BL - 14 Hermeneutics




                   Hermeneutics is the science of biblical interpretation.  This subject helps every student of the Bible to have right understanding as well as right application of the scripture.  It also helps us to determine the right teaching of the scripture.

                   However, we must know two essentials; namely basics of languages and God’s communication.  The knowledge of these essentials will help us to determine the message of God to humanity.

Basics of Languages

  Human language originated at creation.  God created man with mouth and tongue (Exo. 4 : 11), so that man could communicate with fellow beings.  However we are not told what was the language that Adam spoke.  We are sure that God spoke with Adam and Eve in a language that they could understand.  The language that Adam used was the first human language.

                   Language is the product of the mind.  In other words, Language expresses the thoughts of mind.  A word is an outward sign of inward thought.  Adam could express his thoughts to God in human language.  As well, God could reveal His will to Adam in human language.  Hence, we understand that God used human languages to reveal His will, His mind, and His message to men from the very beginning of human history (Example).

 God spoke in human language when Jesus took baptism. (Mt.3:17)

 Christ called the Father from the cross in human language (Lk.23: 46)

        Whenever God spoke to people, He spoke with them only in human language.  So also, angels spoke with people in human languages when they brought God’s message (Mt. 1 : 20, 21 ; 28 : 2-6 ; Acts. 1 : 10, 11).

God’s communication

  God reveals His Being in certain ways, such as creation, the Bible and Jesus Christ.  The creation declares the glory of God (Ps. 19 : 1-2).  God’s revelation through creation (nature) is called ‘General Revelation’.  God’s revelation through the Bible and Jesus Christ is called ‘Special Revelations’. Jesus Christ revealed God, so He is the Special revelation (Jn. 1 : 14, 18 ; 14 : 9).  The Bible is also a ‘Special Revelation’ because, it reveals and communicates God’s message to man (2 Tim. 3 : 16-17 ; Ps. 119 : 89 ; Mt. 5 : 18).  In this subject, we deal on the Bible by which God has specially communicated His message in human language to men.

                   God used three human languages to communicate and record His message to humanity.  Most part of Old Testament was written in Hebrew.  A few passages were written in Aramaic language.  The New Testament was written Greek.  Since God has communicated through human languages, the basic principles of languages will be applied in interpreting the scripture.

Qualifications of a Biblical Interpreter
 Spiritual Qualifications
  1.  An interpreter must be a born-again person.
  2. He must believe that the Bible is God’s word.
  3. He must accept the authority of scripture for faith and practice.
  4. He should depend on the Holy Spirit to know and to understand  God’s word (1 Cor. 2 : 9-14).
  5. He should be obedience to God and maturity in personal life. (1 Cor. 3 : 1-3 ; Heb. 5 : 11-14).
B.General Qualifications
  1.  He must have read the Bible systematically; beginning from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation (At least twice).
  2. He should have sound and balanced mind. (1 Tim. 3 : 2)
  3. He should not have any bias towards scripture (Especially denominational bias or denominational approach).

If an interpreter approaches the Bible with denominational mentality, he would fail to get the true message of God from the Bible.

C. Special Qualification

                   The knowledge of biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) is an added advantage for an interpreter.

Test of Good Interpretation
  1. The scripture must interpret the scripture as diamond cuts diamond. This rule is the golden rule for interpretation.
  2. Interpretation and its application must bring Glory to God, who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5 : 39).
  3. It should not focus on any denomination.
  4. There should not be any addition or subtraction to the scripture (Deut. 4 : 2 ; 12 : 32 ; Pro. 30 : 5, 6 ; Rev. 22 : 18-19).
The Need for Biblical Hermeneutics
  1. Hermeneutics helps us to ascertain God’s message.
  2. It is the foundation to form a correct theology based on the Bible.
  3. It is a must to have valid content in preaching.
  4. It helps us to have valid application to ethical living.

Systematic and regular study of God’s word is essential to form a proper hermeneutics.


  As we read the scripture we could notice some gaps between us (reader) and people of Bible times.  Such gaps must be bridged so that reader could understand and interpret the scripture well.  The gaps are historical gap, geographical gap, and linguistic gap.

  1. The Historical Gap

 The human history according to the Bible started approximately 6000 years ago.  It started with the creation of Adam.  Moses first recorded the creation and human history 3500 ago (1500 BC).  Hence, there is a gap between the writer and the modern readers.  Having the knowledge of the history of ancient world, especially history of Israel will help us to bridge the historical gap as well as to interpret the scripture in grammatical – historical interpretation.

(Example)  Egyptian history is important to know Israel’s history.  A knowledge of Assyrian Empire is essential to understanding the prophecy of Jonah and Nineveh.  The knowledge of Babylonian and Medo-Perian empires is necessary to understand other prophetical books, and the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.  As well, the Roman world background would help us in knowing the life of Jesus Christ and in understanding the missionary travels of Paul.  Moreover, the knowledge of Roman Empire is a must to understand the epistles of New Testament.

  1. The Cultural Gap

There is a gap between the people of Bible times and the modern society.  The ancient culture of Jews was completely different from our culture.  If we want to interpret the scripture meaningfully, we must first have the knowledge of culture of ancient people of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Persia, more especially the culture of the Jews.  Having the knowledge of ancient cultures will help us to know the real meaning of the scriptural passages.

(Ex.) The following passages can be interpreted correctly only, when we know the culture of the people of Bible times.

  • Baptism for the dead – 1 Cor. 15 : 29
  • Feet washing – Jn. 13
  • Holy kiss – 1 Thes. 5 : 26
  • Women’s head covering – 1 Cor. 11

So we should get good knowledge on ancient cultures.

Note : Some critics charge that the Bible is completely culture-bound; therefore it has practically no relevance for today.  This charge of critics is completely baseless and wrong.  We answer and refute for their charges as following:

                        Although the Bible was written in  a particular cultural background, the teachings of the Bible is applicable and acceptable beyond culture. Example

  • Health rules given in Old Testament are applicable even today and ever more (Lev. 15, 18 ; Deut. 23 : 9-14).
  • Moral laws are useful to all cultures for generations after generations (Ex. 20 : 13-17 ; Lev. 19 : 11).

There are many more useful teachings of the Bible, those are not culturally-bound, but useful to all cultures.  Hence we strongly believe that the Bible is relevant to all cultures and in all times.

Note : Dress codes are only applicable to the Jewish culture of Bible times.  But Bible teaching on morality is useful for all cultures.

                   By knowing the cultures of the Jews, we can bridge the cultural gap between the Jews and other cultures.  It will help us to apply the teachings of the Bible to every culture of the world.

  1. The Geographical Gap

      The events of the Bible happened in various nations of three continents (Asia, Europe, and Africa).  Having the knowledge of Geography of the Bible land is very much necessary to understand the scripture.  Geography includes land formation, (Land shape – plains, hills, mountains, deserts), Water formations (seas, lakes, rivers etc), climates and trade routes.

Example :  We must have the geography of Bible lands in order to understand the journey of Abraham, Exodus of Israel from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, Promised Land, Life of Jesus Christ, Paul’s missionary journey etc.

  1. The Linguistic Gap

  The Bible was written in three languages : Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.  The grammar and sentence structure of these languages are different from English (or) any language of other nations.

                   The word order, word usage, sentence formations, syntax, idioms etc.  are very much different.  So the modern translaters and interpreters must be careful enough in translating and interpreting the Bible respectively.

                   Bridging of the above gaps will help us to interpret the scripture meaningfully and correctly.


 The very important task of hermeneutics is to find out the meaning of a statement for the writer and for the first hearers and readers and thereupon to transmit that meaning to modern readers.

                   The meaning of scripture must be based on authorial intent.  We should be able to know what the author really meant when he wrote.  Hence, Good biblical interpretation conveys the same meaning today that the Bible authors intended when they wrote.



                   Hermeneutics is divided into two divisions; namely General Hermeneutics and Special Hermeneutics.

A.      General Hermeneutics

  It refers to the rules which pertain to the interpretation of the entire Bible.  Hence general Hermeneutics includes

  1. Context of the verse or text.
  2. Language : Lexical, syntactical matters and word usage.
  • History
  1. Culture
  2. Theology
B.      Special Hermeneutics

  Special Hermeneutics deals with the rules and principles that apply to Special literary forms.  Special Hermeneutics is used to interpret the following:

  1. Parables
  2. Allegories
  • Types
  1. Poetry
  2. Prophecy
  3. Epistle
  • Proverb
  • Narrative

   As we have known, general hermeneutics deals with the interpretation of entire Bible.

A.   Context of a verse

The literary context is meant in interpretation.  The context of the Bible verse is necessary to examine author’s line of thought.  When we deal with context, we must first recognize the book context and the purpose of writing the book.  Other two aspects of context are Section context and Immediate context.

After knowing the context of the book, we must determine the Section context.  Section Context generally deals with the particular teaching passage or message of the book.  So when we interpret a text, we should carefully notice, what message or teaching is conveyed in that particular passage of the text given.  If we neglect the context of the text given, we may fail to interpret the text properly.  Hence, we should never interpret the text taken out of its context.  Usually these section context is known through the outline of the book.


 Simple outline of Romans – (Each Section in this outline is a message or teaching passage.)

          1 : 1-3 : 20            –        Condemnation

          3 : 21 – 8 : 39       –        Salvation

          9 – 11                   –        God’s dealing with Israel

          12 – 16                 –        Christian practical Life.

          As section context deals with particular message or teaching passage, the Immediate Context deals with immediate clauses and phrases of the text i.e. the nearby words (or) verses.  (Example) when we interpret Rom. 3 : 24, we should study its immediate context i.e. Rom. 3 : 21-23 and 3 : 25-26.  Then only we can get the right message of Rom. 3 : 24.

          After interpreting the text, we must compare it with parallel passages, which have the same message or related message.

Ex.    Mathew 24 : 40, 41 and Luke 17 : 36,37 are real parallel passages.

  1. Language and Grammar of the text / verse

   Language and grammar is very much important in hermeneutics.  Having the knowledge of biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) will help the interpreter to determine the intent of author, when he wrote.

Note :  If the interpreter does not know biblical languages, he should be well versed in English or his own language which he uses.  This will help him to a certain extent to interpret properly.

                   Knowledge of biblical Greek and Hebrew will help to know and reject wrong translation.  (Ex.) Jehovah witness has a perverted translation in English.

  1. Historical – Cultural background

   Culture of people includes what they think, believe, say, do etc. during a historical period.  Culture can be divided into various categories such as  political, religious, economic, legal, agricultural, architectural, clothing, domestic, geographical, military and social.

      There are many cultures in the world.  None is perfect in itself.  Every culture has its own strength and weakness.  However the Jewish culture is distinguished from others, because  God used many Jews who lived in Jewish culture to reveal His message.  Hence it is good to know about ancient cultures, especially the Jewish culture which will help us to understand many biblical passages.

  1. Theology (The Analogy of Faith)

   There is a perfect harmony in the teaching of the Bible.  It means that the Holy Bible has one network of truth that is non-contradictory.  It is called the analogy of faith.

                   The scripture of the Bible interprets itself.  The Holy Spirit is the divine author of scripture.  The scripture interprets scripture.  Hence when we interpret, the interpretation of the passage must be in harmony with the rest of scriptural teaching.  As diamond cuts diamond, scripture must interpret scripture.  This is the golden principle of general interpretation of the Bible.

                   If we use anything other than scripture to interpret scripture, we may fail to interpret scripture properly.  (Ex.)  We should not use human philosophy and human reasons to interpret scripture.  This will result in false theology.

Note :  Obscure texts must be interpreted in light of the plain, clear, and positive texts.  Then we will not find any contradiction in the teaching of the Bible.


  1. Hermeneutical Principle for Parable

  Parable  is an extended simile in the form of story.  Jesus told many parables during his earthly ministry.  His parables are related to the Kingdom of heaven, probably referring to Millennial kingdom.

Ex. Mathew 13 : 24, 31, 44, 45, 47 – “The kingdom of heaven is like .. . . . “

     Every parable has a main idea or central teaching.  So our interpretation and application must focus on the central teaching of the parable.

Ex. Mt. 13 : 1-9 –          Parable of the sower has its main idea on “Preaching of the word”.

       Mt. 13 : 24-30 – Parable of the Tares has its main idea on “Counterfeit believers”.         

  1. Hermeneutical Principles for Allegories

 An Allegory is an extended metaphor in which the story and its application generally intermingle.

Ex :   Is. 5 : 1-6 – Vine and Vineyard

          Jn. 15 : 1-10 – Vine and its branches

          Eph. 6 : 11-17 – Christian armor

                   The historical setting when the allegory was told and the literary context of it must be studied before interpreting the allegory.

Ex.    Is. 5 : 1-6 was told in the historical setting of failure of nation Israel.

                   After studying the historical setting, we should find the points of comparison.

Ex.    Jn. 15 : 1- 10

          The vine            = Jesus Christ

          The Vinedresser=  God, the Father    

          The branches     =  Disciples (Believers)

  1. Hermeneutical Principles for Type and Symbol
  • Type

A type refers to a historical person, event, or thing in Old Testament that anticipates and foreshadows a future fulfillment through a person,  event, or thing in New Testament.

          Example     –        O.T.  (Type)  –     N.T. (Anti type fulfilled)

          Person         –        Jonah             –     Jesus Christ – Mt. 12 : 40

          Action         –        Brazen Serpent-    Jesus Christ – Jn. 3 : 14-15

          Office                   –        High Priest      –    Jesus Christ – Heb.4:14 ; 9:12

Old Testament writers were probably unaware that they recorded a type.  But God intended so.  Hence, the New Testament writers found and established the fulfillment of type in NT.


          Rom. 5 : 14 – Adam is a type of Christ in headship.

Note :  All types will have a fulfillment in the New Testament; i.e. – a correspondence between type and antitype.

  1. Symbol


A symbol is a literal object or an action which illustrates a spiritual meaning or teaching.

          Ex.    Ezek. 37 : 1-14 – The valley of dry bones.

In order to understand and interpret a symbol, we must first know the historical setting, in which that symbol was given.


Ex.    Ezek. 37 : 1-14 – The historical context deals with Israel’s captivity in Babylon.  Hence this symbol teaches or explains of Israel’s regeneration and regathering in the promised land.

  1. Hermeneutical principle for Interpreting Proverb


                   Proverb is a short saying in which a moral teaching or wise counsel is expressed.  Hence proverbs express a practical truth in short memorable form.

Ex.    Book of Proverbs.

                   Proverbs will have figurative speech involved, such as simile, personification etc.

Ex.    Pro. 8 : 1-30 ; 9 : 1 – Wisdom is personified.

                   When we interpret a proverb, we should know its context (What subject or theme is dealt in that text and its parallelism (Similar proverb or idea within the proverb itself.).

  1. Hermeneutical Principles for Narratives


                   The Bible has more narrative than any other literature types.  More than 40% of Old Testament is narrative.  Some prophetical books also have narrative approach.

                   We should note the following points while interpreting the narratives.

  • What did the author intent to record in actual words?
  • What did the narrative mean to the original audience?
  • Why was it so recorded?
  • What application (or) practical lesson do we get today?

While considering these points, we should also take notice of its historical background, cultural setting etc.

Ex.    1 Sam. 17  – David and Goliath.

  1. Hermeneutical Principles for Prophecy


Prophecy :  It is the recorded sayings of prophets who predicted and recorded what God revealed to them in the history.

          Key things to follow while interpreting Prophecy:


  1. We must follow the normal or plain sense meaning of a passage.
    1. 10 : 32 – Jew, Gentile, the church are different entities.
  1. We must understand the historical – cultural milieu (environment).

Haggai – 2 : 6ff – Rebuilding of Temple by Zerubbabel gives rise to the prophecies of the Millennial Temple by Haggai.

  1. We must discern any figures of Speech.

Isa. 35 : 1 – Desert blossoming as the rose.  (“as” is the simile here )

  1. We must note literary context

The literary context will usually indicate if the fulfillment will be in the eschaton or in the near future from the perspective of the author.

Expressions such as “Day of the Lord”, “in that day”, “the latter days”, “the times of the end” etc.

Ex:         Dan. 11 : 1-35 fulfilled in inter – testament history.

Note : Prophecies have only one fulfillment normally.  But there may be more like applications (fulfillment like = as if fulfillment) in some cases.




                   The following tools will certainly help the interpreter to have a right understanding of scripture.  So that he can interpret and apply it properly.

  1. Bible Atlases : They will help us to understand geography, climate etc.

Suggested Atlas :


The NIV Atlas of the Bible.

The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands

  1. Bible Concordances : They will help us to get the reference verses easily.

Suggested – Strong concordance


  1. Bible Histories and Backgrounds : They will help us to know about the historical setting in which particular passage was written.

Suggested Books (For Old Testament)


  • Kingdom of Priests, Eugene Merril (Baker, 1987)
  • The Biblical World, ed. Charles Pfeiffer (Baker, 1966).

Suggested Books (For New Testament)


  • Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Everett Ferguson (Eerdmans, 1987)
  • Harper’s World of the New Testament, ed. E. Yamanchi (Harper & Row, 1981).
  1. Bible Dictionaries : They will help to get the basic information of words and names.

Suggested Books


  • The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas (Eerdmans, 1970)
  • The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, ed. R.K. Harrison (Moody, 1988).
  1. Bible Encyclopedias : They will help us to get a good summary over many topics.


Suggested :


  • The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
  • Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.
  1. Bible Commentaries : They will help us on historical context, answers for questions on the passage, by solving different passages.

Suggested :


Bible Knowledge Commentary

Matthew Henry Commentary

  1. Good Bible Translations : They will help us to get the right rendering to text.


Suggested :


     King James Version (KJV)

     New King James Version (NKJV)

     New International Version (NIV)

     New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Note :  ‘Jehovah witness’ has published a perverted version of English Bible.  It has to be avoided while interpreting a text.


  1. Language Tools :   Language tools will help us to get the meaning of text   in original languages (Hebrew & Greek).

Note :  CALS teaches Hebrew and Greek for Regular students.  Students who study through Distance Education can attend special seminars on languages, whenever such seminars are held in selected centers.





  1. Allegerical Method


                   It attempts to mystify every thing in the Bible.

Eg.    Sarah for true wisdom and Hagar for pagan thought.  This method may result in wrong theology.

  1. Literal Interpretation Method


This  interpretation gives plain meaning to the text.  Based on plain or normal meaning of scripture, it gives application to the present day readers or listener of the Bible.

Eg. “Jesus comes.”  This statement simply means Jesus will come.  So this method will be useful for the right theology.

The Role of the Holy Spirit in Hermeneutics


                   Although we apply all these Hermeneutical principles for interpretation of the Bible, the role of the Holy Spirit is very important.  Unless the Holy Spirit illuminates a person, he can not understand scripture (1 Cor. 2 : 9-14).

                   As the Holy Spirit illuminates a person, He also helps him to understand scripture (1 Jn. 2 : 20,27).  This is called inner teaching ministry of Holy Spirit.  However, He uses Pastors and teachers to teach the scripture to fellow believers (Eph. 4 : 13).


Useful Resource Book : Biblical Hermeneutics – DBTS.



  1. What are the spiritual qualifications of Interpreter?
  2. What are the general qualifications of Interpreter?
  3. What are the tests of good interpretation?
  4. What is the task of Hermeneutics?
  5. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in Hermeneutics?


Note :         Write the answers and send them to CALS.

                   Write your Register Number in your answer sheet