original meaning of a text of Scripture. The original meaning of the text is fundamentally important for us because THAT is the true and only meaning of a passage of Scripture.
Here are some important questions that you may want to start asking as you begin your study of any portion of God’s Word:
- Who was the writer?
- To whom was the writer writing?
- What are the significant words in the passage?
- What are the significant grammatical constructions?
- What are the significant verb tenses?
- What is the cultural and historical context?
- How was the text interpreted by the author’s contemporaries?
- What was the writer’s intended meaning?
- Why was the writer saying what he said?
You see, friends, we have our work cut out for us! But this is also great fun, and incredibly spiritually energizing. Soul food. Yum!
While it is true that from one meaning of a particular Bible passage we may derive a number of relevant and personal applications, the true and only meaning of the text remains unchanged. And we can be certain that any “application” that conflicts with the text’s original meaning is erroneous. You and I are always seeking to learn the original meaning of the text as intended by the original author for the original hearers.
That’s an appetizer for now. Lord willing, there’ll be more good food to chew on soon …