This is an article written by one of my professors here at LTS - I think it is FANTASTIC!
Hermeneutics: Ways of Reading the Biblical Texts by Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison
How is the bible to be read? Does one approach scripture looking for the answers to all life's questions and the rules for how to play the game of Life? Does one study it as an archeological artifact or just another piece of literature? Does one read scripture for insight and inspiration for how to be faithful in today's world?
Hermeneutics is a word used often within the walls of a seminary but rarely discussed outside of academia. Yet, it is an activity in which humans are constatly engaged. Simply put, hermeneutics is about interpretation. Whether we are reading the newspaper or watching a movie or listening to a conversation, we must always interpret what we read, see, or hear. In biblical studies, hermeneutics is about the interpretation of the Bible. More specifically, it is an interpretive framework through which biblical texts are understood. One's framework usually is based on answers to three questions. What type of document is the bible? Who wrote the bible? What authority does the bible have?
The bible is a collection , a library, of different writings that span a variety of cultures and historical periods. If is not a "history" book as we would define such writing today, nor is it a "science" book, concerned with biology, earth sciences etc. Trying to read the bible as either science or history would be like navigating a ship based on a map created when humans believed the earth was flat. It will not get us very far and will keep us afraid of seeing what lies just beyond the horizon.
The bible tells the story of a group who claim a common heritage, the same God and many of the same hopes/dreams. It is a theology book, though by no means systematic. It is concerned with theological questions, but it does not provide simple, consistent answers to those questions. The bible is like a roadmap or "treausre map" that has been left behind for future generations to trace their ancestors' journey of faith and struggles to live faithfully. This provides the next generation an assurance that they are not alone in their journey and not the first ones to struggle with the issues of faith.
The bible can also be a mirror, in that it allows its audience an opportunity to look at themselves through the eyes of faith and to examine their lives for where they excel and where they need to grow. It can be the "conscience" for faith communities.
Who wrote the bible? Traditionally, there have been three answers to this question: God, humans, or both. While there are some who claim that God wrote the bible, with humans functioning merely as holders for the writing utensil, and others who believe the bible is only a human creation, most people of faith hold an opinion somwhere between these two extremes. This approach recognizes that all the words of the bible were authored (orally and in writing) by humans; therefore, they are subject to all possible human errors (e.j., writing mistakes, tunnel vision, ego, etc.). However, this approach also allows for divine inspiration in the process. The bible is the record of certain groups of humanity's search for God. At times, the divine element is allowed shine through strongly, and at other times, it is overshadowed or duried by the human one.
Obviously, how one answers the authorship question will influence what authority they grant the bible. The bible does not have authority for the reader outside of a biblically-connected faith tradition. Even within these faith traditions, people choose how much authority they will grant the bible. Most also grant more authority to certain passages of scripture than others. The concern is that we recognize and name our method for how these decisions are made. This is where hermeneutics enters the process. As we read, study, and seek to understand the bible and apply its lessons to our lives, we will have to make choices between texts that seem to hold universal truths and those that may support a vision of the world that is culturally and historically limited and no longer acceptable in the 21st century. The key is to have a consistent hermeneutic that guides all of our decisions.
For Christians, it would seem that the radically inclusive Divine love revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus could be an interpretive framework thorugh which we read the bible and determine what it means for our lives, as individuals and as the Church.