General Reflection on the Importance of Hermeneutics through Orthodox Exegetical Method
Glory be to Jesus Christ. In this short reflection paper, I will try to share my views on why is it important to know how to interpret the Scripture and explain the skills used from an Orthodox point of view.
According to the Dictionary definition, Hermeneutics is the theory and methodology of text interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts.
If we see from the Orthodox perspective Hermeneutics can be seen as the science of properly interpreting the various types of literature found in the Bible. Hermeneutics also includes written, verbal, and nonverbal communication. This main aim of understanding The Bible through hermeneutics is to help us to know how to interpret, understand, and apply the teachings from The Bible. We try to interpret everything without getting to to know the underlying information about the subject.
Ten Basic Principles of an Orthodox Exegetical Method:
1st principle: Christ is the center of the Bible on all possible levels:
He is the key to understanding the Old and New Testament. These facts will drastically affect how we will interpret and use Scripture. God is real and has become incarnate in Jesus Christ revealing Himself to us in the Person of Christ. This first principle is the key to open the treasure house (Bible).
2nd principle: A person’s ability to interpret depends upon one’s spiritual state.
One will only be able to interpret correctly if one’s spiritual state is good and open to repentance. Because it is an inspired text, one must be inspired to fully understand it. As Archim. J. Popvich says “The bible is not a book, but life; because its words are “spirit and life”. So in order to comprehend these words we must study them with spirit of its spirit and life of its life. The main aspect of understanding the Scripture needs constant prayers.
3rd principle: One must live it in order to fully understand it.
This applies particularly to the commandments and general way of life Christ revealed – the gospel life. The most important aspects of Holy Scripture can only be understood by living them. St. Justin calls this rule of Orthodox exegesis as fundamental and principle.
4th principle: The ultimate purpose of interpreting Scripture must be one and the same as ultimate purpose of Christian life.
This is entering the kingdom which is not of words but of power and life. To find a life of Deification we need God’s Grace, which can be attained through Communion in Him.
5th principle: Only within community of true faith, within the Church and her tradition can Scripture be fully and correctly interpreted.
With traditions we need to include writings and lives of the Saints looking through Patristic perspective.
6th principle: Scripture is a witness to the truth, not explicitly containing everything that is important to the Church.
Through Scripture, we can help the church to grow. We need to follow Our traditions too without them the church can’t be seen as a Whole. Few of our friends take verses from the Scripture so literally that they even forget the importance of making the Sign of the Cross. We need to understand the intended meaning of The Holy Scripture. If we try to elaborate it we will misinterpret it which will be ironical.
7th principle: Primary emphasis must be on interpreting the Bible as we have it – the canon is important.
Our initial focus should be interpreting the books from the canon and not trying to find original pieces behind the books as we have them and then making a sort of new canon or excluding certain books or passages. So our main focus should be to see them as they are not trying to interpret them.
8th principle: The symbolism of the Star will help us further to understand this principle.
The Star in the New Testament is seen as a symbol of direction. St. J. Chrysostom explains this example as how He (God) reached out to people where they were, trying to use the Star as a symbolic representation. In other words, use everything possible (although with discernment) if it will help others come to the knowledge of the Truth.
9th principle: One of the ways to understand a difficult text is to follow St. Basil’s attitude.
He said: “This is my second attempt to attack the text. If anyone has a better interpretation to give, and can consistently with true religion amend what I say, let him speak and let him amend, and the Lord will reward him for me”.
Here we see the recognition that some passages are very difficult to interpret. – not a naïve view of language and perception such as the Enlightenment scholars had nor a Fundamentalist desperation to claim to know absolutely how to interpret every verse. Also that the True Religion is the context within which all interpretation of Scripture must be made.
St Gregory of Nyssa says: “We shall leave what we say conjecturally and by supposition on the thought at hand to the judgment of our readers. Their critical intelligence must decide whether it should be rejected or accepted.”
10th principle: “Reason and our secondary knowledge.
Examples of meanings of words, literary study of genres, archaeology, etc. – all have an important place in interpreting Scripture” are the last words of St. Gregory. Generally speaking, this kind of knowledge is essential and most valuable as long as we realize that it is secondary in the sense that its function is to illuminate on scripture not to conclusively determine dogma apart from the Church and the other principles above.
So, we need to prayerfully and reverently read the Holy Scripture, as in each word we have a drop of eternal truth.