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Hermeneutical Practice of Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament

Updated on February 24, 2013
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Bronwen was a teacher for over forty years. Degrees include School Librarianship, Psycholinguistics and Theology, and Applied Linguistics.

Theology and Hermeneutics

In theology, hermeneutics is the study of interpretative principles as applied to the Bible; it is an appreciation of the techniques of exegesis and provides an understanding of the methods by which exegetical procedures are devised. There are many passages and texts in the Old Testament that can be seen as ambiguous and difficult to understand and hermeneutical theory can assist through the use of methods of analysis. The application of various principles by both Jews and Christians has a long history and is of fundamental importance in assisting believers today in our understanding of the Word of God.

The subject of hermeneutics covers the study of exegetical critical techniques in literary tradition, form, textual and philological aspects. Subdivisions of Biblical hermeneutics include literal, moral and allegorical interpretive principles.

The Holy Bible Begins with the Old Testament
The Holy Bible Begins with the Old Testament | Source

The Old Testament as Reference

The Books of the Old Testament were the Bible for Jesus, for the Apostles and for the writers of the Gospels, the Epistles and other books of the New Testament. Each of these writers employed interpretative principles of Biblical hermeneutics as they 'opened the Scriptures.'

The Scriptures for Jesus: The Old Testament Scriptures were referred to constantly by Jesus in His teaching and some of these occasions were recorded in the Gospels. Jesus knew the Scriptures so well that we find great variety in His use of quotations; as a Jew He held the view that the Scriptures are the inspired and authoritative Word of God, and as Christians we follow His lead. Jesus utilized the Scriptures in His time of temptation, in His teaching and in polemics; He knew them thoroughly. His teaching was based on the principles of the Old Testament writings and he warned (Matt 5.17) against the thinking that His teaching contradicted the Scriptures. Instead, He had come to expound and fulfil them. In contrast with the teaching of the Rabbis, He points to wider, deeper meanings and interpretation of the Scriptures as they were applied to the inner being, rather than the surface, outer meaning.

The Scriptures for the Apostles: The Apostles used Old Testament Scriptures especially when they were working with Jews and Jewish Christians. However, as the Apostles and Disciples were so well versed in the Scriptures, they had become part of their way of thinking so they also used them quite extensively when working with Gentiles (non-Jews). They often quoted and referred to the Old Testament when they were relating the life and mystery of Christ to prophesies and analogies. It is said that there are almost one hundred and seventy direct Old Testament quotations and hundreds of references to the Scriptures and that these make up at least ten percent of the New Testament.

The Scriptures for the Early Church: The Books of the Old Testament were the Bible for the early Christian church and it is helpful if we understand their hermeneutical practice because of its influence on later methods of interpretation.

The New Testament
The New Testament | Source

The New Testament Writers

The Gospels: When the Gospels were written, as we have seen, the Old Testament was quoted and referred to frequently. However, these references were often very free interpretations and were seen in the light of Christ's teaching as they remembered it and not according to the current interpretation in synagogues and temple. They were also not always quoted exactly, but, while the literary form may have been altered, the meaning remained the same as the writers followed the example of Jesus and explored the inner depths of meaning. Again, the Scripture texts were never quoted baldly and left there, but interpretative principles were applied, following the example of Jesus, to explain the Christian situation and viewpoint.

The Epistles: Some of the New Testament Letters were written to groups of Christian Jews and the Scriptures were frequently referred to, quoted and interpreted according to the problems that had arisen and that were usually the cause of the writing of the Letters.

Most of the Letters were written by Paul. He saw his calling to preach the Good News to the Gentiles, who may have not been so well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures, so his intention was to avoid them a little. However, as it eventuated, it was a very little as he had been so well trained they had become part of his linguistic foundation and thought and he could not avoid them.

Studying the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament helps us to gain an understanding of the thinking of the early Christian leaders as they searched for ways to guide the small, scattered communities in how to live as Christians in difficult times in a non-Christian society.

New Testament Exegetes

The past two thousand years have seen many Christian exegetes of New Testament writings and the influence on them of the Old Testament. Interpretation probably began when the Gospels and Epistles were circulated and discussion ensued.

The Patristic Period: This covered about five hundred years, beginning in 95 AD with the writings of Clement of Rome and ending with those of Gregory the Great in 590 AD. During this time, various schools of thought arose, influenced by their environment, but some of their theological teachings were unacceptable and bitter feuds arose between some of the schools. These included the School of Antioch and the School of Alexandria. In the former, emphasis was placed, by exegetes such as Theophilus of Antioch, on historical interpretation and on the use of Typology. The School of Alexandria included Origen and Clement of Alexandria, but because of polemics that arose because of their interpretation of faith they resorted to the allegorizing method and this method influenced the writing of both Jerome and Augustine.

The Medieval Period: The allegorical method continued into the Medieval period, but this was mostly a time strongly influenced by tradition and conformity. Names in this time include that of Thomas Aquinas.

The Reformation Period: A new era for Biblical interpretation came with the emergence of men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. it was a great release from legalism and stultifying traditions, but the rise of Protestantism also led to many disagreements between theologians. This eventually brought about a swing towards Rationalism with philosophers such as Descartes and Spinoza in the seventeenth century and Berkeley and Kant in the eighteenth century.

The Post-Reformation Period: It was during this time that scholars began to pay more attention to the semantics and lexicology of the New Testament. This greatly aided a better understanding of the texts. it was not until 1751 that Lowth uncovered the system of parallelism in Hebrew poetry and interest in literary forms gained attention of exegetes.

The Word of God, the Water of Life
The Word of God, the Water of Life | Source

The Purpose of Hermeneutics

Within theology, which is the study of God and our Christian beliefs, we can learn so much from hermeneutics and the application of interpretative principles to the Bible as a whole. As has been seen, the New Testament cannot be studied without knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. Christian interpretation of the Scriptures, using the techniques of exegesis and carried out in faith, has a long history and an understanding of this helps us to gain insights into the deeper tenets of our faith. The use of hermeneutical theory can assist in achieving this aim by shedding extra illumination on the Word of God in New Testament writing so the implications can be understood by a contemporary generation of believers.

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    • BlossomSB profile image
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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Mel Carriere: Thank you so much for your kind comments. God bless you.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      This theological hair splitting has been the cause of wars and persecutions for the past two millennia, and sometimes in all of the dogmatic investigations of scripture the pure words of Christ are forgotten. This book has been, and continues to be, the greatest source of inspiration to Western Civilization while at the same time being the greatest source of conflict. Fantastic hub, you certainly know your stuff!

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      crayonbrains 3 years ago from The World Is Mine !

      Thank you for this hub Blossom. It was enlightening ! Please visit this website and help those poor souls. Thank you so much .

      http://gogetfunding.com/project/save-our-lives-fro...

    • BlossomSB profile image
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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      skye2day: His Word is alive and through it we are blessed. There is always so much more that we can learn. Thank you so much for your lovely comments. May God bless you.

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      skye2day 4 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Thank you blossom for the information. The Word of God is living and alive, Amen. Thank God the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus in scripture and through him we can understand. He reveals the words to us. We must open the Bible and study!! Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the world of God.

      Love your works for our Lord dear sister. Keep the hubs coming. My Love in Christ. Skye

    • BlossomSB profile image
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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      PattyJane: Thank you. Thanks for the follow, too, and welcome to HubPages.

    • PattyJane profile image

      PattyJane 4 years ago

      Love this hub and all your topics on biblical hermeneutics. Keep up the great work!

    • BlossomSB profile image
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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      cam8510: I'm glad you found it both interesting and important, as I do, too. Thank you for your lovely comments.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      Thank you for writing such a thorough and interesting article on biblical hermeneutics. We are so fortunate to have been preceded by men and women who progressively worked out a system of study, interpretation and application that makes the task of today's students of the Bible so much more productive. You have handled the subject expertly.

      Voted up and useful.

    • BlossomSB profile image
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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Michael-Milec: Just at the moment I wouldn't mind a little of your chill - it's nearly bedtime and stiflingly hot! We're a hard to please lot, aren't we? Life would be really boring if we had the one season all year. Thank you for your blessing and angels. We had an MTC (Ministering To Children) Conference at Mt. Evelyn today, had to meet at church car-park at 7.40 and only returned at 6 p.m., so for an oldie it was a long day. Worth it, though! God bless you.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 4 years ago

      It sounds so ' warmly '- " it's summer here..." while looking outside, we are getting several inches additional snow. Thanks for you responding, means a lot to me , manifold .

      God bless an protect you, and as you're driving car, Angels around you.

      Shalom

    • BlossomSB profile image
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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Michael-Milec: Thank you for your lovely comments, you are so right! Sorry I've taken so long to reply, it's summer here and I've been away on holiday - just returned a couple of hours ago!

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 4 years ago

      Hello Blossom. Thank God for you and your willingness to supply us with great articles.

      So true : knowledge of the O.T. Scriptures help study and understand the N.T. scriptures in every way. The Lord Jesus set an example of great benefit memorizing the Word . At right moment of need He could say," it is written..." and the enemy Devil had to leave Him.

      The Word of God is powerful" living and active..."

      My strong conviction is that The Lord Jesus wanted us to know the Word, to live it and to apply it as needed . He even gave us promises/fulfilled of the Spirit of the truth ..."which the Father will send in my name , to teach you all things, and remind you of everything I have said to you",in John 14:26

      God bless you as you're continuing to be a blessing

      Voted Up & beautiful.

      Shalom

    • BlossomSB profile image
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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Jackie Lynnley: Sorry I missed your comment before, but thank you so much. People who have been brought up in the Jewish faith have such a good understanding of the background of Christianity. Zola Levitt has meant a lot to you and to many others, too. Thank you for your comment.

      FSlovenec: Indeed, God is Love and when we study the Bible we learn how great is that love for us. We can never love Him enough, but through the sacrifice of Jesus our sins can be forgiven so that we can come to a closer relationship with God. May He bless you today.

    • FSlovenec profile image

      Frank Slovenec 5 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Love it the Old T points forward to the Cross and the New T points back to the cross.. the Bible is all about the love God has for us..thank you

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I really enjoyed this. I think of men like Zola Levitt who was a Christian Jew and think how much easier it is for them to know the bible and I think in the way God meant them to. They first understand the OT and what it is about and then applying that to New Testament have such a better understanding of it too. He has passed on but I still enjoy his ministry for bible study.

    • BlossomSB profile image
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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      I thought I'd replied to these comments, but they seem to have disappeared, so I'm starting again.

      Faithful Daughter: Thank you for the follow. You must miss Dr. Cripe. My mentor was Dr. Cliff Wilson and he was such a help. Although he was a fellow Australian, he was voted Outstanding Educator of America in 1971. He died this year and I miss him, too.

      Faith Reaper: The Bible is truly Number One Book in the world. When I gave my life to the Lord at age ten, my mother gave me a Bible and wrote in the flyleaf: 'You will find the answers to all life's problems in this Book.'

      Frank Atanacio: How lovely! Thank you, Frank.

      funnychap: Yes. Jesus 'opened' the Scriptures and gave deeper interpretations that related them to a person's inner mind and heart.

      Angela Blair: Thank you, I'm so glad that it has been helpful.

      May God bless you all, my Christian brothers and sisters.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

      You have, indeed, broadened both my study and understanding of the Bible and I thank you. Best/Sis

    • funnychap profile image

      Robert D'Silva 5 years ago from Mumbai

      very interesting. i get the feeling that Jesus himself used these practices when he quoted from the old testament, i.e. he stressed on the spirit of the law rather then just the letters.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

      Again Blossom when I need to learn something new I'll just click on one of your hubs.. you make it simple and you make it an easy read thank you for that :) Frank

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      Faith Reaper 5 years ago from southern USA

      Hello Blossom - Well, I just commented and it went away. Here we go again - Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this dear one. You have written a very insightful piece here regarding the great gift of His living and active Word, the Word of God. We need no other book! Any problems we have in this life, we have God's Word right there for us to find the answers, any and all answers. Bravo dear one! Voted Way Up, except funny. God bless you. In His Love, Faith Reaper

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      Evi Lopez 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

      An in-depth study of the Bible fascinates and intrigues me. You are correct, we can learn so much from hermeneutics and the application of interpretative principles to the Bible in its entirety. Presently I am reading an exhaustive commentary on the Book of Revelations called “Seven Trumpets Asounding” written by a Historic Orthodox Theologian, Rev. Earl D. Cripe. Dr. Cripe was one of my favorite authors. He was my mentor and a great teacher. Unfortunately, he passed away earlier this year leaving all his followers in tears and heartbroken. It is refreshing to find another hubber knowledgeable and educated in this area; therefore, you have a new follower. Voted up across the board.