Some Initial Thoughts on Hermeneutics

January 1, 2010


It would be great if Grant Osborne would read this blog because I would love to tell him how much I’m appreciating his work with this book.  This is my initial forray into this area and so far I’m finding it fascinating.  Mr. Osborne has a knack for describing complex things in a way that are clear and digestible.  I want to be careful not to say that his writing makes things easy to understand because that would be disrespectful of the thoroughness of his work and unfaithful to the true complexity of the matter at hand.

This being the first non-biblical book on the study list, my intention was to garner a few concepts and a holistic understanding of the place hermeneutics has in biblical interpretation.  So, naively, I began this book a few days ago.  Now, I’m only a little ways into it, but I’m finding a depth that I hadn’t anticipated.  Along with that, Grant Osborne is clearly a spiritually guided man who is not the least inclined to throw a grid over scripture to guide interpretation.  Take a look at this excerpt from the introduction:

The hermeneutical enterprise also has three levels.  I will discuss them from the standpoint of the personal pronoun that defines the thrust.  We begin with a third-person approach, asking “what it meant” (exegesis), then passing to a first-person approach, querying “what it means for me” (devotional), and finally taking a second-person approach, seeking “how to share with you what it means to me” (sermonic).  When we try only one and ignore the others, we end up with a false message.  Those who take only a third-person approach are seminary profs with their heads in the clouds, speaking to no one but their own kind.  Those who take only a first-person approach are subjective and living in a monastery, with God’s Word relative only for themselves.  Those who take only a second-person approach are also subjective but use the Bible as a club, always challenging everyone but themselves.  We must study Scripture with all three in the order presented, always seeking the passage’s meaning then applying it first to ourselves and then sharing it with others.

Prior to that last paragraph, Osborne described how hermeneutics is at once scientific, artful, and spiritual.  “Hermeneutics, when utilized to interpret scripture is a spiritual act, depending on the leading of the Holy Spirit.”  According to him, the artfulness can be found with the skill that the scientific techniques are applied.

Of course all of this begs how we go about the actual business of applying hermeneutical principles.  Well, I’m not going to cram a poor explanation of mine into a blog post when the expert, Mr. Osborne, take upwards of 500 pages (fine print).  Suffice to say, this book goes into how to turn the bible inside-out, upside-down, and back again all in the name of understanding the true meaning of scripture.  A further comment:

The Bible was not revealed via “the tongues of angels.”  Though inspired of God, it was written in human language and within human cultures.  By the very nature of language the Bible’s univocal truths are couched in analogical language, that is, the absolute truths of Scripture were encased in the human languages and cultures of the ancient Hebrews and Greeks, and we must understand those cultures in order to interpret the biblical texts properly.

In summary,…go get this book.



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