But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not…handling the word of God deceitfully… 2 Corinthians 4:2
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
What is “hermeneutics”? It is the principles, laws and methods of interpretation. This is how we determine exactly what any document says, including the Bible. With the Bible we use the literal, historical-grammatical method of interpretation.
What exactly does “historical-grammatical” interpretation mean? It doesn’t mean everything is interpreted literally. It means that the text is to be understood in all the context the original writer meant for it to be understood, whether poetic, typology, figurative, hyperbolic, etc. “Scripture interprets Scripture” is a common phrase explaining how the Bible itself can be used to understand difficult passages by use of those which aren’t as difficult. “Literal” interpretation means “the understanding of a text that any person of normal intelligence would understand without the help of any special keys or codes…. Words are given the meaning they normally have in common communication.” (Norman Geisler & Ron Rhodes, Conviction Without Compromise, p.196) “Grammatical” interpretation means the understanding from normal grammatical usage of all the words in the text. When discussing the “historical” interpretation of a passage, we must take into consideration the historical and cultural context in which it was written, rather than putting one’s current history and culture into the passage.
Pastor Gary E. Gilley’s book, I Just Wanted More Land, has a very good primer on the subject, from which I will draw most of the following. There are several key principles necessary for good hermeneutics:
1. Practice exegesis instead of eisegesis. Exegesis means to objectively read out of the text what is actually there. Eisegesis means to read into the text a meaning from personal bias or beliefs. All false teachings practice eisegesis. When one drags in current culture to explain a text, that is also eisegesis.
2. Assume the Bible is the authoritative word of God.
3. Let the Bible interpret itself. Remember what we saw above: “Scripture interprets Scripture.”
4. Scripture never contradicts Scripture, so if there is an apparent contradiction, we must search for the correct interpretation.
5. Do not let personal experience interpret what you read (eisegesis), rather interpret your personal experience by what the Bible teaches. Many in the charismatic movement make this mistake.
6. Biblical examples aren’t authoritative unless God commands them. For example, polygamy is mentioned many times in Scripture, but that doesn’t mean we can practice polygamy because God has set the qualification for marriage as one man and one woman. The Bible often describes things that happen without condoning them. Also, God’s promise to an individual or nation in the Bible is not to be understood as a promise to all people and all nations unless the context specifically states as much.
7. Any given passage has only one meaning, unless the Bible specifically states otherwise.
8. Always interpret a passage in its context. Pulling passages our of their context is the most common way cults and false teachings begin.
9. Do not look for allegories in concealed, secret or symbolic meanings.
10. Do not seek to change plain meanings of texts just because they might offend.
By practicing these basic principles of hermeneutics, you will be more able to quickly identify false teaching, whether from a single teacher, a cult or worldviews in general.