Historical-grammatical method (Literal hermeneutic)

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The Bible is the best-selling book of all time.[1]

Between 5 to 7 billion Bibles have been published.

The Historical-grammatical method , also called Grammatical-Historical method, is a Christian hermeneutical approach to biblical studies that strives to properly understand the Bible by determining the meaning intended by the original author of the text through careful literary exegesis of the text by assuming that words and expressions in the text have a relatively stable meaning during given periods of history, as representing history and poetry. To the extent possible through literary textual exegesis, sometimes inaccurately called Lower-criticism ("word-study"), this method takes whatever can be accurately determined by informed professional linguistic scholarship as the normal, everyday meaning of the words, phrases, and sentences in the original languages, and then takes the fruit of this determination of their meaning through an understanding of the historical, social, and cultural context of both the writer(s) and original recipients of the text, as well as other parts of the Bible.

The "two senses of scripture": a four-fold hermeneutic

According to an ancient tradition two senses of scripture can be distinguished [2]:

  • literal (1 sense)—the meaning conveyed by the words of scripture, and discovered by exegesis following the rules of sound interpretation.
    According to Thomas Aquinas "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."[3]
  • spiritual (3 senses)—the allegorical, moral, and anagogical.

In A.D. 1515, Martin Luther rejected the elaborate four-fold literal, allegorical, moral, anagogical hermeneutic that had been predominant throughout the Medieval centuries, and most especially the allegorical which had led many exegetes to some very far-fetched allegorizing of the Bible, and left scriptural interpretation in the hands of the experts, who alone were deemed capable of discerning the deeper things that bible passages really meant, according to what is called sensus plenior. In place of this allegorical hermeneutic of the deeper spiritual sense of scripture, Luther proposed what he termed a “grammatical-historical” hermeneutic, in which each Bible passage had only one basic meaning, which was firmly rooted in historical truth, and is assumed to be related accurately according to the common principles of ordinary human language.[4]

Conservative Christians: the preferred interpretative method

For many conservative Protestant exegetes, the grammatical-historical hermeneutic is the primary method of interpretation, in contrast to the overwhelming reliance on historical-critical interpretation in biblical studies at the academic level by the whole spectrum of highly trained scholars ranging from ultraconservatives through moderates to ultraliberals, from conservative believers to liberal agnostics and atheists. Methodological approaches to the grammatical-historical method of biblical exegesis range in various degrees, from the complete rejection of textual-historical criticism of some fundamentalist Protestants as being sophistical corruptions of the Bible according to the doctrines of demons, to the cautiously moderated acceptance of "soundly-based" conservative textual-historical criticism in the Roman Catholic tradition since Pope Pius XII and the publication of Divino Afflante Spiritu.

The historical-grammatical method is an attempt to understand the literal sense of scripture. In this context, a passage is assumed to be taken literally unless the context clearly indicates that a literal meaning would not apply (e.g. passages in Daniel and Revelation which are symbolic of future events, Jesus' speaking in parables).

See also

Literalist Bible chronology

Revelation, Book of (historical exegesis)

Biblical inerrancy

Sola scriptura

Sola spiritu


Apostolic tradition

Cafeteria Christianity




Great Disappointment

Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge

Biblical Archaeology

Biblical anthropology

Young Earth Creationism

Answers in Genesis

King James Only

Biblical Criticism


Literal Translation

Dynamic equivalence




Essay: How to choose a Bible


External links

Historical-grammatical method - Wikipedia

YouTube Sep 25, 2016 Matthew O'Brien Historical Grammatical Method: Survey and Critique

Can the Grammatical-Historical Method of Interpretation Determine Christian Orthodoxy? (douglasbeaumont.com)


Do you use the historical-grammatical method? The BioLogos Forum (discourse.biologos.org)

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION – A Literal-Historical-Grammatical Approach (scroll down page to the text)

Does the Historical-grammatical Method Limit the Bible?: A Doctor Reflects on Hermeneutics (spectrummagazine.org)

Reading and Misreading the Bible - Spectrum Magazine (spectrummagazine.org)

Biblical Hermeneutics - What is the difference between historical-grammatical and historical criticism? (hermeneutics.stackexchange.com)

"The Presuppositions of the Historical-Grammatical Method as Employed by Historic Lutheranism", by Raymond F. Surburg (media.ctsfw.edu)The Historical-Grammatical method employs a wider range of assumptions that are summarized by Raymond F Surburg (download available)

Xenos Christian Fellowship - Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutics for Lay Readers, by Gary DeLashmutt and Dennis McCallum. Interpret Grammatically, Historically, and Critically (xenos.org)

Videos of historical-grammatical method (bing.com/videos)