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1. Branch of theology* that deals with the study of the principles of interpretation; the theory of exegesis.* The term is derived from Gk. hermeneuein, used, with variations, for “translate” (Jn 1:38, 42; Heb 7:2) and “explain” (Lk 24:27). The Gk. word, in turn, probably goes back to the name of the god Hermes, who was credited with inventing language and had the task of communicating the things of heaven to men. In the days of Aristotle* the art of hermeneutics dealt with matters of rhetoric and translation. In the ancient ch. hermeneia included commentary on a text. The term was used by J. K. Dannhauer* and others to denote ars interpretandi (“the art of interpretation”). F. D. E. Schleiermacher* and W. C. L. Dilthey* limited the study of the theory of exegesis almost entirely to analysis of the problem of understanding.

2. Hermeneutics tries to point the way to removing distance bet. author and reader. The rules and principles are not a matter of caprice, but are determined by (a) the gen. laws of human thought and expression; (b) the nature, origin, form, and purpose of a book. Biblical hermeneutics tries to show how the meaning of the Bible may be determined and communicated.

3. Since gen. rules of expression and understanding are affected to some extent by the cultural situation in which the interpreter lives, interpretation has, in the course of its hist., been marked by various presuppositions and emphases. When the Gospel made contact with the Graeco-Roman Empire, it adjusted itself to the Platonic world view, a vertical distinction bet. the material and the realm of ideas (cf. “letter” and “spirit,” 2 Co 3:6). This situation gave rise to development of the allegorical method (see Exegesis, 3–5; Schools, Early Christian, 1, 4). See also Catena.

4. The Luth. Reformation included reformation in the art of Biblical interpretation. It proceeded from assumption of the perspicuity* of Scripture to application of 2 revolutionary principles: (a) the sense of a passage is a single one (sensus literalis unus est); (b) Scripture is its own interpreter (scriptura sacra sui ipsius interpres). M. Flacius* Illyricus formalized these principles 1567 in Clavis scripturae sacrae. The period of Luth. orthodoxy (see Lutheran Theology After 1580, 3–5) has been characterized as a time of “dogmatic exegesis,” i. e., of interpreting the Bible in terms of doctrinal definitions and distinctions. Pietism* reacted to Luth. orthodoxy by a desire to provide a devotional spirit for interpretation. The Enlightenment* was characterized by interest in textual investigation and literary analysis, philos., and hist., and contributed to comparative religion. These trends influenced Biblical hermeneutics.

5. The 20th c. opened with a burst of activity that provided new translations, commentaries, dictionaries, grammars, and lexicons (see Bible Versions, L 12–14; Commentaries, Biblical; Encyclopedias and Dictionaries; Grammars). The yrs. beyond the middle of the 20th c. found interpreters engaged in contest bet. those who follow the existential approach of R. Bultmann (see Demythologization; Existentialism) and others who see in his method of “demythologizing” a threat to the content and hist. base of Scripture. Most hermeneutical studies today are built on an awareness of the uniqueness of the Bible; an appreciation of its theol. aspects; a recognition of the needs of Israel and the early ch. in terms of worship, teaching, and preaching as providing occasion for creation of oral tradition and various literary materials which were used by the sacred writers in preparing the Biblical documents; and a strong desire to study the Scriptural materials in the light of their original milieu (Sitz* im Leben). This last emphasis has given rise to an interest in the life and practices of Judaism. MHS

See also Analogy of Faith; Scriptura scripturam interpretatur Tychonius.

F. W. Danker, Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study, 2d ed. (St. Louis, Missouri, 1966); K. Frör, Biblische Hermeneutik, 2d ed. (Munich, 1964); Biblical Authority for Today: A World Council of Churches Symposium on “The Biblical Authority for the Churches' Social and Political Message Today,” ed. A. Richardson and W. Sehweitzer (London, 1951); J. D. Smart, The Interpretation of Scripture (Philadelphia, 1961).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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