A Syllabus of Studies in Hermeneutics Part 1 -- By: Rollin Thomas Chafer

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 091:364 (Oct 1934)
Article: A Syllabus of Studies in Hermeneutics Part 1
Author: Rollin Thomas Chafer


A Syllabus of Studies in Hermeneutics
Part 1

Rollin Thomas Chafer

I. Introduction

Biblical Hermeneutics receives scant attention in the modern theological curriculum. Even before the time of the virtual abandonment by liberal seminaries of the idea that the Scriptures are the authoritative source of Christian dogmatics, the study of Hermeneutics was relegated mostly to the department of Old Testament. At the same time, it too often degenerated into an arbitrary classification of favorite interpretations which were dictated by accepted creedal dicta, rather than by the application of the laws governing logical interpretative procedure. It seems certain that the thought that Hermeneutics as a science has to do with the mastery and the applicability of the laws governing interpretation was too often forgotten. Terry does indeed draw a distinction between Hermeneutics as a science engaged with the study of the governing laws, on the one hand, and Hermeneutics as an art concerned with the concrete application of the laws, on the other hand;1 but the latter seems to me to be but another description of exegetical praxis. In the closing words of his first chapter Terry senses this when he says: “For if ever the divinely appointed ministry of reconciliation accomplish the perfecting of the saints, and the building up of the body of Christ, so as to bring all to the attainment of the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph 4:12, 13), it must be done by a correct interpretation and efficient use of the word of God. The interpretation and application of that

word must rest upon a sound and self-evidencing science of hermeneutics.”2

Perhaps no widely quoted hermeneut has more consistently emphasized the essential fact that Biblical Hermeneutics is, first of all, a study of the laws which govern sound Biblical interpretation than the late M. Cellérier, Professor in the Academy of Geneva, Switzerland, whose Manuel d’Hermeneutique Biblique was in large part made available to American readers in a translation and revision by Elliott and Harsha, published in 1881. In the first four chapters of his work he reiterates and emphasizes this definition at the beginning of each section as though he were seeking to combat an erroneous conception of the science: “Hermeneutics is the science which furnishes the true principles of interpretation.” We must insist again that Hermeneutics is not a collection of favorite interpretations gleaned here and there from a bib...

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