Last week we finished exploring how the Word of God accomplishes the very purposes of God Himself. But sometimes the Word seems to take longer to accomplish its purposes than at other times. This is not due to any defect in the Bible itself, but results from our inexperience in handling Scripture properly. When we know how to properly interpret the Bible, the Scriptures impact our lives more quickly and more meaningfully. In order to help us learn some of the principles of proper biblical interpretation, we will base our studies this week on the audio series Knowing Scripture by Dr. R.C. Sproul.
All of the sciences have rules and methods that govern how that science operates properly. Biblical interpretation is no different; there are rules that we must follow in order to understand the Scriptures rightly. The science of interpreting the Bible is called “hermeneutics.”
One common approach in the field of hermeneutics is called the “existential method of interpretation.” In this approach, the text is viewed not as God’s Word in and of itself. Rather, it is only a vehicle that God uses to have a direct, immediate encounter with our souls. In the existential approach, what God says through the Bible is not always the same as what the text itself says. This approach results in a radical subjectivism that assumes the text can mean totally different things to different people.
We do indeed directly encounter God in the pages of Holy Writ, but that is because the words on its pages are the words of God Himself. Because God’s Word is true, there only can be one possible original meaning for each biblical text. This meaning will be the same for us as it was for the original audience thousands of years ago because truth does not change. Our differing settings may cause the precise application to be different, but never the text’s meaning. If we want to find the one, true meaning of the text, we must follow the “grammatico-historical method.” This hermeneutical approach investigates the original cultural setting of the text and focuses on grammar and syntax in order to understand what the author of the text meant when he wrote to his original audience. Only this method can give us the original meaning of the biblical text. Otherwise, we end up with a dangerous subjectivism that denies truth itself.
If we ignore the intent of the author, the Bible can mean whatever we want it to mean. Divisions in the church, cultic groups, radical subjectivism, and our own Scripture-twisting all attest to this. When studying the Bible, investigate Bible dictionaries and commentaries so that you may better understand the author and his audience.