For as long as there have been Biblical texts, there have been Bible hermeneutics, or Bible interpretations. One hermeneutics definition (given by Bernhard W. Anderson in a piece he wrote for Bible Review) is that Bible hermeneutics are “modes of [Bible] interpretation[s].” In another Bible Review article, James A. Sanders offered a Bible hermeneutics definition as “interpretive lens[es]” through which one reads the Bible. Going a step further, the Merriam-Webster dictionary extends its hermeneutics definition to include not only the methods or principles of (Bible) interpretations but also the study of those very Bible interpretations. In short, the hermeneutics of the Bible are the many ways people approach and understand the Bible.
Bible hermeneutics even take place within the Biblical text itself. In the Hebrew Bible, the authors of the psalms and the prophets often referred back to earlier parts of the Torah and incorporated their own kinds of Bible interpretations and ways of understanding the text in their own current situations. Those who translated and copied the early Biblical texts also sometimes inserted their own Bible interpretations into their works.
In the years leading up to the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., several different Jewish groups had risen to prominence, including the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes. Although they were all Jewish, each group had very different Bible hermenutics. Definition of what happened to the soul after death, proper temple sacrifice and the importance of study of the law differed among these groups because of their varying Bible interpretations. Christianity also began as a Jewish sect, but as Jesus’ followers developed their own Bible hermeneutics in relation to the law and the role of the messiah, it became a distinct religion. The uniquely Christian Bible interpretations are reflected in the writings of the New Testament as well as in the different order of Biblical books in the Christian Old Testament compared to the Jewish Hebrew Bible.
Today there are countless Bible hermeneutics, or Bible interpretations, as the Bible has been studied from just about every viewpoint or angle imaginable. Many modern readers interpret the text through a particular lens to gather further meaning, whether it be a feminist lens, an ecological lens, a social justice lens or even the lens of source criticism. These are all types of Bible hermeneutics.
Even archaeology, which is the focus of BAR, is one of these hermeneutics of the Bible. By studying the remains of ancient people and how they lived, and comparing their finds to the texts, archaeologists in the Holy Land are able to offer exciting new Bible interpretations.
Whatever your preferred method or Bible hermeneutics definition, there’s virtually no wrong way to do it.
Read how noted scholars arrive at a Bible hermeneutics definition:
Bernhard W. Anderson, “The Bible: Word of God in Human Words.” Bible Review, Jun 1997, 22, 56.
James A. Sanders, ““Spinning” the Bible.” Bible Review, Jun 1998, 22-29, 44-45.