My parents were baptized and became New Testament Christians when I was five years old. From that time on I was (and have been) in Sunday School and worship assemblies without fail. Being constantly exposed to Bible teaching is one thing. Knowing how to study on my own was quite another.
At Florida College I was required to take a course called Hermeneutics, taught by Roy Cogdill. I do not believe I had ever heard the word “hermeneutics” before that time. But that course and its textbook completely changed my understanding of the Bible and how to study it.
The text was Principles of Hermeneutics, by Clinton Lockhart. Written in 1901 by a scholar and college president, the style is stilted and dense by comparison with most modern books. But, my what a revelation to my mind! For the first time I learned that there are actually well accepted and reasonable “laws” to describe how we understand human speech; and these laws therefore apply to our interpreting of the Bible.
Now I began to understand that fundamental biblical interpretation is not a mysterious process. Nor is the meaning of a passage of scripture based on what I want, think, hope, wish, imagine, or may have been taught it to mean. Instead it is rooted in the author’s purpose, and shaped by the circumstances, method and language he used to write his portion of holy writ. Look at just a few of the laws or rules discussed in Principles of Hermeneutics:
- Axiom 1: “The true object to speech is the impartation of thought.”
- Axiom 2: “The true object of interpretation is to apprehend the exact thought of the author.”
- Axiom 7: “An author’s purpose determines the character of his production.”
- Axiom 13: “Truth must accord with truth; and statements of truth apparently discrepant can be harmonized if the facts are known.”
- Axiom 15: “Every communication of thought, human and divine, given in the language of men, is subject to the ordinary rules of interpretation.”
Rules having to do with harmonizing passages, context, vocabulary, figurative language, prophecy and more are included in this slim book of 250 pages. This is a science for genuine Bible students, but will not appeal to those who wish to teach and preach from emotion, sensationalism, or popular topics of the day. Nor is it a set of Bible class lessons or Sunday sermon topics.
If you wish to see/hear me putting some of these rules and principles into practice in the classroom go to my page on Effective Bible Study, or purchase the Effective Bible Study Video DVD Set from our store.
There are hundreds of other books on hermeneutics, but I think few of them will serve and guide the student better than Principles of Interpretation, by Clinton Lockhart. Where can you get this book? It is published by Gospel Light Publishing Company in Delight, Arkansas (www.gospellightbooks.com) or from Sunset’s Extension School website (www.extensionschool.com). Cost is about $14.
Originally published in 2012; updated and reprinted 06/23/2019.