Hermeneutics in Our Devotional Life

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Hermeneutics is important for interpreting and applying the Bible in our devotional life. There are many ways to approach the Bible when it comes to reading, interpreting, and applying it; but the moment you open the Bible and begin reading you are engaged in the art and science of interpretation.

I admit that hermeneutics can be a tricky discipline. I also think a simple “devotional approach” to the Bible is a type of hermeneutic itself. With that said, I’m not against a devotional approach to the BibIe, I just don’t think it should be the only kind of study we do, so I want to give a few easy hermeneutical questions that you can ask in your own devotional study. This doesn’t mean that you  must answer all these questions in one devotional sitting, but spending time working through these questions on a passage can be beneficial.

1) Why does this passage exist in the place it does and in the way it does?

This is where you explore the context. The big idea is getting to know the historical and literary context of the passage you are studying. Exploring the historical context is finding out what happened before, during, and after a communication took place, and understanding where the communication took place. It also includes being concerned with the culture of the writer and original audience.

2) Why did the author choose to write this passage with these specific words and phrases?

Understanding the meaning of key words and phrases in the passage is the idea for analyzing the content. Looking for key words, phrases, repeated terms, synonyms and antonyms, and commands can all be helpful in determining the meaning of a particular passage you are studying. It might also be helpful to underline, highlight, circle, or write down the key words.

3) Have I asked all the questions of this passage that I need to?

Here the idea requires a little more thought. This is were we bring the passage together by learning to ask the right questions of the text to discover the intended meaning of the passage. For example:

  • Who is speaking?
  • Who is the author talking to?
  • Is there an issue in the passage? If so, what is it?
  • What is going on in the verse surrounding the passage I’m studying?
  • Are there terms I am not familiar with?

4) Have I worked hard to interpret the passage on my own?

References are a great way to check the accuracy of your interpretation. It is usually recommended that you go to these after you have developed your own conclusion to the passage you are studying. The goal is not just to properly interpret the passage but develop the skills necessary to do so. References offer a more in depth study from others who have more knowledge and experience. They allow us to see in the text things we may have missed and they can serve as a safety measure against mistakes in our own interpretation. When using them we need to keep in mind that they are not exhaustive, may not be correct (or what you agree with), and can become a crutch. But overall cross-referencing, commentaries, and good study Bibles are profitable to us in our study of God’s Word.

5) How should my beliefs and behavior be different because of this passage?

God’s word is supposed to be applied to our lives. Applying the text can be difficult depending of the passage of study. But a few questions that are helpful here are:

  • What does this passage teach me about God?
  • What does this passage teach me about myself?
  • How do I need to correct my way of thinking in light of my understanding of this passage?
  • How do I need to correct my life in light of my understanding of this passage?
  • Is there sin I am convicted of that I need to repent and confess?
  • Is there a doctrinal truth in the meaning of this passage that I must now accept and believe?

Taking the time to learn and apply the necessary principles for biblical interpretation doesn’t have to be boring or replace devotional reading. It should enrich our devotional life. Our personal study of God’s word is a part of our personal pursuit of him and believers are responsible to read, interpret, and understand the Bible and help others do the same.