Listening to the Supreme Court Justice hearing of Judge Amy Barrett has caused me to reflect on my approach in understanding Scripture. How do the two relate? Judge Barrett takes an originalist view of interpreting the American Constitution and Bill of Rights. This means she places herself in the shoes of those ratifying policy to understand the original intent of the law. The originalist approach is somewhat similar to what many seminaries teach when approaching biblical interpretation.
The approach to biblical interpretation or hermeneutics has varying methodologies. The view I ascribe to as an evangelical is called the literal approach where I aim to understand the plain meaning of Scripture. The process involves understanding the historical context, grammatical structure, and the author’s intent, among other things.
A literal view requires humility in order to avoid inserting one’s presuppositions or cultural understandings from being inserted into the work of interpretation. Many confuse the literal view by those who abuse the phrase when saying, “I believe what the Bible literally says” yet do not methodological follow the principles of understanding the author’s body of work, original hearers, word studies, historical context, etc.
This is why formal, biblical education is important, as it trains its students to enter into this process versus making quick, interpretative conclusions. The well-trained interpreter can form strong positions of certain Scriptures—especially controversial text—through this humble process.
I’d encourage every believer to learn how to do this for themselves as well as figure out whether their pastor(s) have an understanding of how to engage in proper biblical interpretation. Otherwise, it could lead to a bad interpretive understanding of the text, as some have proven.
To help, here are some questions you should ask when trying to interpret passages of Scripture:
What did the original author say?
What did the original author mean?
What did the original author say elsewhere on the same or similar subject?
What do other biblical authors say on the same subject?
How did the original hearers interpret the message and respond to it?
How does this truth apply today?
How does this truth apply to my life?
The seven questions above can be found on Bible.org in part six of their series, “You Can Understand the Bible: An Introduction to and Application of the Contextual/Textual Method of Biblical interpretation (Hermeneutics)”