March 21, 2008 : Rory Tyer
Grasping God's Word, by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, sets out to provide clear answers to hermeneutical questions. Written for a lay audience, the authors provide a step-by-step introduction to hermeneutics, the art and science of biblical interpretation, working from the ground up and providing numerous, concrete examples to help the reader learn how to apply important truths. Their methodology consists of a simple, four-step process that relies on profound and important truths about the nature of Scripture and the responsibility of the reader to discover the author's (and the Author's) intended meaning rather than reading our own meaning back into the text:
1. Grasp the text in their town. In other words, figure out what these verses meant to the original audience. (A text can't mean what it didn't mean to the original audience!) This includes considerations of grammar, socio-historical context, language, and other factors. We need to discover what it meant to them before determining what it means to us.
2. Measure the width of the river to cross. What kinds of differences separate us from the original audience? How is our culture different? In what situations where the readers and the author? If we're studying an Old Testament text, does the fact that we're under the New Covenant change anything about the way we should understand the verse?
3. Cross the principlizing bridge. After determining the meaning of the text to the original audience, and determining what separates us from that audience, we must form a theological principle from the text that isn't tied into a specific culture or situation. Examples would be: God helps those who believe in Him when they are going through times of persecution for their faith, or, God can enable believers in Him to be content and faithful whether they are living in poverty or whether they have much.
4. Grasp the text in our town. This is the final step. After having understood the meaning of the text to the original audience, determining the differences that separate us from the original audience, and formulating a timeless theological principle, we are now ready to apply that principle to a present-day situation.
I am going to use Philippians 4:13 as an example. I don't have the space to run it through all of these steps here, but Philippians 4:13 is one of the most frequently abused passages of Scripture I know of. When Paul wrote Philippians, he was in prison - see chapter 1, vs.12-14 - and, in the verses directly before 4:13, he reflects on the fact that he has learned to be content in whatever the circumstances, whether having need or having plenty. Paul's saying that he can do everything through Christ who strengthens him probably has to do with staying faithful in one's walk with Jesus in the face of unrelenting and brutal persecution. We are often tempted to apply this verse a certain way because we live in America and have not had much experience with this kind of persecution, but that doesn't change the fact that this Bible verse meant something when Paul wrote it, and his audience knew what he meant. We are now that audience, and it is up to us to try to discover the meaning of the text rather than reading our own meaning into it.
Scott and Hays' Grasping God's Word is a fantastic resource that takes the hermeneutical process and makes it easy to understand and apply for anyone who is willing to read the book and put time into studying the Bible. It is currently in use for a course in hermeneutics here at Liberty, but I would recommend it for anyone who desires to begin studying the Bible correctly, being faithful to God's word and learning what it would say to us rather than placing ourselves over the text. It is a beautiful process, and Scott and Hays have done the Christian community a great service by writing this book. I recommend it without reservation.