The Reading of Scripture -- By: Pieter DeVries

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 03:2 (Jul 2011)
Article: The Reading of Scripture
Author: Pieter DeVries

The Reading of Scripture

Pieter DeVries

Philip asked the chamberlain if he understood what he was reading. The chamberlain replied honestly that he did not (Acts 8:26-39). What happens when we read Scripture, and how do we determine what is meant in Scripture? These questions are probed by the theological discipline of hermeneutics. This discipline has long been regarded as the applicable rules of exegesis. Its leading principle used to be that the Bible is the voice of the living God; however, since Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), a more comprehensive view of hermeneutics has risen. In this view, hermeneutics is the discipline which reveals how the Bible text of long ago is relevant to the present time.

According to Schleiermacher, it is not the divine Author who stands central, but the many human authors. We have to imagine ourselves in their position in order to understand their writings even better than they could themselves. According to Schleiermacher and those of his persuasion, it is possible to trace the objective meaning of the Bible text. As a consequence, however, the unity of Scripture is abandoned. According to modern hermeneutics, the Bible contains a diversity of religious convictions which not only complete but, in some cases, also exclude each other.

We err greatly if we deny the possibility that the Bible text can have an objective perpetual meaning that we can trace. This is the claim in many contemporary studies of hermeneutics. The fundamental point is no longer the text and the author’s meaning, but the reader and his presuppositions. From our own horizon, the text’s horizon gets placed within our symbolic universe. Sometimes great attention is paid to literary structures, attention that can be valuable to us from a biblical point of view. But this train of thought involves the idea that the historicity of the biblical stories is irrelevant. This is

an idea to be rejected entirely. The correct interpretation of Scripture is a matter both of knowledge and of devotion—two things not to be deliberated, but to be associated. When interpreting Scripture, we need our understanding to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit.

Here is an evaluation of several works in the field of hermeneutics that were published in recent years.

W. Randolph Tate. Interpreting the Bible: A Handbook of Terms and Methods. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006. 482 pp., paperback.

W. Randolph Tate gives a short survey of the interpretation of the Bible in order to give an impression of its scope. The following subjects are address...

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