Hermeneutics, in Christian theology, is the study of the interpretation of Scriptures. Hermeneutics is often referred to as both a science and an art: a science because there are specific rules to be followed, but also an art because the task is not a mechanical, dry procedure.
The process consists of two main parts:
- The first (referred to as exegesis) intends to discover the meaning of the text through the author's intent. This is commonly called the literal sense of Scripture, and means that a passage should be interpreted literally unless the context clearly indicates that a symbolic meaning is intended (such as in end-times passages as found in Daniel or Revelation, or whenever Jesus spoke in parables). (The opposite, eisegesis, intends to interpret Scripture through the reader's pre-determined viewpoints, and is to be avoided.)
- Once the meaning of a passage is discovered, then it is to be read in light of the entire Bible (and not build a doctrine or position on a single proof text). A common phrase used to define this is "Scripture interprets Scripture". The principle also holds that we should read obscure passages of Scripture in light of clear passages on a subject.
The difference in hermeneutics between Catholic/Orthodox and Protestant groups is how writing of early church fathers should be considered:
- Orthodox and Catholic hermeneutics likewise hold that obscure passages of Scripture must be read in light of clear passages as being from the one mind of one Divine Author (the Holy Spirit of God) interpreted infallibly by the same Author guiding the Magisterium to discern and gradually unfold ever more and more clearly the inexhaustible depths of its profoundly deeper meaning and application to the life of the whole church in accordance with Apostolic Tradition (see Apostolic succession and Ecumenical council).
- Protestants, on the other hand, may consider outside sources (such as the writings of the early church fathers and the creeds which were later developed) as useful, but hold they are considered secondary to, and not on the level of, Scripture itself; in cases where those sources differ from Scripture, they are to be rejected in favor of the Biblical text.
- Sola scriptura
- Cafeteria Christianity
- Essay: How to choose a Bible
- Literalist Bible chronology
- Historical-critical method (Higher criticism)
- Historical-grammatical method (Literal hermeneutic)
- Harmony of the Gospel (Conservative Version)
- Revelation, Book of (historical exegesis)