The Word of God is a gift to God’s people, but mastering its content does not always come automatically. While the Spirit of God is also given to us to help us receive God’s truth, there are still practical things we can do to ensure we properly understand the Bible.
Hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation, has to do with helping us understand God’s Word rightly and accurately. The Bible itself gives us examples of those seeing the need for proper interpretation and understanding of Scripture. Here are just two examples.
-Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30-31)
-And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
The Greek word hermeneia, which means explanation or interpretation, occurs in various places in the New Testament. The verb form is used, for example, in John 9:7: “‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means Sent).” Here we have a case of a gospel writer engaging in interpretation himself, explaining to the readers what a particular word means.
There are a number of basic principles of interpretation which we should all be aware of, such as:
-always consider the context;
-discover the purpose of the author;
-understand the words being used;
-be aware of the historical and cultural background;
-recognise figures of speech and various genres, and so on.
A number of good books exist which explain these basic Bible study and interpretation principles. All believers should have at least one or two good books on biblical hermeneutics. Many worthwhile volumes can be mentioned, so here is a list of some relatively recent volumes:
Alter, Robert, The Art of Biblical Narrative. Basic Books, 1981.
Alter, Robert, The Art of Biblical Poetry. Basic Books, 1985.
Beale, Greg, ed., The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New. Baker, 1994.
Berkhof, Louis, Principles of Biblical Interpretation. Baker, 1950.
Blomberg, Craig, Interpreting the Parables. IVP, 1989.
Brauch, Manfred, Abusing Scripture: The Consequences of Misreading the Bible. IVP, 2009.
Bray, Gerald, Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present. IVP, 1996.
Brown, Jeannine, Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics. Baker, 2007.
Carson, D.A., Exegetical Fallacies. Baker, 1984.
Carson, D.A., and John Woodbridge, eds., Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon. IVP, 1986.
Corley, Bruce, Steve Lemke and Grant Lovejoy, Biblical Hermeneutics, 2nd ed. Broadman and Holman, 2002.
Davis, Ellen and Richard Hays, eds., The Art of Reading Scripture. Eerdmans, 2003.
Doriani, Daniel, Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible. Presbyterian & Reformed, 1996.
Duvall, J. Scott and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 2nd ed. Zondervan, 2001, 2005.
Erickson, Millard, Evangelical Interpretation: Perspectives on Hermeneutical Issues. Baker, 1993.
Erickson, Richard, A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Exegesis. IVP, 2005.
Fee, Gordon, Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics. Hendrickson, 1991.
Fee, Gordon, New Testament Exegesis. Westminster, 1983, 2002.
Fee, Gordon and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, 3rd ed. Zondervan, 1982, 2003.
Firth, David and Jamie Grant, eds., Words and the Word. IVP, 2009.
Goldsworthy, Graeme, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. IVP, 2007, 2010.
Gorman, Michael, Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers. Baker, 2001, 2008.
Green, Joel, ed., Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation. Eerdmans, 1995.
Hartill, J. Edwin, Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics. Zondervan, 1947.
Hughes, P.E., Interpreting Prophecy. Eerdmans, 1976.
Kaiser, Walter, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New. Moody, 1985.
Kaiser, Walter, Toward an Exegetical Theology. Baker, 1981.
Kaiser, Walter and Moises Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics. Zondervan, 1994, 2007.
Klien, William, Craig Blomberg and Robert Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Word, 1993, 2004.
Lundin, Roger, ed., Disciplining Hermeneutics: Interpretation in Christian Perspective. Eerdmans, 1997.
McKnight, Scot, ed., Introducing New Testament Interpretation. Baker, 1989.
Maier, Gerhard, Biblical Hermeneutics. Baker, 1994.
Marshall, I. Howard, ed., New Testament Interpretation. Eerdmans, 1977.
McCartney, Dan and Charles Clayton, Let the Reader Understand: A Guide to Interpreting and Applying the Bible. Victor Books, 1994.
Mickelsen, A. Berkeley, Interpreting the Bible. Eerdmans, 1963.
Mickelsen, A. Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, Understanding Scripture. Hendrickson, 1982, 1992.
Osborne, Grant, The Hermeneutical Spiral. IVP, 1991, 2006.
Plummer, Robert, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible. Kregel, 2010.
Ramm, Bernard, Protestant Biblical Interpretation. Baker, 1970.
Ramm, Bernard, et. al., Hermeneutics. Baker, 1971.
Sandy, D. and R. Giese, eds., Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting the Literary Genres of the Old Testament. Broadman and Holman, 1995.
Scalise, Charles, From Scripture to Theology. IVP, 1996.
Schreiner, Thomas, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles. Baker, 1990.
Silva, Moises, Biblical Words and Their Meaning. Zondervan, 1983.
Sire, James, Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible. IVP, 1980.
Smith, James, The Fall of Interpretation. IVP, 2000.
Stein, Robert, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible. Baker, 1994.
Sterrett, T. Norton, How to Understand Your Bible. IVP, 1973.
Stuart, Douglas, Old Testament Exegesis. Westminster, 1980.
Tate, W. Randolph, Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach, 3rd ed. Baker, 1991, 2008.
Thiselton, Anthony C., Hermeneutics: An Introduction. Eerdmans, 2009.
Thiselton, Anthony C., Hermeneutics of Doctrine. Eerdmans, 2007.
Thiselton, Anthony C., New Horizons in Hermeneutics. Zondervan, 1992.
Thiselton, Anthony C., The Two Horizons. Eerdmans, 1980.
Vanhoozer, Kevin, Is There Meaning in This Text? Zondervan, 1998.
Vanhoozer, Kevin, et. al., eds., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Baker, 2005.
Virkler, Henry, Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation. Baker, 1981.
Voelz, James, What Does it Mean?: Principles of Biblical Interpretation in the Post-Modern World, 2nd ed. Concordia Publishing House, 1995, 1997.
Zimmermann, Jens, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics. Baker, 2004.
Zuck, Roy, ed., Rightly Divided: Readings in Biblical Hermeneutics. Kregal, 1996.
With so many titles to choose from – 60 in all – perhaps it would be in order for me to highlight a few volumes. The work by Fee and Stuart really has become a modern classic, and is quite valuable indeed. Other ‘standard’ works include those by Kaiser and Silva, Vanhoozer, and Thiselton. The new volume by Plummer is also quite useful.
So happy reading (and interpreting).