Understanding the author's intended meaning of the bible.
The Literal, Grammatical-Historical…What?
I remember the first time I heard the word “hermeneutics”. My wife and I were visiting The Master’s Seminary during one of their preview weekends, and during our visit we attended the Tuesday morning chapel where Dr. Abner Chou spoke on the topic of “Hermeneutics of Christ-centered Preaching”. Not knowing what the word “hermeneutics” actually meant, we both googled it and found that it deals with the interpretation of the Bible. What I still didn’t realize at the time was there are a vast number of differing hermeneutical models to choose from.
Before I ever walked onto a seminary campus, I had always been taught to interpret the Bible literally, and the necessity of understanding the author's intended meaning. I consider the ultimate author of all Scripture to be God, though He used many different men – all inspired by the Holy Spirit – to write down what He intended for them to write (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). Of course, this leads to my belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, that is, it is without contradiction and without error. It also leads to my belief that a Bible passage’s true meaning is determined by its author (God), and not by its readers (us). Needless to say, I have always been a little fearful of ‘getting it wrong’, so I pray and work hard to understand Scripture in light of what God intended to communicate, and what He intended for us to understand.
With that being said, with the clear understanding that God has revealed Himself and His will for us through “written words”, the obvious question becomes, “What did God intend when inspiring the Bible’s writers to write Scripture?” Not only this, how would Scripture’s first readers, given the time period in which they lived, have interpreted the message? Better yet, how would they have applied these messages, and how would they have explained the messages to other people?
These are not arbitrary or inconsequential questions. They should lay the foundation for the proper interpretational model we use today. Otherwise, we end up with a multiplicity of divergent interpretations. Sadly, too many people overlook these obvious considerations when deciding upon the principles they use when deciphering God’s Word.
At Grace Community Bible Church we believe – and I strongly teach – what is known as “The Literal, Grammatical-Historical Method (or hermeneutic) for interpreting Scripture”.
What this means in simple terms is:
While we do not deny that Scripture is replete with metaphors and symbolic language, we hold that any such metaphors and symbolic language is communicating a singular, absolute truth. And unless the language is obviously metaphoric or symbolic, then all other words should be interpreted “literally” as one would interpret any other piece of historical literature.
We hold that Scripture can only be interpreted rightly when using the proper grammatical constructs of language.
We hold that Scripture should be interpreted in the context of what the ultimate author (God) intended to say, and how the original audience would have understood what He said. In other words, we should use what the definitions of Scripture’s words were when God first inspired them, and when the original audience first read them. Imposing modern-day or cultural definitions on these words may lead us down very wrong paths in our pursuit of Biblical truth.
The implications of using this method to interpret Scripture becomes very noticeable very fast when comparing it with other models. For one thing, the Literal, Grammatical-Historical method eliminates nearly all of the “subjectivity” all other interpretational methods necessitate. For another, it makes none other than God Himself the final authority of His Word, therefore, eliminating nearly all of the “subjectivity”.
In closing, God communicates to us through His written Word, and it is our responsibility to rightly interpret it. Therefore, we must hold to this hermeneutical method as it elevates the Scriptures both front and center. By doing this, the one interpreting the text can have certainty they are being obedient to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed as they accurately handle His Word with confidence (2 Timothy 2:15).