Where do we get our Principles of Hermeneutics? | How do we read the Bible?

Updated: May 2, 2020

Hermeneutics: the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts.

Classical apologists usually use the issue of hermeneutics as ammunition against the presuppositional view. Where do we get our principles of hermeneutics they ask.

We cannot get our principles of hermeneutics from the Bible. If we had to, we’d never be able to extract them as we’d first need to have them before we can extract them.

God made man in his image and in his likeness which means that He created man to communicate not only with Him, but with each other. Human language, logic, grammar, and the rules of hermeneutics (interpreting written material secular or religious) was hardwired into humanity at man’s creation, and that ability exists in all people today. It had to be or men couldn’t even begin to communicate with each other, reason with each other, understand even how to make sense of what it is their senses sense. The point made against presuppositional apologetics is usually that we can't get our principles of hermeneutics from the Bible, we need to get them from reality. Of course reality is what it is because God created in a certain manner.

We read the Bible with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. This is the only reason we can correctly interpret the Bible, as natural man will twist the truth of Scripture.

In raising this objection the reformation principle that Scripture interprets Scripture is also usually completely ignored. The universal laws of human communication is confused with some sort of authoritative set of principles that exist outside of Scripture by which we are to interpret Scripture. No such set of principles exist. By raising the objection, the objector probably doesn’t realise how close he/she is to the Roman Catholic Church which claimed to be the sole authority by which Scripture can be interpreted.

The answer to the question is found in what is called a hermeneutical spiral. We begin with the first principle that God is, and that He gave us His Word. We are created with the gifts of language, reasoning and sensory experience so that God can communicate with His people. Our view of God informs our view of language and His Word, and this moves us to the path of Biblical investigation, which help us refine our understanding of God and His creation, and even the gift of language, which serves to inform our hermeneutic. With each movement, the spiral moves deeper into an understanding of God and His revelation all through the agency of the Holy Spirit’s work on the human heart beginning with the miracle of regeneration.

So can we understand the Bible without first having a complete hermeneutic? Of course! Sure we might misunderstand a few things when we first read the Bible, but that's why we don't read the Bible only once. We need to read the Bible over and over and over again. The Bible corrects us as we read through it. On the first pass we might believe a certain text to mean something in particular, but after reading the rest of Scripture and coming to the passage in question a second time we may understand in a more Scriptural light. The Bible helps us interpret the Bible.

Jason Lisle writes the following:

We all inherently accept the hermeneutical spiral. We know what the main-and-plain literal sections of Scripture mean, even without having a perfect hermeneutic. And we can build on these basic truths to improve our understanding of the more difficult truths. No one objects that it is impossible to learn language from a teacher who teaches while using language. By the same reasoning, no one should object that it is impossible to learn Biblical principles of hermeneutics from the Bible while using it.

You can buy his book here, it's a great read!


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