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Biblical Hermeneutics - Part 3

Instead of being passive consumers of Biblical commentary, we can participate in the forming of a very particular, but no less authentic, commentary of our own. The only thing that should happen between text and commentary is exegesis, not homiletics. In other words, we should not become reliant on them. Continued dependence on commentaries will handicap or hinder the development of exegetical skills needed to do independent pre-commentary study. This is why it is probably safest to consult more than one commentary and to consult it at the end of the exegetical process and not the beginning.

Biblical studies is never truly complete until we have attempted to reflect in a careful and systematic way upon what we have learned, and in reflecting, make creative and responsible applications to the situation of the church universal today.

Proper hermeneutics then, play a vital role in the evolution of good homiletics. It not only provides the rule whereby an understanding of the text's original context can be obtained, but it permits the context to be trans-culturally applied to modern times.

Sanders' sermons are good examples of sermons prepared in context and reflect skillful exegesis. He utilized the information he learned in study in very thought-provoking, challenging, and creative way. I believe he was successful in bringing the original context to contemporary times and make the truth pertinent to it. I was most impressed and affected by the sermon, "In the Same Night?" (the sermon can be read in it's entirety here:

The Old Testament narratives are not stories about ancient people who lived in ancient times. Neither are they allegories inundated with hidden meanings. Rather, narratives are stories which teach indirectly and have the intent of making only one major point though many may be derived from them.

Considered to be "genre within genre," the parables history of interpretation goes back to Jesus, the master Teacher, who extensive use of them betrays the fact that they were one of His favorite teaching tools. Parables come in many forms including true stories, similitude, metaphors (and similes) and epigrams. They function in a manner similar to a joke in that they seek to elicit a response.

The goal of parabolic interpretation is to "catch what the original hearers caught" To accomplish this, we must interpret to determine exactly what the original hearers received and how they responded to it. Having done this, we must decide how to go about reformulating the material in such a way that our present audience can be the recipients of what the original audience obtained.

The exegetical interpretative process begins by locating the reference points and proceeds to identify the audience. Since parables are used to clarify and emphasize a central truth that was being discussed in a particular historical situation, a thorough examination of the parable in its immediate context is also necessary for understanding its meaning.

In general, before interpretation of prophecy, epistles, apocalyptic literature and other unique literary forms can begin; several theoretical, theological and practical issues must be confronted. The basic question we must ask ourselves is whether the literature under consideration can be interpreted using the same hermeneutical principles that apply to other genres, or whether some special hermeneutical method is required.

Bottom Line
One cannot hope to understand and properly interpret Scripture without the benefit of good hermeneutical and exegetical skills. Hermeneutics is necessary because it closes many of the historical, linguistic, cultural, philosophical and theological gaps that otherwise hinder accuracy in Biblical understanding.

Exegesis is a discipline which teaches us to defer judgment until sufficient data have been collected. It teaches us to treat text with great care and respect.

Thus, our approach to Scripture is with an ear attuned and a mind open to what the text has to say before leaping in with a response. We recognize the need for approaching Scripture contextually; to probe for, collect, sort, discern, and weigh evidence. Perhaps most important of all, we measure what we have learned from our own faith tradition against the realities of our Biblical learning experience; to subject ourselves to the objective authority of the text before we attempt the mastery of it either as sermon, manuscript, teaching or discussion material.

Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, will be available soon.

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