Friday, February 15, 2008

More About Hermeneutics: The Grammatico-Historical Method

So how does one go about all of this? I prefer the grammatico-historical method (also called the grammatical-historical method, depending on whom you ask) over a literal interpretation of text. This becomes more complicated, of course, when reading literature that has been translated or literature from an earlier version of our own language. (I recently worked through a Victorian text, and it takes quite a while to develop a feel for the different vernacular.) Every now and then, I also check the dictionary to assure that my understanding matches that which I believe the author means – just to be sure that I am not taking my own vernacular for granted and reading a different meaning into the text.

I was ready to shelve a book that I read a few months ago, but before doing so, I noted their very good review of the grammatico-historical method of investigation of any text. Before I retire this book to the shelf from the large pile that has accumulated beside my reading chair, I thought I would review this section and share it.

From pgs 241- 243 in Christianity and Neo-Liberalism: The Spiritual Crisis in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Beyond by Paul M. Elliott (The Trinity Foundation, 2005)

1.) Because Scripture alone is the inspired Word of God, every word having been authored by the Holy Spirit, Scripture is its only infallible and authoritative interpreter. [Blog host summary: No word of fallible man can stand in authority over the infallible Word. The Word of God is the only book that can interpret itself as it is the only divinely inspired and infallible document. Subjecting it to the interpretation of a small group of church leaders without the full counsel of all the information in Scripture leads to doctrinal error.]

2.) Scripture is intelligible. God meant to communicate truth to man through the words of the Bible, in a manner that man can understand. God communicated directly, not in an analogous or indirect fashion. From the reading of the Scripture and with the help of the Holy Spirit, man can discern the meaning of what God intended.

3.) Because it is the infallible Word of God, Scripture is internally consistent. God is consistent. With Him there are no contradictions or paradoxes. If we think we see paradox or inconsistency in Scripture, we are looking at God’s Word improperly.

4.) Because God meant to communicate truth, and because Scripture is internally consistent, the words Scripture have only one meaning in context. There may be multiple legitimate applications of a passage of Scripture, but a passage has only one meaning in context. This is what it means to interpret Scripture according to its literal, or normal, sense. [Blog host note: Some use the term “normative” in the discussion of this aspect.] Literal interpretation is not a “wooden” interpretation of words without regard to their surroundings. In literature of all kinds, the literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense; in other words, the meaning the writer actually expressed.

5.) We are to employ passages in Scripture that are more clear on a particular subject to interpret those that are less clear, never vice versa.

6.) We must always remember that the Bible we hold in our hands is a translation. It is important for ministers of the church to examine the words of Scripture in the original languages (Hebrew and Greek) and in their historical and cultural setting in order to accurately understand their meaning in context and to properly translate them into other language, thus accurately communicating God’s truth.

7.) Extra-Biblical resources, such as language helps, commentaries, the writings of the so-called church fathers, and archaeological and scientific evidences can be useful resources in correctly interpreting Scripture. But since they are the words and works of fallible men, they are not authoritative. These resources and evidences must never be place in a position of authority over Scripture itself, nor allowed to obscure the fact that God is the author of every word of the Bible. And, where Scripture and human scholarship come into conflict, our attitude must always be, “Let God’s truth be inviolate, though every man becomes thereby a liar” (Romans 3:20)