International Dominican University

Order of Preachers - Dominican Friars

Ecumenical Biblical Hermeneutics

Professor: Fr. Jesmond Micallef ofm cap

Credts: 3 ECTS

This course allows students to explore the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant understandings, interpretations and uses of Scripture. The course introduces students to several contextual and traditional practices of hermeneutics in biblical studies. They will learn to read the Bible from various perspectives by engaging in a series of exegetical exercises and developing an exegetical study of selected biblical texts. Participants will also have an opportunity to explore the use of the Bible in pastoral setting: namely, how various approaches and readings impact social and ethical life of believing communities.

Ecumenical Biblical Hermeneutics

Often you hear people say: "Just read the Bible and do what it says". The problem with this attitude is that different people, even though they read the same Bible, come to very different conclusions about what it actually says!

Many people also tend to think of the Bible as is God's little instruction book for life.While this statement has a kernel of truth is the Bible certainly does contain much teaching on how to live is it is far more than just an instruction manual. It is the written record of God revealing in history who He is, what He is like, who we are, what we are like, and what He expects of us. This is the overall message of the Bible in a nutshell, and it should always be kept in our minds as we read the Bible.

The Bible was originally written to people who lived in a different place, in a very different culture, at a different time and period of history, and who spoke different languages. It also contains several different types of literature (called genres).

Because the Bible is God's word in history revealed to people in history, it means that each passage has an historical context is an particular author, audience, purpose and occasion. On the other hand, since the Bible is also the word of God, its contents are also eternally relevant.

Therefore, the goal of interpretation is not to come up with the most unique interpretation (unique interpretations are usually wrong), but to discover the original intended meaning of a passage is the way the original audience understood it. The task of discovering the original intended meaning is called exegesis.

The key to doing good exegesis is reading the text very carefully, paying close attention to the details it describes, and asking the text the right questions. This is critical to finding the correct interpretation. Bad interpretation results directly from bad exegesis.

The process of reading and interpreting the Bible should be cyclic. A reader approaches a passage of scripture with presuppositions (e.g. the Bible is the inerrant word of God) and usually has a pre-understanding about what the particular passage can or cannot mean. These presuppositions and pre-understandings, along with the context, influence the reader's understanding of the passage, and help them derive their interpretation. This interpretation then effects the reader's presuppositions, and becomes part of their pre-understandings the next time they read this passage. If our exegetical information, reasoning and judgements are thought through again and reassessed each time we go through the cycle then the accuracy and correctness of our interpretation will improve.

So,the goal of biblical hermeneutics is to point us to the correct interpretation which the Holy Spirit has already inspired into the text. The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to protect us from improperly applying a Scripture to a particular situation. Biblical hermeneutics points us to the true meaning and application of Scripture. Hebrews 4:12 declares, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Biblical hermeneutics is keeping the sword sharp!