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Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the art and science of Biblical interpretation. It's an important topic which never lessens its importance as you gain skill. Biblical interpretation is split into two parts: grammatical-historical ("GH") and redemptive-historical. Both are required to progress in Biblical studies. The former relates to the grammar in a text's historical context, the latter to a text in its redemptive context. Since the fall, the plan was the resurrection. Because of this we can see the shadow of the cross cast into the all the books from Genesis to Malachi. More concretely: while books have been written on the topic of the Jewish roots of the New Testament, redemptive-historical hermeneutics books focus on the Christian roots of the Old and New Testaments.

Redemptive-historical hermeneutics ("RH") is Reformed hermeneutics. As you can simplify Reformed Apologetics (aka presuppositional apologetics, covenantal apologetics) to "treating your theology as true when engaging in apologetics" (e.g. rely on the Holy Spirit just as you would in any other area of life), Reformed Hermeneutics can be simplified to "treating your theology as true when reading the entire Bible". You read the Bible through the lense of the Bible. In both the case of apologetics and of hermeneutics, Luke 24 is a perfect orienting text. Christ opened the eyes of his companions as is always how apologetics works, even to this day. Christ also demonstrated his story in the Hebrew scriptures, which is the root of RH: ...beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. History is His story.

To put RH into perspective, consider the alternative sometimes called the two-read view ("TRV"). In this model, you read through the Old Testament as if Christ weren't coming, then you read it again with Christ in mind. In other words, you read through the Old Testament denying the Son (cf. 1 John 2:23), then read it again without commit blasphemy, this time being faithful to Luke 24. This is not a Christian model.

Like most fields in Reformed theology, hermeneutics is symbiotic with other areas. Specifically, RH is inseparable from Reformed Biblical Theology: the history of special revelation. The preeminent author in this particular area is 20th century theologian Geerhardus Vos. Read these words from his book Biblical Theology:

The process of revelation is not only concomitant with history, but it becomes incarnate in history. The facts of history themselves acquire a revealing significance. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are examples of this. We must place act-revelation by the side of word-revelation. This applies, of course, to the great outstanding acts of redemption. In such cases redemption and revelation coincide. Two points, however, should be remembered in this connection: first, that these two-sided acts did not take place primarily for the purpose of revelation; their revelatory character is secondary; primarily they possess a purpose that transcends revelation, having a God-ward reference in their effect, and only in dependence on this a man-ward reference for instruction. In the second place, such act-revelations are never entirely left to speak for themselves; they are preceded and followed by word-revelation. The usual order is: first word, then the fact, then again the interpretative word. The Old Testament brings the predictive preparatory word, the Gospels record the redemptive-revelatory fact, the Epistles supply the subsequent, final interpretation.2

The study of the Bible is linked with the content of the Bible. You can't separate the words about the events from the reality of those event. An artificial separation which allows for non-Christian reads of any part of God's revelation is what leads to heretical ideas such as the concept of three "Abrahamic religions". In reality, two of those three are, by definition, religions of the antichrist. Unless you start with Christ, you, by definition, start with something else -- there's a word for placing your foundation on anything other than Christ: idolatry. In apologetics and in hermeneutics, there is no such thing as neutrality.

Because of the deeply symbiotic relationship between hermeneutics and Biblical Theology, the best hermeneutics books are books on the topic of Biblical Theology. How the story of Christ progressed is the point of both. Here we have two important terms: christocentrism and christotelism. Listen to Lane Tipton in No Uncertain Sound explain these:

For purposes of introduction, it is best to understand Christocentrism as the tenet that Christ is the central redemptive subject matter of the Old Testament, understood on its own terms, quite apart from the New Testament Scriptures. Christotelism is best understood to entail that Christ is the consummate telos of what the Old Testament Scriptures promise, namely, a crucified and resurrected Messiah. The christocentric and the christotelic require one another and mutually contextualize one another; the one does not exist apart from the other.3

Most published hermeneutics texts focus on the grammatical-historical ("GH") aspect. These are often little more than basic reading comprehension texts packages for Christian study groups: where's the main point?, what's the subject?, what is the meaning of this in the local context within the overall historical context based on the type in literature? Being able to accurately answer these questions is critical, not just for reading the Bible, but for reading a newspaper or reading work emails. Of course, GH does go beyond the basic ability to handle these and other forms of literature. A good GH text will help you understand how to apply Hebrew literary principles to the content of Proverbs and the Psalter. You need to be able to identify synonymous and antithetical parallelism as well as chiastic structures. You don't really stand a chance of understanding Biblical poetry without this ability. GH will also help you keep your guard up against exegetical fallacies (see the recommended source by that title).

RH places GH as a prerequisite, not as a building block, but as an aspect. GH guides your examination of a text in the local contexts, and RH will guide it in a more global one. Listen to Richard Gaffin:4

He continues:5

The relationship between GH and RH is not one of the first floor of a building and the second, but the relationship between the size and material of an object. GH and RH work together at all times. Stated more generally, the ability to identify content and the ability to understand content are inseparable. While reading your friend's text message or your co-workers email, you're constantly interpreting the overall language and the local idiolect in the context of both the timeframe of the message and the context of the recipient. The "thanks" in your co-workers email is likely a standard way to end and email, when your friend says "thanks" it could either be an expression of gratitude or a display of sarcasm, depending on context from other factors. Similarly, words from 1 Samuel must be read differently than words from Proverbs.

Furthermore, a reading of Genesis from a pagan6 perspective is a vastly different reading from a Christian perspective where Paul's Christ-focused commentaries provide canonical interpretation. One example should suffice. This example comes from what is probably the greatest footnote is all of theological literature. It's from Vos' The Pauline Eschatology1. In this footnote, Vos makes an observation which shatters a non-Christian understanding of Genesis, and sends countless works on the resurrection to the flames: When we read Genesis 1, we can quickly fly past the creation of man, and many books later when we read about Christ being raised from the dead, we might think of the resurrection as being in contrast to the death of Christ. This is a natural way to understand resurrection. However, Paul in 1 Cor 15:45 contrasts Genesis 2 with the resurrection. The point here this: Genesis 2 is pre-fall. Therefore, in a Christian reading of Genesis, the pre-fall life is sub-resurrection life, resurrection is not a return to life nor return to pre-fall life. The life which Adam had prior to sin is not our goal. Adam's life in the garden is placed into the same category as death when compared to the resurrection. The resurrection is not a return to biological life as with Lazarus, it's the ultimately (eschatological) transformation to superlife (cf. Ferguson7). We see here that we must read Genesis with Christ in mind.

When RH and GH are properly working in tandem, reflexive interpretation will be natural. That is, due to the relationship within the Bible, the whole journey of our lives is one of reading Christ-centered Scripture and reading Christ-centered Scripture through that previously read Christ-centered Scripture. Scriptura sacra sui ipsius interpres ("Scripture interprets Scripture"). This endless cycle identifies inconsistencies in our own thought, regularly invalidating previously established understandings. Every new illumination casts all previous understanding in that new light. The discovery of the doctrines of Grace causes a person to rethink the entire nature of God, sin, and the cross, to give just one example.

RH without GH is empty, GH without RH are blind.8

The following resources will guide you in both polishing your reading comprehension skills and guide you into a deeper understanding of interpreting the Bible using Christ as your ultimate hermeneutic.

Audio Reformed Forum Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutics Episodes

This episodes will give you a lay of the land and help you start mapping out which authors to read for starting your RH studies (David Murray, Nancy Guthrie, Lane Tipton, etc)

Book Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views (Richard Gaffin + others)

Richard Gaffin is the preeminent author on this topic of RH. He's the professor's professor. You want to zoom into the chapter by Richard Gaffin. He provides a good overview of RH and it's link to Biblical Theology. Gaffin can be advanced at times, but most people can handle advanced once the foundations are laid. Don't fear the advanced, prepare for it.

Book Biblical Theology (Geerhardus Vos)

Vos is the professor's professor's professor's professor. His early 20th century work was seminal is recalibrating our understanding of the history of redemption and revelation. You can easily test a Biblical Theology or RH book by searching for "Vos". If there's no hits, you can safely move on. Put another way, had Vos not lived into the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary, it's likely that the school would have been called Vos Theological Seminary.

You'll want to read and re-read this book.

You can get help understanding this book by carefully listening to the audio in the Reformed Forum Vos Group. This discussions started in 2013 and are on-going. The current method of organization is confusing since they don't seem to be updating the easy-to-read table anymore. Because of this, the table on this website combines, and aims to recreate the original easier to use format.

Video Book Knowing Scripture (R. C. Sproul)

In the realm of GH, this book and video series will remind you how to handle literature and teach you how to handle poetry. There's no book I've bought and gifted more than Knowing Scripture. I buy them wherever I see them in clearance. It's a classic.

Video Book Exegetical Fallacies (D.A. Carson)

This is quite possibly the most important book any Christian can work through. Something that should bother your ear is hearing the myth that agape inherent means one thing and phileo inherently means another. This comes from people endlessly quoting each other without anyone in the entire chain validating anything. This book will help you get around a lot of nonsense out there.

Book The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Grant Osborne)

With a layout setup of the various topics you need to grasp in reading literature, you can then go deeper. This book is much larger than the Sproul book, so this is not a place to start. You can use this book, specifically parts I and II, to dive into the various literary styles used in the Bible.