In the previous post (available here), I defined “biblical literacy” by two key concepts: awareness and proficiency. Biblical literacy is achieved when the Christian can recognize Scripture’s historical contexts and literary genres that God used to reveal Himself (awareness), and from there, discern the Scripture’s meaning expressed through those contexts (proficiency). I also argued that because its goal is less ambitious than expertise or mastery, biblical literacy is achievable for, and expected of, every Christian. Moreover, I claimed that, ultimately, it is only a true believer in Jesus Christ who can become biblically literate, as submission to Scripture’s divine authority is part and parcel of a true understanding the Bible (hence my use of “Christian” as the recurring subject in this series).


With a framework now in place that surveyed why biblical literacy is important (available here [part 1]), and what biblical literacy is, this final post will concern the “how” one becomes aware and proficient enough in Scripture to be biblically literate. As such, this third installment concerns interpretive method, also known as “hermeneutics.” And by necessity, it will be the lengthiest post of the series. One’s method of interpreting Scripture is incredibly important, as it will determine not only their theology, but how they apply what they read. Indeed, everything boils down to hermeneutics.


Our Legacy as People of the Book


Before I dive into the nuts and bolts of interpretive method, I feel it’s important to point out what this series does not intend to do. It does not aim to shame Christians into reading more of their Bibles. Personal reasons behind one’s diet of biblical truth vary, and more times than not, “well-meaning Christians simply do not know where to begin.” [1] Integrity demands that all Christians, even the most mature believer, acknowledge the Bible is pretty big, very old, and rather intimidating. If it really is God’s Word “breathed out” (2 Tim 3:16), we should expect Scripture to be a little mysterious, even complicated at times. After all, the infinite God is its divine author, and this same God dwells in “unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6:16). So, it is understandable when Christians are too overwhelmed or too intimidated at the prospect of reading Scripture’s library of literature, and refrain from even getting started. 


However, it is equally true that laziness is often the culprit behind a Christian’s lack of biblical literacy. Again, if we’re honest, it’s much easier to sit back and passively “be fed” by a solid preacher or entertained by a magnetic speaker who appears to know Scripture better than us. The excuse becomes: they’ve done the work, so we don’t have to. Here, a reminder of the Bereans in Acts 17 is pertinent. They didn’t allow even the apostle Paul’s sermon to go by unvetted—and were described as “more noble” for doing so (v. 11). Therefore, challenges to one’s familiarity with Scripture should be welcomed, not repelled. 


In any event, the Bible can (and should) be understood. To “reveal” something is to intend for it to be grasped, and the Bible is the written revelation of God. It has been revealed to us and we are to understand it. Paul declared to the church at Corinth that God’s character is not confusing, but orderly (1 Cor 14:33). It stands to reason that if God revealed Himself in the Bible, then He would want us to understand the Bible—since to know the Bible is to know the God of the Bible. While interpretive challenges inevitably confront every reader of Scripture these are not barriers blocking a grasp of its clear teaching. Indeed, there is a reason why Christians are known historically as “people of the Book.” [2] The Bible functions as the Christian’s sole authority for theology and life, and therefore, “whatever the Bible teaches on some topic or another binds the Christian’s conscience.” [3] Such is the very essence of sola Scriptura—“Scripture alone.” The Bible is our heritage. Our legacy is to read it, cherish it, and defend it—even with our lives. [4] But to do so with confidence, we must understand something of hermeneutics.


Herman … Who


Hermeneutics is a funny sounding word. Spoken quickly, it sounds like someone’s name, Herman Neuticks. But, like much of the English language, its origin is Greek, and its meaning is not as difficult it may sound. 


The word “hermeneutics” simply comes from the Greek verb hermēneuō, meaning “to interpret or translate.” [5] Luke 24:27 reports, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus interpreted [hermēneuō], to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” [6] In John, Jesus told the blindman to “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which translates [hermēneuō], ‘Sent’). So, he went and washed and came back seeing” (9:7). Immediate context dictates which English gloss works best, “interpret” or “translate,” since the former carries the idea of explanation in the same language while the latter swaps a word in one language for another in the target language (e.g., “Siloam” = “Sent.”). In either case, it’s the same Greek term and the general sense of the word is kept. [7] In English, we may use “mean” to get the same idea across. What someone means is how they should be interpreted or translated, i.e., hermēneuō.


The field of hermeneutics has a broad scope. In a general sense, it is the disciplinary study of the methods and history of interpretation of any corpus of literature (biblical or non-biblical). When used in discussions surrounding the literature of Scripture, the field is narrowed to “biblical hermeneutics.” The discipline of biblical hermeneutics is, therefore, the study and practice of biblical interpretation. More specifically, biblical hermeneutics is the science and art of interpreting the Bible[8] It is “scientific” because there are rules that help guide the process. It is “artistic” in that applying those rules depends on the interpreter’s skill, and ultimately, the leading of the Holy Spirit. As it relates to biblical literacy, I am using the word “hermeneutics” to mean a method of interpreting the Bible that helps the Christian gain awareness and proficiency of Scripture in order to understand God’s revealed will.


The Goal of Biblical Hermeneutics


In the mid 20th century, Bernard Ramm stated the goal of biblical hermeneutics with clarity: “To ascertain what God has said in Sacred Scripture; to determine the meaning of the Word of God.” [9] Again, God revealed His will in Scripture which implies it can be, and should be, understood. There is zero profit if God has spoken, and Christians do not know what He said. Thankfully, God has spoken, and hermeneutics is the process of discerning or ascertaining what God has revealed or spoken in the Bible. What a passage of Scripture means is the question biblical hermeneutics seeks to answer. 


A popular idea is that a Christian should read the Bible as they read any other type of literature. The idea is that the same rules of interpretation apply to all literature, and the Bible is no exception. No one confuses tax documents with song lyrics, for example. An IRS 1040 is naturally understood according to its literary genre, as is Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” according to its genre. A person does not need to be told how they differ, it’s obvious. If more people understood this principle of interpreting literature according to its genre and intention, Scripture would not suffer from so many misinterpretations by people who want it to mean whatever they want it to mean. 


There is, of course, truth to this “rule” and the intention is well-meaning. But it is not entirely accurate. 


The Bible is not just any type of literature. It is the only literature in the world that is theopneustos or “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16). Moreover, it has dual authorship: divine and human. Peter stated that men wrote Scripture as they were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). As such, the Bible is both the word of God and the word of man. As Jesus—the living Word—is both human and divine, the Bible—the written Word—is both human and divine. These dual natures are complimentary, not contradictory.  


Therefore, in regard to hermeneutics, the Bible is in a special class by itself. It cannot be read “just like” any other type of literature. [10] It testifies to the glory of God throughout history, with Jesus Christ as the pinnacle of God’s glory and world history (Heb 1:1–3). This makes the Bible infinitely greater than all the “sacred texts” of the world’s great religions. While customary rules of interpretation are applied to Scripture in order to discern its meaning, this particular literature is “living and active” (Heb 4:12)—with eternal consequences weighing in the balance. Clearly, how a Christian interprets the Bible is radically more important than how they interpret anything else. 


The Meaning of “Meaning”


If the goal of biblical hermeneutics is to discover or ascertain the meaning of Scripture, then it begs the question: what is “meaning”? Some argue that meaning is inherent in the text as text. That is, the text is an autonomous entity to itself, and meaning is sourced in the linguistic symbols and syntax (or words and sentences) apart from the person who wrote them. [11] Others place meaning in how the text affects its reader. In other words, meaning is to be found, not in the text itself or the author behind the text, but how the reader responds to the text. [12] Contrary to these approaches, I argue that authorial intent is the meaning of “meaning.”


Every human who wishes to be understood by other humans intends or wills a meaning in their message. [13] All meaningful communication is predicated upon the speaker or writer intending to express their meaning to others. In his landmark study on interpretive theory, E. D. Hirsch made the following indisputable observation: “All forms of written interpretation and all interpretive goals that transcend private experience require that some author’s meaning be both determinate and reproducible.” [14] Hirsch’s remark follows the triadic universal sequence of one person communicating to another: author—message—recipient. In written form, an author “determines” a meaning in their message, and the reader “reproduces” (interprets) that same meaning. 


That this is the default position of all human communication serves to prove its legitimacy when discerning “meaning” in biblical hermeneutics. There is a single intended meaning in every biblical passage, and that meaning is what the passage’s author intended. Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson put it this way:


The rules of proper communication demand that we seek to understand the meaning the person communicating intended to convey. The text is not autonomous or a law unto itself, as if it existed apart from the author who willed and wrote it into being. It is an authorially shaped and designed product that requires careful and respectful interpretation. [15]


It seems unescapable, therefore, that even in the misplaced attempts above, it is impossible to sever the relationship between author and text—regardless of how the text is received. Even if an author wishes for their writing to be open-ended and interpreted any way the reader sees fit (a consequence to both approaches above), it was still intended that way to begin with. [16] As such, it is seems unescapable that “meaning” is ultimately sourced in the author’s intention behind their text. Therefore, “meaning” should be defined as “authorial intent.”


Understanding Authorial Meaning is Expected in Scripture


Throughout the texts of Scripture, introductory formulae are used that strongly imply the reader is expected to understand the actual authorial meaning of those texts. One clear example is the four hundred and seventeen appearances of the expression “Thus says the Lord” throughout the OT (e.g., Ex 4:22; 5:1; 7:17; 11:4; Josh 7:13; Judg 6:8; 2 Sam 7:5; 2 Sam 24:12; Isa 10:24; 28:16; 29:22; 31:4; 49:7; 56:1; Jer 2:2; 6:9; 10:2; 11:3, Zech 1:16; 8:23 et al.). It seems absurd to think that whatever follows such a strong interjection from Yahweh would be open for interpretation. Introductory patters used in the NT likewise implies the reader is expected to understand Scripture’s authorial meaning. Jesus’s rhetorical question, “Have you not read?” enveloping the Gospels is one such example (e.g., Matt 12:5; 19:4; 22:31; Mark 12:10, 26; Luke 6:3; cf. John 12:14). Such a method Jesus used to introduce an OT passage suggests He expected His audience to know the intended meaning of those passages, even if they had misunderstood it (He also apparently expected His audience to have actually “read” them!). Similarly, the rest of the NT abounds with introductory phrases like, “As it says in [the OT book or prophet],“ “As Scripture says,” “As it is written,” and “According to [an OT book or prophet]” (see Acts 7:42; 15:15; Rom 4:6; 10:11, 20; Gal 3:6; 1 Thess 3:4; 2 Tim 3:8; Heb 3:2; 1 John 3:23; 2 John 6; Jude 7; Rev 10:7). 


Paul and other NT writers appealed to OT Scripture this way to justify their own points and did so assuming their readers understood the intended meaning of those biblical passages. Otherwise, these appeals would be useless. Michael Vlach refers to this as a “consistent contextual use of the OT by NT writers’ approach.” [17] When the NT quotes or appeals to the OT he does so contextually, maintaining the intended meaning of the OT author. [18]


Clearly, each of these ways the Bible declares a command or introduces a quote or allusion to other portions of Scripture signals an actual intended meaning in those texts—and that both the original audience and reader today were/are expected to understand that intended meaning. This means the Bible is not a free-for-all trinket open to any interpretation imaginable. It has an intended meaning that is expected to be understood. Therefore, the biblically literate Christian assumes that the biblical text really does faithfully represent the author’s intended meaning behind those texts. His or her goal is to “diligently discern” [19] the author’s intended meaning expressed through their texts and rightly handle the word of truth (cf. 2 Tim 2:15).


Going back to the very first utterance in Scripture, “God said: ‘Let there be light.’” The response immediately follows: “And there was light” (Gen 1:3). If God expects even inanimate elements to understand His intended meaning, how much more for the Christian who is made in His image? 


Upholding Authorial Meaning is Ethical


There is an ethical dimension to how we read Scripture that often gets overlooked in discussions on hermeneutics: to neglect the author's intention (i.e., authorial meaning) is to disrespect the author.Everyone has experienced their words being taken out of context. It doesn’t feel good. When a speaker or writer communicates their message, it becomes an ethical violation when the listener or reader disregards the intended meaning and twists it to mean something else.  


There is a helpful principle in Jesus’s “golden rule” that resonates with an ethical interpretation of texts, namely, to respect an author’s intended meaning. “So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12). Contextually, the “rule” is embedded in a sermon Jesus’s preached to Israel concerning the Kingdom (cf. v. 21) and summarizes the ethics of the OT in a most succinct fashion. However, Köstenberger and Patterson observe a helpful inference: “The ‘golden rule’ of interpretation requires that we extend the same courtesy to any text or author that we would want others to extend to our statements and writings.” [20] If Jesus’s primary Jewish audience was expected to live their lives with virtue and integrity regulated by OT Law, how much more for Christians living under God’s grace who are commanded to “do all things to glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31)? Surely this “all things” includes reading Scripture and respecting the meaning intended by its human authors. And ultimately, it means respecting God who revealed Himself through Scripture’s human authors. [21] Indeed, to read ethically is to read to the glory of God.


Context, Context, Context


In the world of biblical hermeneutics—CONTEXT IS KING. To discern the authorial intent in any biblical passage is to understand it contextually. Contextual awareness is a game changer for many newer (and rusty) Bible readers. Context really is the number one essential element for a proper interpretation of Scripture’s various literature.


Proof-texting is dangerous business. Too often, readers of Scripture disregard the surrounding context of a text for an immediate personal application of that text. As my personal example of Matt 4:9 in the first post painfully illustrated, God did not reveal His will in isolated verses. Before a Christian can properly apply a text or biblical principle today, it is crucial they understand the situation in which it was first revealed. 


What were the surrounding cultural, political, or ecclesial issues occasioning the writing? Who was the original human author (or at best, the likely author), and who was the original audience? In what economy or dispensation was the text written or to which economy is it referring (e.g., law, grace, kingdom)? What type of literary genre is the text, and where does it sit in the overall canon of Scripture? How does one verse relate to another other verse in a paragraph, and how does that paragraph relate to the book or letter as a whole? What are the theological themes that reveal God’s character and His relationship to creation? 


These are a smattering of questions that guide the biblically literate Christian into awareness and proficiency of Scripture before they apply what they read. For as Zuck wisely pointed out, “We must know the meaning of the Bible before we can know its message for today. We must understand the Bible’s sense for then before we can see its significance for now.” [22] Maintaining the text’s context guards against the all-too-popular interpretive fallacy of reader-response, which looks to self for meaning. Instead of vainly asking, What does this text mean to me? The biblically literate reader takes a step back and asks, What does this text mean to God, the original human author, and the original audience? Only then do they ask, how (or if) they should apply it now. Undeniably, context is the most fundamental tool for the reader of Scripture to keep in mind. 


Thus, when studying any passage of Scripture, we are sure to respect the text’s historical background and the grammar the author used to make sure we understand it in proper context. These three factors—history, literature, and theology—must be assessed judiciously if we are to attain a valid interpretation. [23] A tried and true process that helps maintain the Bible’s historical, literary, and theological contexts is to follow three steps: observation (historical background matters), interpretation (type of genre, syntaxt and word meanings), and then application (what it teaches about God and how we are supposed to respond).


Scripture Progresses, not Regresses  


As a method of interpreting Scripture to gain awareness and proficiency, biblical hermeneutics can also be thought of in terms of “Bible study.” But a Bible study method need not entail some rigid, mechanistic process of steps. Its aim is not mechanical imitation. Rather by developing in method we develop in person[24] A person’s hermeneutical method grows the reader of Scripture into awareness and proficiency of Scripture in order to understand God’s revealed will. Obviously, this affects the person’s life and how they live toward others. 


While each individual writing of Scripture was not always produced in a strict linear progression (i.e., each book historically written in the exact order it appears in our Bibles), the overall canon of Scripture is certainly arranged in the way the two major Testaments were historically revealed: first, the Old Testament; second, the New Testament. This very arrangement suggests a proper method of Bible study will be one that is progressive or forward-looking. [25] Scripture progresses, not regresses. So should our method. 


Like a house that is built upon a foundation before its walls are erected, the OT should be understood as providing the foundation for the NT. And, just like the walls, windows, or roof of a house do not repurpose or change its foundation, neither does the NT repurpose or change the meaning of the OT. Whatever the original intended meaning was in the OT, it was fully sufficient for its purposes and is never changed or cancelled by the NT. Contrary to claims that Christians should “unhitch” the NT from the OT, the NT is only properly understood in the light of the OT. [26] The OT can stand on its own and was even clear enough for Timothy to find salvation in Christ through it (see 2 Tim 3:15). [27] The Bible is not the Bible without both the OT and NT together. Therefore, a correct hermeneutical (and theological) method of Bible study is one that reads the NT in the light of the OT, not the converse order. In this sense, priority (or starting point) must be given to the OT. [28]


The Clarity of Scripture and Consistent Hermeneutics


In addition to understanding the Bible in relation to its progressive revelation, a method that properly respects Scripture’s context and discerns authorial meaning is one that maintains consistency. Indeed, clarity demands consistency. 


When Genesis 1 uses “day” (yôm) for the creation week, consistency will view it denoting the same period of time as a “day” in man’s weekly cycle (Ex. 20:10–11; Deut 5:12–15). Consistency will also maintain a literal reading of the virgin conception of Jesus as well as His future reign over Israel, as one verse follows the other (Luke 1:31–32). Likewise, consistency will not interpret “Israel” as a nation in Rom 11:25 while interpreting “Israel” as something different in the very next verse (v. 26). While context is the ultimate factor in determining a word’s meaning—since words by themselves have a range of meaning—consistency helps maintain context. 


Consistency is the key, and a reliable system of interpretation is one that not only approaches the Scriptures with belief in its divine origin, but is also, as Elliot Johnson argues, “developed through a system of consistent, reasoned principles.” [29] Such an approach is demanded by the “perspicuity” or “clarity” of Scripture. That is to say, claiming the Bible is clear or understandable is to depend on a consistent method of interpretation that justifies the claim.


The Most Consistent Hermeneutical Method


The most consistent biblical hermeneutic that is founded on reasoned principles is the “literal method.” The technical term is the “literal, grammatical-historical” hermeneutical method. Non-technical ways to explain it is the plain sense, clear sense, normal sense (etc.) of Scripture. The Bible is not “obscure” needing a supposed-prophet, pope, or committee to understand it. Rather, the Bible’s perspicuity lends itself quite naturally to a literal interpretation of Scripture. [30]


The literal method of interpretation is built around two main components: grammar and history. Hence, “grammatical-historical.” For each passage examined, both the grammar of the text (semantics and syntax) and the facts of history (historical context and factual historical hindsight) are surveyed at the discourse and sentence level. With a keen eye toward the text’s history, literature, and theology filtered through the process of observation, interpretation, and application, the passage’s grammar and history are exegeted in order to reach one main goal: the single-intended meaning of the Author/author. This literal, grammatical-historical method is to be consistently applied from Genesis to Revelation because the goal is always the same—discerning the single-intended meaning. [31] This is the case whether reading the Bible’s poetry like the Psalms with its figures of speech, or didactic (“teaching”) literature like the NT epistles. When the passage’s grammar and history are examined within their contexts, its authorial meaning is discovered. 


Also key is that while the passage may have far reaching significance allowing for multiple applications, the meaning of the text is fixed and singular. In other words—one meaning; multiple applications. However, even implications and applications are not completely detached from the author’s single intent. For instance, though David snuck up to Saul and cut off a piece of his robe while Saul was “relieving himself” (1 Sam 24:1–7), it is wrong to think this implies we should attack people in restrooms. Clearly, any significance a text may have must first have its basis in an accurate interpretation of that text—since one can easily misapply or draw a wrong implication from it. [32]


So, a consistent (evangelical) hermeneutical approach will demand that historical and literary contexts be kept at the fore in every passage explored, and that the interpreter will do so assuming the Scripture’s full inspiration and ultimate origin from God. Such ideas are most consistently upheld in the literal, grammatical-historical method of hermeneutics.  


Applying What’s Been Said: Two Examples


After all that has been said, I think it is helpful to wrap up by briefly applying the hermeneutical principles above to two examples in Scripture often taken out of context. Bearing in mind that biblical hermeneutics is both a “science” and “art,” this is merely my attempt at applying the principles stated throughout this article. These principles provide guiderails, but, ultimately, each interpreter is subject to their own skill, knowledge, and dependence on the Holy Spirit as they engage in biblical hermeneutics.  


By reading these verses through the lenes of history, literature, and theology and applying a literal, grammatical-historical hermeneutic, several observations are made that yield what I believe to be a correct interpretation and application. 


Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” 


1. Historically, Jeremiah was called by Yahweh primarily to declare coming judgments on God’s people as well as surrounding nations. During the prophet’s day, Israel, which was split in two, had violated the Mosaic covenant, and had already suffered through Assyrian invasions and captivities in the north (11:10–11). Jeremiah had warned Judah in the south of coming Babylonian oppression and captivity due to their rampant idolatry, which went ignored. By the time of ch 29, the warnings had come to fruition with Judah and its Temple destroyed, and Jews taken as slaves by Nebuchadnezzar. Verse 11 is then given by Yahweh through the prophet Jeremiah to surviving Israelites of the Babylonian captivity (v. 1). It communicates hope amid disaster as Yahweh would not forget His people with promises of restoration for national Israel in the latter days (30:3).


2. As for the literature of the book, it’s placement in the canon is obviously OT and is nestled between the major prophets of Isaiah through Daniel—all of which were written primarily to Israelites. Jeremiah seems to be dominated by historical-narrative prose with large elements of prophecy. The impressive amount of consecutive preterite verb forms customary to narrative genre (“and” + imperfect verb) move the story along sequentially, distinguishing the book from Hebrew poetry (though poetic sections do exist in Jeremiah). The first four verses of chapter 29 describe historically the events that lead to this “letter” (or “message” or “book”) Jeremiah wrote, which contains v. 11. This letter of prophecy was intended for surviving slaves from Judah in Babylon (note the plural “you”), which include instructions from Yahweh on how to faithfully reside in their current situation—even seeking the welfare of their captors (v. 7). Immediately following v. 11 is a lengthy prophecy of curses upon Israel—including sword, famine, and pestilence—due to them listening to false prophets while in Babylon, (vv.15–23). Destructive curses also fall on the false prophets themselves (vv. 21–24). In the middle of captivity, death, and destruction for the Israelites, stands v. 11, signaling a beacon of hope as Yahweh will not forget His people. He prophesied their eventual national restoration, later solidified in the New Covenant passage in ch 31.  


3. The theology of the passage is rich. It should be recalled that v. 11 was not given in isolation, or to individuals, but as part of a package of curses and blessings on corporate Israel for their breaking of the covenant (cf. Deut 5). They had allowed pagan nations and geo-political pressures to swerve them from faithfulness to the Law into rampant idolatry and wickedness. God does not tolerate such rebellion from His people, and He acted on His promises of captivity since they did not repent. Yet, even in the midst of horror and suffering, Yahweh remained faithful to His promises for Israel, originating with His call to Abraham (Gen 12: 1–3). They will be a nation that blesses the world (see 31:31–34), most explicitly through the Jewish Messiah who would be born according to the very tribe that is carried away into Babylon.


The single-intended meaning of Jeremiah 29:11: God will one day restore national Israel for their good and His glory when they seek Him with all their heart and call upon Him in repentance.

Implication / Application: Trust that if the Lord does not forget His promises to Israel, He will not forget His promises to the Church. Repentance should characterize the believer’s life, especially in times of distress. 


Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”


1. The historical context of the verse places the Apostle Paul in Roman imprisonment, awaiting his appeals made to Caesar, most likely Nero, in the early to mid 60s A.D. (1:7). Accompanied by Timothy (1:1), he wrote to the church at Philippi to thank them for their support of his ministry, likely financial in nature (1:4–5; 4:14–18). By this time, Paul had completed three difficult missions throughout the Mediterranean, which included beatings, stonings, and shipwrecks, along with various imprisonments in Israel for preaching the gospel (see Acts 13–27; cf. 20:23–24). Now under house arrest, Paul wrote to the Philippians along with letters to churches at Ephesus, Colossae, and to his friend Philemon. 


2. The literature of Philippians is clearly “epistle” (Grk for “letter”) signified by the customary salutations for which Paul is known (1:1–2 and 4:21–23). Situated in the NT canon, the letter is considered one of Paul’s undisputed “Prison Epistles” written to a predominately gentile church. Verse 13 appears within the final unit of thought that Paul gives to the Philippian church (vv. 10–20), before his concluding greetings (vv. 21–23). The word group for “joy” is prominent throughout the epistle (1:4, 18, 25; 2:2, 17, 28–29; 3:1 4:1), the final appearance of which initiates this unit with Paul “rejoicing” in response to the Philippian Christians’ care and concern for him (v. 10). Verse 14 contains Paul’s gratitude for the Philippians sharing in his “trouble,” a word elsewhere used of severe “affliction” and “tribulation” (see John 16:33). Sandwiched between Paul’s joy for their concern in v. 10 and reminder of his own trouble in v. 14 is his description of the ebb and flow of ministry, ranging from prosperity to deprivation (vv. 11–12). It is in this context that v. 13 begins with an emphatic plural adjective “all [things]” to describe Paul’s ministry affairs of highs and lows. The verse continues with a rare first-person verb “I am strong,” and ends with a present participle “strengthening.” Holding these words together is the prepositional phrase “in Him,” which locates Paul’s strength in God alone. 


3. Theologically, the message is clear. No matter what hardship or relief Paul experienced while preaching the gospel and planting churches, he learned contentment through it all by relying on God’s strength. Suffering and trials were not the exception for Paul’s ministry—they were the expectation. While God certainly provided Paul “abundance” (or more than enough) at times, he also allowed Paul to endure extreme hardship. The “secret” for Paul’s ministry success was being content in any situation and relying on God’s strength to see him through it (vv. 12–13). Such a lesson is invaluable for Christians in any context, especially those serving in gospel ministry. God supplies supernatural power needed for those to serve Him in whatever situation in which He has called them. 


The single-intended meaning of Philippians 4:13. Whether distress or prosperity confronted the apostle Paul during his ministry, he was able to accomplish his tasks faithfully through the power and strength God supplied, resulting in personal contentment.


Implication / Application: Christian ministry requires a divine power which is available only in God and accessible for those relying on Him for their needs. All Christians, especially pastors and missionaries, should expect difficult times in gospel-ministry, but Christ supplies them the strength needed to joyfully serve Him in any circumstance. 




By applying a system of consistent, reasoned principles, these passages discover an authorial meaning not often framed on walls or embroidered on boxing gloves. Though both verses make for decorative artwork, such artwork generally violates their historical, literary, and theological contexts. Jeremiah 29:11 is set within a context of both curses and blessings for the nation of Israel. Philippians 4:13 is set within a context of ministry difficulties for a Christian leader in prison. By applying literal hermeneutics, the message becomes clear for both. Even through horrific national tragedy, God will one day restore Israel. Even through personal trauma, God grants Christians strength of contentment. A literal, grammatical-historical approach ensures the author’s intended meaning is respected. 




By saying that “everything boils down to hermeneutics,” [33] what I mean is that at the root level of anyone’s doctrine or theology lies an interpretation. There are no exceptions. No one invents a doctrine sui generis, completely unique to itself. On the far end, the cults examined in part one testify to this fact, as do orthodox traditions on the other end. All readers of Scripture base their doctrinal conclusions on a certain understanding of Scripture. Clearly, hermeneutics is an essential tool—rather the essential tool—which leads to one’s theology, and correct hermeneutics is essential for correct theology.


As I have argued in this final installment, a consistent, literal hermeneutic is the best method for Christians to gain awareness and proficiency in Scripture in order to understand God’s revealed will. With a view toward the Bible’s history, literature, and theolgy, Scripture’s grammatical and historical contexts are maintained that reproduces the single, authorial-intended meaning. Only then can responsible application follow. It is my prayer that by applying the “how” discussed here, supported by the “why” and “what” from the first two posts, biblical literacy will be achieved by every Christian reader of this series. 


[1] Ronnie Winterton, “A Practical Plan for Growing in Bible Literacy,” Center for Faith and Culture, February 5, 2019,

[2] See the excellent collection of essays in Jennifer Powell McNutt and David Lauber, eds., The People’s Book: The Reformation and the Bible (Downers Grove: IVP, 2017).


[3] Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder eds., In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture(Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013), 3. 


[4] The classic Protestant text on those martyred for their Christian faith and conviction over Scripture is John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, originally published in England in 1563 as Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church.

[5] Cf. BDAG, 393; MGS, 525.


[6] Technically, the verb Luke uses, διερμηνεύω (diermēneuō), is simply an intensified form of hermēneuō meaning to “interpret through.”

[7] The Greek word itself seems to have its origin in Greek mythology. “Hermes,” the son of Zeus, was credited with discovering language and writing. The ancient Greeks considered Hermes to be the god of interpretation and eloquence as he transmitted messages from the gods to humans. This helps explain why the local populace called Paul “Hermes” in Acts 14:12.

[8] This definition is the consensus among conservative biblical scholars and most clearly articulated by Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 1991), 19–22. 

[9] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1956), 2. 

[10] Contra R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983/87), 10, who contended “Scripture must be studied with the same methods that are applied to the study of ‘secular’ literature.” To his credit, Culpepper was defending a synchronic approach to the text against diachronic advocates who thought reconstructing the compositional process of John’s Gospel was more important than the experience of reading the text. 

[11] Though the origin of this approach is disputed, its modern form can be traced to the formalist linguistic tradition pioneered by Noam Chomsky in the mid twentieth century. Chomsky believed in and taught an autonomous grammar inherent in all humans that followed universal linguistic principles, though he did not source “meaning” in these universal language principles. Chomsky’s ideas, many of which were directly challenged, began multiple linguistic off-shoots, including certain cognitive linguistics schools that do source meaning in texts apart from their author(s). A helpful survey of these movements is Stanley E. Porter, “Linguistic Schools,” in Linguistics and New Testament Greek: Key Issues in the Current Debate, eds. David Alan Black and Benjamin L. Merkle (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020), 11–36, esp. 20–35. 

[12] Technically, this approach is termed “reader-response criticism.” A useful introduction with critique can be found in Leland Ryken, “Literary Criticism and the Bible: Some Fallacies,” in Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narratives, eds. Kenneth R. R. Gross Louis, James S. Ackerman, and Thayer S. Warshaw (Nashville: Abingdon, 1974), 24–40. 

[13] Incidentally, the same default rule applies even when humans communicate with nonhumans, such as animals. People expect, will, and desire their pets to understand them! 

[14] E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), 27.

[15] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, For the Love of God’s Word: An Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2015), 17–18.

[16] I say this only to illustrate the point, not to imply in any way that Scripture was written with open-ended intentions. 

[17] Michael J. Vlach, The Old in the New: Understanding How the New Testament Authors quoted the Old Testament (The Woodlands: Kress Biblical Resources, 2021), 5–15. 

[18] Ibid., 5.

[19] The verb Paul uses in 2 Tim 2:15, σπουδάζω (spoudazō), is an emotionally charged word that can be translated, “be zealous, take pains, make every effort” (see its usage in Heb 4:11; 2 Peter 1:10,15; 3:14). Moreover, it is fronting the clause which may signal an emphatic function. 

[20] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, For the Love of God’s Word, 18.


[21]  Cf. Ibid. 

[22] Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, 10.


[23] This “hermeneutical triad” is best explained and applied by Andreas J. Köstenberger with Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theolgy 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2020).


[24] Cf. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard Alan Fuhr Jr., Inductive Bible Study: Observation, Interpretation, and Application through the Lenses of History, Literature, and Theology (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 44.

[25] See Ibid., 209–211; cf. “the progressive principle,” 32–33. 

[26] For example, Andy Stanley’s recent best seller Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed from the World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018) promotes “unhitching” the OT from Christianity. Similarly, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa’s senior pastor Brian Brodersen highly suggested not preaching from the Old Testament on Sunday mornings. The audio clip of Broderson’s comments can be found Note: the current blog is not an endorsement for this online ministry.

[27] It is largely the OT that Paul had in mind when he explained that these ἱερὰ γράμματα (hiera grammata, “sacred writings”) are able to make Timothy “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 15). That Paul also had in mind whatever NT Scriptures were completed by the time he wrote to Timothy is also likely. Cf. George W. Knight, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 448. 

[28] This prioritizing order goes against many evangelical scholars who prefer to approach Scripture through the lens of the NT and draw theological conclusions by reading “backward” to the OT. But such an order impinges on the doctrine of progressive revelation and risks robbing the OT of its sufficiency for saints living before NT revelation. 

[29] Elliot E. Johnson, Expository Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 21.

[30] See Jeremiah Mutie, “Neither Woodenly-Literal nor Allegorical: The Dispensationalists Legacy of the Reformers’ Doctrine of Sola Scriptura,” in Forged From Reformation: How Dispensational Thought Advances the Reformed Legacy (El Cajon: SCS Press, 2017), 353–380, esp. 357–358.

[31] A notable work defending single-intended authorial meaning is Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2003).

[32] See Köstenberger and Fuhr, Inductive Bible Study, 41; cf. Vlach, The Old in the New, 5.

[33] This is a saying I often use in my teaching at the college and seminary level.