Human language can be tricky sometimes. Have you every found yourself trying to explain something to another person only to have them misunderstand what you were trying to say, maybe even come to a conclusion that you never even thought of on your own? Miscommunication. It’s what happens when we speak in terms that are foreign to our listener, in words they can’t understand… or… your listener has something on their mind that they think you are trying to say that you’re not really trying to say. Confused? It’s easy to get confused when miscommunicating.
This happens to us when we try to read the Bible, as well, and it leads to different interpretations and understandings of what the Lord is trying to communicate to us through the biblical text. We sometimes read the Bible with an idea of what we think God wants to say, but only end up hearing what we want to hear. It is important to set aside what we think God wants to say and just let him say it… as though we’ve never heard it before… as though we are hearing it with a “new set of ears”.
That is part of the challenge of discipline of quality Bible study. When studying the Bible we need to set aside what we think we know and allow scripture to deliver a clear message. Hermeneutics is the theory of interpretation and can be thought of as the art of understanding communication. The methods of hermeneutics require a listening ear, an unbiased mind, and a desire to receive the message of a text through the author’s chosen linguistic codes. It includes two very important practices on our part:
1) To find in the biblical text the true meaning of what it is trying to communicate to the audience for which it was intended [exegesis].
2) To set aside any preconceived conclusions or bias we may have and try to not “read into” the text a meaning that the author didn’t intend [eisegesis].
When we approach scripture with these two things in mind we stand a better chance of learning what the author intended us to know. We may find that we have more questions in order to understand what is being said. Learning more about the author’s intended audience is also critical in understanding the message of the text. Take for instance the Apostle Paul’s letters, each is addressed to a particular church. One may ask… what that church was up to when they received the letter? Where exactly is Colassae? Why does Paul believe that church in question needs to hear this message? …etcetera.
If you are interested, take about 8 minutes to watch this video. It will illustrate and explain the three critical practices that will enrich your understanding of the Bible and improve your quality of Bible study.