Why Do We Teach Hermeneutics to Our Students?
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (Timothy 3:16)
With more than 60 books and letters written by tens of authors over a span of more than 1,500 years, the Bible is the book through which God has revealed Himself to us.
In broad terms, the Bible is divided into two main parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament refers to scripture written from Creation until around 400 B.C. and was written in Hebrew. It explains how sin entered the world, the history of God’s people (the Israelites), and God’s plan to send a future Messiah to heal mankind’s relationship with their Creator. The New Testament refers to the events following the birth of Jesus and was primarily written in Greek. In addition to describing the life and teachings of Jesus, it details the birth of Christianity, the work of the disciples, and God’s plans for the future.
The New Testament is seen as a continuation of the Old Testament, with Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible is the inspired word of God penned by human hands. In Peter’s words, “[f]or prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (Peter 1:21).
What’s in the Bible?
The Bible is the primary way in which God has chosen to communicate with humans and to instruct them of His plans for mankind.
The Old Testament begins with the five books (Pentateuch) of the Torah which cover the creation of mankind, the calling and formation of the Jewish nation, and God’s covenant with them.
Next are books of History telling the story of the Israelites through their exile to Babylon and return to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
These are followed by books of Poetry and Wisdom and finally books of Prophecy about the future of the Hebrew people and the coming of the Messiah.
The New Testament begins with the four Gospels written by the evangelists Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John.
It also includes the Acts of Apostles, which describe how Christianity spread following the resurrection of Jesus and Pentecost. They also cover Paul’s journeys to spread the teaching of Christianity throughout the ancient world and the Mediterranean.
Finally, the New Testament includes the Epistles, letters written by Paul and the disciples during their travels, when they were teaching the word of Christ.
Christians believe that the Bible is the holy, inerrant word of God. As such, it is final, exhaustive, and recognized as the source of truth.
Why outline a description of the Bible? Because Hermeneutics is the class that teaches students to study and interpret the Bible. Hermeneutics helps students discover the original intent of the biblical authors and determine context as they seek to understand scripture.
What is Hermeneutics?
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
Hermeneutics comes from the Greek word ερμηνεία (‘hermeneia’), which means to interpret. The term refers to the study of the Bible and the quest to discover the truth and values described in scripture.
Hermeneutics is the process of deciphering the meaning of the Bible and how scripture applies to our faith and our worldview.
Since the Bible was written over the course of centuries by different authors and in three different languages, the area of Hermeneutics is immense and includes academic work related to the study of the Bible.
How Do We Study Hermeneutics?
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” (John 5:39)
Absolute truth has been given to us by God and written down in the Bible. It is simply this: Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life”. (John 14:6)
With the Bible being written over thousands of years, and in different cultures, how can someone today understand it correctly? The Bible needs to be interpreted through the eyes of the authors and the readers for whom it was originally written, so that we can understand the intended meaning in a way that makes sense for us today. This allows us to better understand what the Bible means, God’s purpose for us, and how we should live our lives according to His will.
Through the centuries, several hermeneutical methodologies have been proposed.
One common approach argues that there are three ways to understand the Bible, each complementing the others:
- The literal interpretation helps us read the words and understand them at face value. It requires us to read the sentences without reading between the lines, interpreting them instead in the most literal way possible.
- Literal interpretation can be supported by contextual interpretation. Cultural context helps us understand how words that were said or written thousands of years ago reflected their era, culture, times, and the people who communicated them.
- Contextual interpretation is completed with an interpretation that takes into consideration how the passage in question fits in with the rest of the Bible, always through the perspective of Jesus’ teachings as Messiah.
Another popular methodology, building on Origen’s hermeneutical principles, argues in favor of three different types of Hermeneutics:
- As above, the literal interpretation interprets biblical texts exactly.
- The second type of biblical hermeneutics is moral interpretation, which seeks to identify the ethical lessons that may be drawn from the Bible.
- Allegorical interpretation interprets the biblical narratives as having an allegorical meaning along with the literal one. For example, Noah’s ark symbolizes the Christian church that saves the faithful from life’s tribulations.
All together, these methodologies provide a comprehensive interpretation of the word of God. We teach our students about all styles of hermeneutics so that they can understand that reading the Bible intelligently is essential to the growing life of a Christian.
Why Do We Study Hermeneutics in Our School?
“Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent and empty speech and contradictions from what is falsely called knowledge.” (Timothy 6:20)
We study Hermeneutics because we believe that a Christian life is impossible without the study of the Bible. Our students must be confident in their understanding of the Bible. By developing their independent comprehension of the most important text in their lives, students will be able to lead a life that follows Christ’s example.
Students’ in middle and high school are determining the foundation upon which they will build their lives. The wise and discerning study of the Bible can help them establish their lives on an accurate understanding of God’s word. How could they lead a Christ-filled and meaningful life if they don’t know God’s instructions for Christian living and His will for their lives?
Hermeneutics helps Christians draw direct lessons from the Bible and apply these to their daily lives. In Hermeneutics class, our students are equipped to draw on God’s truth and lead a fulfilling Christian life. Once our school has taught them how to study and interpret scripture, the Bible can be their compass, helping them navigate life.
Discover more about classical Christian education at Providence Classical School on the PCS blog.