Traditionally, hermeneutics sought to establish the principles, methods, and rules needed in the interpretation of written texts, particularly sacred texts whose literal meaning was in doubt or had become unbelievable because of shifting world views or deepening moral sensitivity, and thus required reinterpretation in order to be preserved as sacred literature.

Hermeneutics in practice thus goes back to antiquity. It is believed, its origin begins with Hermes, the Greek god who served as a messenger for the gods.

Today it carries a technical meaning that defines the science and art of biblical interpretation. It’s a science because it has rules that can be classified into an orderly system. It’s art because communication is flexible.

In regards to biblical writings certain rules have been established to ensure that the scripture is being read and understood correctly.

Hermeneutics is a term related to the term exegesis...the explanation or critical interpretation of a text.

These two terms go hand in hand especially when reading scripture. This combination will help to learn the writer's intended meaning.

Over greater periods of time, the meanings of a written text can begin to be altered. There are many variables (feelings, experiences, society pressures) that can alter or create a different perspective than the intended meaning.

We realize that there is a need to interpret the formal text and also the sense of the author in regards to the text.

Four Principles

There are four basic principles to help summarize this helpful process. The first three deal with the sense or his intentions of his writings. The fourth was set into place in order to provide information regarding a quick history or overview of the subject.

  • The first principle is to divide the author's sense into two sections; the literal sense (nature, division, etc.) and the typical sense (existence, theological, etc.).
  • The second principle is to find the genuine sense of the author's writing. One must take into consideration the human character which includes the significance of the text, the literary expression of the text and the historical setting of the text. In addition, the primary character as well as the "negative" character and the positive/negative tone that is presented.
  • The third principle is the means in which the findings of the genuine sense are presented to others. This can include a particular passage, a special version or the dissertation. A paraphrasing and a commentary can also be included to relay the interpreters finding.
  • The fourth principle is based on exegesis. This is how the interpreter will relay their discoveries. This process can be different based on a number of criterion. In reference to biblical writings for example, Jewish exegesis is typically divided into either Palestinian and/or Hellenistic. Christian exegesis is divided into the patristic, from the patristic to the Council of Trent or the time after the Council of Trent.

The patristic period includes the apologists and Apostolic Fathers, the Greek Fathers and the Latin Fathers. The Council of Trent includes Greek authors, Latin authors and pre-Scholastic/Scholastic authors. The time following the Council of Trent are Catholic and non-Catholic authors.

With this all said, is it possible to still misinterpret certain writings? It is possible. If it does happen, heated discussions can occur and further investigation and re-reviewing of the text must be done. Not only is this to end the disagreement, but to ensure that the proper methods and principles are used so there won't be any errors in the future.

However, there is inerrancy (exemption of error) allowed, for in the final analysis the original text we believe is inspired by God The Father.

Whether theological or a methodological methods are used, there are principles that must be followed. If the science of interpretation is done incorrectly, sound doctrine most likely will not be preached or taught. Although Hermeneutics is used more often when reading biblical scripture, it can be used in all forms of writings.

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