Biblical Hermeneutics

Biblical hermeneutics are the methods and principles used to interpret the Bible soundly and accurately. Before we begin our analysis of God Believes in Love, it is critically important to review the proper approach to scriptural interpretation.

In the hermeneutics textbook Grasping God’s Word, authors Duvall and Hays write:

“Our goal is to grasp the meaning of the text God has intended. We do not create meaning out of a text; rather, we seek to find the meaning that is already there. However, we recognize that we cannot apply the meaning for the ancient audience directly to us today because of the river that separates us (culture, time, situation, covenant, etc.). Following the steps of the Interpretive Journey provides us with a procedure that allows us to take the meaning for the ancient audience and to cross over the river to determine a legitimate meaning for us today.”1

So, how do we cross the “river”? What are the steps of the “Interpretive Journey”?

Step 1: Grasp the text in their town. What did the text mean to the original audience?
Step 2: Measure the width of the river to cross. What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?
Step 3: Cross the principlizing bridge. What is the theological principle in this text?
Step 4: Consult the biblical map. How does our theological principle fit with the rest of the Bible?
Step 5: Grasp the text in our town. How should individual Christians today live out the theological principles?”2

During this analysis, the above steps will be used to perform a careful exegesis of the texts in question.

The Old Testament Law

In God Believes in Love, several references are made to Old Testament sources. The interpretation and application of the Old Testament law is extremely confusing for the vast majority of Christians. Many don’t know where to start when it comes to interpreting and applying the laws of the Old Testament in a modern context. Duvall and Hays write:

“Many Christians today are baffled by the interpretive problem of the law. Some of us take the approach of simply skimming through the legal texts, skipping over all of the laws that do not seem to apply to us. These laws we choose to ignore altogether. Then when we encounter one that does seem to make sense in today’s world, we grab it, underline it, and use it as a guideline for living. Surely this willy-nilly approach to interpreting the Old Testament law is inadequate. But how should we interpret the law?”3

Duvall and Hays propose a great question. How should we interpret the law today?

“The Old Testament law . . . is firmly embedded into the story of Israel’s exodus, wandering, and conquest. Our interpretive approach to the law should take this into account . . . The law is part of a story, and this story provides an important context for interpreting the law. Indeed, our methodology for interpreting Old Testament law should be similar to our methodology for interpreting Old Testament narrative, for the law is contextually part of the narrative.”4

Duvall and Hays continue by addressing the Old Testament law in the context of the Mosaic covenant:

“Since the Old Testament law is tightly intertwined into the Mosaic covenant, it is important to make several observations about the nature of this covenant. (1) The Mosaic covenant is closely associated with Israel’s conquest and occupation of the land. The covenant provides the framework by which Israel can occupy and live prosperously with God in the Promised Land . . . (2) The blessings from the Mosaic covenant are conditional . . . (3) The Mosaic covenant is no longer a functional covenant. New Testament believers are no longer under the old, Mosaic covenant. Hebrews 8-9 makes it clear that Jesus came as the mediator of a new covenant that replaced the old covenant . . . (4) The Old Testament law as part of the Mosaic covenant is no longer applicable over us as law. Paul makes it clear that Christians are not under the Old Testament law . . . But what about Matthew 5:17, where Jesus states, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law of the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them’? . . . Note that the phrase ‘the Law and the Prophets’ is a reference to the entire Old Testament. So Jesus is not just speaking about the Mosaic law . . . Jesus does not claim that he has come to observe the law or to keep the law; rather, he has come to fulfill it . . . In addition, Jesus has become the final interpreter of the law – indeed, the authority over the meaning of the law, as other passages in Matthew indicate . . . He is proclaiming that we must reinterpret the meaning of the law in light of his coming and in light of the profound changes that the new covenant has brought. This leads us to our last principle. (5) We must interpret the law through the grid of New Testament teaching. Second Timothy 3:16 tells us that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.’ Paul certainly is including the law in his phrase ‘all Scripture.’ As part of God’s Word, the value of the Old Testament law is eternal. We should study and seek to apply all of it. However, the law no longer functions as the terms of the covenant for us, and thus it no longer applies as direct literal law for us. The coming of Christ as the fulfillment of the law has changed that forever. However, the Old Testament legal material contains rich principles and lessons for living that are still relevant when interpreted through New Testament teaching.”5

Given the above observations, we must ask the question – so does the Old Testament law truly not apply at all today? Well as Duvall and Hays write, the Old Testament law does contain “rich principles and lessons for living that are still relevant when interpreted through New Testament teaching.” The key will be using an interpretive method that identifies the theological principles of the text and ensuring those principles resonate with New Testament teachings. What are the keys to identifying the theological principle as indicated in step 3 above?

“The principle should be reflected in the text.
The principle should be timeless and not tied to a specific situation.
The principle should not be culturally bound.
The principle should correspond to the teaching of the rest of Scripture.
The principle should be relevant to both the biblical and the contemporary audience.”6

1. Duvall, J. S., & Hays, J. D., Grasping God’s Word, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, ©2012) p. 41
2. Duvall & Hays, Grasping God’s Word, p. 47
3. Duvall & Hays, Grasping God’s Word, p. 356
4. Duvall & Hays, Grasping God’s Word, p. 360
5. Duvall & Hays, Grasping God’s Word, pp. 361-363
6. Duvall & Hays, Grasping God’s Word, p. 45