Hermeneutics: How to Read
and Understand the Bible
Understanding the Bible – Example #1
Ezra and Nehemiah led a great day of understanding Scripture in Israel (Neh 8:1-12).
- The people came together in unity and peace without self-defeating division and strife (8:1).
- Their own personal desire to hear and learn Scripture is indicated by their request for it (8:1).
- They chose Scripture reading rather than popular fables or entertainment for itching ears (8:1).
- They chose Ezra the scribe to read and teach rather than a famous or charismatic preacher (8:1).
- Ezra was a ready scribe in the law of God and did not need time to respond to the request (8:2).
- The women and all those who could hear with understanding were included, indicating God’s endorsement of family worship rather than Sunday Schools and other juvenile inventions (8:2).
- They stood and heard the reading for at least three hours – from morning until midday (8:3).
- The people were attentive and focused to the reading rather than sleeping or dreaming (8:3).
- Ezra read the Scriptures to them – he did not tell stories about his childhood, slay anyone in the Spirit, use canned illustrations, crack jokes, use anecdotes, or even make a chalk drawing (8:3).
- He used a pulpit to elevate himself above the crowd for this public and solemn reading (8:4).
- Since he was visibly above the people, they could easily see him open the book to read (8:5).
- All the people stood up in solemn and fervent reverence when he opened the book to read (8:5).
- Observe the reverential worship of God that accompanies proper reading of Scripture (8:6).
- The people themselves participated reverently in this glorious worship of God with Ezra (8:6).
- Ezra’s assistants helped him instruct the people rather than provide them entertainment (8:7).
- They read in the book of the law of God rather than some novel of Christian experience (8:8).
- They read distinctly so all the people could easily distinguish the words of the reading (8:8).
- They gave the sense – the meaning or interpretation – of what they read to the people (8:8).
- They rightly divided the word of truth as faithful ministers in applying secondary senses (8:8).
- They did not give primary definitions of words, as all the people already knew them well (8:8).
- Distinct reading and sound interpretation are the means by which the people understood (8:8).
- Though there was true reason to mourn, understanding Scripture calls rather for holy joy (8:9).
- Their leaders called for a time of celebration and feasting for understanding Scripture (8:10).
- Mourning is not always appropriate, especially when there is reason for holy rejoicing (8:11).
- The celebration and attendant mirth of the people was in appreciation for understanding (8:12).
- They had more than individual sound bites declared, for they understood the message (8:12).
- One day of hearing God’s law expounded was not enough, so they came together again (8:13).
- We can see the leaders of the people coming to learn more so as to understand and teach (8:13).
- They learned by hearing and understanding that they had forsaken the feast of booths (8:14).
- When a people come willing to hear and learn, the Lord will reveal His will for them (8:15).
- These willing hearers did not resist a new commandment but rather obeyed it quickly (8:16).
- This feast had been neglected for over 1000 years, but they did not excuse themselves (8:17).
- And their spirit was not a begrudging reluctance to obey but rather a very great gladness (8:17).
- They didn’t waste a single day without hearing the book of the law of God read to them (8:18).
- They kept the feast for the full duration and solemnly according to the specified manner (8:18).
Understanding the Bible – Example #2
Jesus judged Pharisees for accusing His disciples in Scriptural ignorance (Matt 12:1-8).
- The context is a situation where the disciples plucked and ate corn on the Sabbath day (12:1).
- The disciples were hungry enough that it was disruptive to their use of the Sabbath day (12:1).
- We know our Lord did not do this by mere chance or coincidence, but sought occasion (12:1).
- The Pharisees were the straightest, or most conservative, of the Jewish religious sects (12:2).
- The Pharisees, just like their successors today, judged by the appearance and letter only (12:2).
- Pharisees knew the law – but only the strict, literal law of words and primary definitions (12:2).
- Jesus rebukes their literal charge by asking if they had read about David and his hunger (12:3).
- He knew they had read about David many times; but He knew they missed the meaning (12:3).
- So He rebukes their ignorance in the law by not rightly dividing between two passages (12:4).
- Jesus teaches us glorious wisdom here that understanding requires secondary senses (12:4).
- Our Lord indirectly commends David for his hermeneutic in eating forbidden bread (12:4).
- He then rebukes their literal sense by asking if they had read about the Levites’ duties (12:5).
- Of course they had read Leviticus, but our Lord needed to crush their false hermeneutic (2:5).
- Jesus points out that there is an implied sense of the Sabbath law not applying to priests (12:5).
- He showed by two examples that a literal sense of words by primary definitions flunks (12:5).
- He announces to these unbelieving scribes and disputers that He is the temple’s LORD (12:6).
- Their problem was misunderstanding the spiritual sense of the words they worshipped (12:7).
- They knew the words from Hosea 6:6, but they did not know the sense by interpretation (12:7).
- Jesus had already exposed their false hermeneutic by this same verse in Matthew 9:13 (12:7).
- Primary definitions and a literal hermeneutic will destroy this and most other verses (12:7).
- Their application of the law and consequently their actions were therefore wickedness (12:7).
- Judging righteous judgment, rather than by appearance, requires a spiritual hermeneutic (12:7).
- Our glorious Lord makes a further spiritual interpretation from this event in Mark 2:27 (12:7).
- Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath and gives true spiritual understanding to His saints (12:8).
Understanding the Bible – Example #3
Jesus condemned the Sadducees for their ignorance of the Scriptures (Matt 22:23-33).
- The Sadducees were a heretical Jewish sect that denied the resurrection of the dead (22:23).
- They came to ask Him, but their intent was neither truth nor proof, for they were sure (22:23).
- The foolish question of dying brothers was to confound Jesus, as they had Pharisees (22:24).
- They raised Scripture to establish their premise, as any good heretic or Satan will do (22:24).
- Sadducees knew the Scriptures well, but were trying to use them against the Author (22:24).
- The hypothetical case was created as a rhetorical device to refute the resurrection (22:25-27).
- Their faulty minor premise was assuming that resurrected saints are given in marriage (22:28).
- Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection at all, but they assumed it to ridicule Him (22:28).
- Our Lord denied their heresy on two counts – ignorance of Scripture and God’s power (22:29).
- Doctrinal error is still created the same way – ignorance of Scripture and God’s power (22:29).
- Our Lord destroys their entire argument by showing the faulty minor premise in error (22:30).
- Then He shows their further ignorance of the Scripture by using Scripture against them (22:31).
- Notice His ridicule of their ignorance of one of the most popular Jewish passages ever (22:31).
- He authoritatively starts right out that God had taught them the resurrection directly (22:31).
- What a marvelous sense He draws from words we read with little regard for doctrine (22:32)!
- Here we have the Lord Jesus Christ arguing important doctrine from only verb tenses (22:32).
- He further argues that death and annihilation would preclude a relationship with God (22:32).
- He astonished the multitude by His doctrinal method in shaming Sadducees publicly (22:33)!
- Luke records that the scribes praised His wonderful answer they had not heard before (20:39).
- Luke records they didn’t dare ask any more foolish and unlearned questions for fear (20:40).
Understanding the Bible – Example #4
Paul condemned the Jews for ignorance of the Scriptures regarding Christ (Acts 13:27).
- Jews dwelling in the capital city of Jerusalem fulfilled the Scriptures by killing Jesus the Christ.
- Even the rulers of the Jews were no wiser in the Scriptures, for they executed the great crime.
- The Jews were able to do such a thing by neither knowing God nor His inspired Scriptures.
- The voices of the prophets were read every Sabbath day, but they still fulfilled them wickedly.
- Children of the promises, they ignorantly fulfilled their own Scriptures by the dastardly deed.
- This is incredible ignorance, even though they had a great technical knowledge of the words.