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The word "hermeneutics" comes from the Greek verb "to interpret", so in Biblical studies hermeneutics is the way you work out (i.e. interpret) the meaning of a Bible passage.

Your hermeneutic answers the question of how to find out what the writer intended by what they wrote.

(However note that sometimes people believe that their God’s intention and the author’s intention for the meaning of a passage might not be the same, in which case, paraphrasing Lewis Carroll's Alice, "a passage means what I want it to mean no more and no less".)


Semantic domains

A semantic domain gives the range of meanings that a particular word may have.

At one particular point in time, they will be synchronic meanings, i.e. synchronised at one time, e.g. "church" means both a "building" and a "congregation".

Diachronic meanings show the change in meaning through time, e.g. "let" used to mean "prevent" or "hinder" (and still does in Tennis when the ball touches the net on service) but now it means "allow".


Grammatical Historical Method

The grammatical historical method of interpreting assumes that words and sentences have fairly stable meanings during historical periods.

Using this method, passages are taken to have a straightforward meaning that can be determined through an understanding of vocabulary and syntax.

This method allows for the use of literary devices like simile and metaphor. The identification and interpretation of such devices is usually clear from the text itself.

The historic context of various texts is critically important for the interpretation process.

This method is concerned with interpretation in context.

It recognizes that biblical revelation is progressive and so the interpretation of earlier material should not be influenced by an understanding obtained from later material.

This method assumes that the scripture is not contradictory and so opposing alternative interpretations are rejected.

This method interprets uncertain material in light of incontrovertible texts.


The First Century CE Rabbis: used at least four other different methods to interpret the Bible.


• Apocalyptic and Allegorical

This belief underlying these methods is that Tanak texts have both real and ideal meanings. The chief goal of interpretation is finding the (ideal) higher meaning (See Philo of Alexandria and Origen)


• Peshat

This comes from the verb "to strip off" and is a literalistic approach that takes a passage to refer to actual events without any allowance for metaphor, simile, allegory or other literary convention.


• Pesher

This comes from the verb "to explain" and it can refer to either a commentary or a technique.

The pesher technique is to assume that Tanak passages have direct contempory application to the people of their own time irrespective of historical context.

Pesher commentaries are line-by-line analyses of Tanak passages using the pesher method.

Using this method, a word, text or Tanak allusion, is related to a present person or place and the context of the source is ignored.

For example: in the Dead Sea Scrolls pesher on Habakkuk, the writer(s) simply take Habakkuk’s references to the Chaldeans and apply them to the Romans without any attempt to justify the application. The context of Habakkuk seems to hold little interest for the pesher commenter. Also, antagonist and protagonist are typical of Qumran pesher writing. All of the destruction described by Habakkuk is attributed to the ‘wicked priest’ while all the good things are attributed to the ‘righteous teacher’.


• Midrash

This comes from the verb "to seek, examine, investigate". Midrash refers to a method of quoting, interpreting and then amplifying a Tanak passage. It uses the Tanak as a springboard to hidden meanings without concern for context.


Contact: Peter Eyland