15 – What Are ‘Hermeneutics’?

There are “rules” and “guidelines” for understanding meanings, whether hidden or apparent, in any literature. Those rules are called “hermeneutics”. Hermeneutics are often referred to when interpreting the Bible. Being a collection of literature, the Bible, of course, requires hermeneutics in order to be understood properly.

One hermeneutic involves knowing genre; the Bible has many: history, genealogy, law, promises, prophecy, poetry, journalism, correspondence, and visions. The Gospels (Matthew–John) and Acts are forms of history, but mainly journalism. In that ancient time, journalism reported the “voice” of what people said; the concept of an “exact quote” neither existed nor was important at the time. Just the same, the purpose of journalism was to prove a point, the concept of “just the facts” didn’t exist much either; it was always “news and comment”, in its Greco style.

None of these genres in the Bible fit with the “lawyer” attitude of post-nineteenth century English. A connotation of “you know what I mean” could be footnoted to every sentence in the Bible, which twenty-first century Black American culture, generally, practices better than White.

Prophecy, whether in the Bible or not, can be “foretelling” the future or “forthtelling” a message; both are from God and have multiple layers of meaning and fulfillment. In foretelling, the foretold event will be fulfilled multiple times and will affect people’s thinking each time it happens. Both foretelling and forthtelling are easy to misunderstand and there is no way to fully interpret the meaning of a prophecy until after the event has happened or the audience has accepted and acted on the message.

Prophecy in the Bible is part of canon, prophecy outside of the Bible is “particular”, for specific audiences and times. Prophecy from God is vague, using plain language, while pagan prophecy often uses long, boring poetry.

One constant hermeneutic is progression. Chronologically, not “Biblically”, every word of the Bible expects the reader to know what happened previously. We learn more and more about and from God as the Bible’s timeline unfolds. So, the best way to understand the Bible is to know the whole Bible and use different parts of the Bible to help interpret each other, whether in foresight or retrospect.

Luke 24:13-35