DMT Beauty Transformation: The Reference Desk | Explaining Terms: What is Hermeneutics?
DMTBeautySpot Erin Franklin

The Reference Desk | Explaining Terms: What is Hermeneutics?

February 28, 2024BruceDayne

One of my vague memories of first grade is sitting in a circle, in a small classroom, reading with my bluebird friends. We were learning to read to one another. At other times we would go to the library and sit in the reading well, while the librarian would hold up a book and read it, turning its brightly colored pages as if it were her most treasured possession. If a story was particularly interesting, our fidgeting would transform into captivated tranquility. My first-grade experience of learning to read was when my love for reading began.  

Do you remember learning to read? By adulthood, reading comes naturally for most. We don’t consider the process taking place—our brains take in the words on the page and interpret their meaning. It feels intuitive to us. If you ponder it, something does happen in between seeing words on a page and understanding them. Whether you realize it or not, you’re relying upon skills you picked up initially in grade school; skills like reading words in their context to determine what an author meant by those words or using an understanding of the genre to determine whether something is literal, metaphorical, or symbolic. When we read, we trust principles of interpretation taught to us long ago, and those principles are what is formally called a “hermeneutic.” 

So far, we’re talking about guidelines for reading in general. But what about reading the Bible? Are there specific principles to consider in addition to ones we know? What should our hermeneutic be when we read the Bible? In addition to relying upon the basic principles you intuitively use, I suggest maintaining two specific guidelines when reading God’s Word: 

Context is King 

As a young Christian before I learned how to read the Bible, I often viewed the Bible mystically. I would open it up randomly and find a phrase to immediately apply to whatever circumstances I was experiencing as a seventh grader. I might have read Psalm 41:9 (“Even my friend in whom I trusted, one who ate my bread, has raised his heel against me”) and completely read myself and my friendship struggles into the passage. I might have thought about Kelly and how we used to sit together at lunch, but how she found a new friend and started ignoring me in the cafeteria. And I might have read this verse, and thought, Yes, the Bible gets me! But before we apply a text, we should discern the meaning of the text within context. The statement, “context is king,” reminds us to understand the meaning first so we can then apply the Bible well. 

How do we read Psalm 41:9 in context? First, we look at the surrounding verses, and then the entire psalm. In doing so, we learn from the psalm’s heading that David wrote it, and there is a background story that corresponds to it (2 Sam. 15). In reading that 2 Samuel 15, we learn that David’s trusted counselor and friend, Ahithophel, abandoned David for treacherous support of Absalom, David’s son, who was in rebellion against David. Suddenly, we are immersed in the drama of David’s life, strengthening our understanding of the betrayal he felt when he wrote Psalm 41:9. Yet, not only do we see something about the life of David, but in our study of Psalm 41, we might also see that verse 9 is quoted by none other than Jesus himself in John 13:18.  And that leads us to the Christ-centered nature of the Word. 

Christ is the Key 

Right after Jesus was raised from the dead but before He ascended into heaven, He met two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. I love this account because of the mysterious nature in which Jesus appears to these disciples—they were prevented from recognizing Him, so they talked with this “stranger” and filled Him in on all the details about His own crucifixion. Jesus noticed the despair of those two disciples and reassured them by pointing them to Himself. Luke 24:27b says “… he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.” Don’t miss that Jesus pointed out Himself as the Subject of the Bible. Some have called Him the “hermeneutical key,” which simply means that when we read God’s Word, whether the Old Testament or New, we should look for Jesus, searching for how the text reveals Him.  

I’ll never forget when this clicked for me. I was attending a church whose mission calls members to glorify God by treasuring Jesus Christ. One goal of the pastors was to teach members how to see Jesus in the Bible by showing us how Jesus is prefigured in the Old Testament through types and shadows. My quiet times transformed, and suddenly, I was excited to read through my “Bible in a year” plan because I was on a treasure hunt, looking for Jesus everywhere in the Word. When I found him, I would draw a huge χ followed by an exclamation point so I’d not forget meeting Him there upon subsequent rereads.1 

A practice like that may sound a bit odd. You may be wondering, How do you really know if you’re seeing Jesus in the text when His name isn’t mentioned? Let’s consider Psalm 41:9 referenced above. While the context teaches us about David, we should look beyond David to behold Jesus. 2 Samuel 15 climaxes when David learned that Ahithophel has betrayed him. David ascended the Mount of Olives, weeping, and pleaded with God,  

“Lord . . . please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness!”  (v. 31).

Indeed, Ahithophel is the friend of Psalm 41:9 who has betrayed David. Yet several elements of 2 Samuel push us to think of another Person who was betrayed. Consider:  

  • David ascended the Mount of Olives; Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39).
  • David wept in anguish on this mount; Jesus’s anguish led to sweat that becomes like drops of blood (Luke 22:44).
  • David pleaded with the Lord to turn his friend’s counsel into foolishness; Jesus pleaded, “Father, if you are willing take this cup away from me—nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). 
  • David wrote of this betrayal: “One who ate my bread, has raised his heel against me” (Ps. 41:9); Jesus predicted Judas’s betrayal: “But the Scripture must be fulfilled: The one who eats my bread has raised his heel against me” (John 13:18b).
  • Ahithophel hung himself (2 Sam. 17:23); Judas hung himself (Matt. 27:5).

What is the difference amongst these similarities? King David’s dire situation resulted from sinful mistakes, but King Jesus placed himself in a dire situation to rescue us from our sinful mistakes.  

We come to this understanding of the text through hermeneutics, our principles that we rely upon for interpretation. Beyond those guidelines we intuitively know, reading the Bible with the understanding that “context is king” and “Christ is the key” will unveil a world of delight. Not only will we love reading the Bible more, but we will love Jesus more, for we will behold Him there at every turn. 

  1. χ, as in the Greek letter Chi, which early Christians used to denote Christ. 

Study hermeneutics with one of Lifeway Women Academy’s courses! When you sign up for How to Study the Bible: Hermeneutics 101, you’ll gain access to a 10-session online course taught by Jen Wilkin, Elizabeth Woodson, Mary Wiley, and Christine Thornton. You’ll learn about the history of the Bible, interpretive methods, the metanarrative of Scripture, and more. Take quizzes and work through assignments to measure your progress in learning. Check out recommended reading and attend a virtual study workshop in the inductive method of Bible study. Learn more and get started today at


Julia Higgins

Julia B. Higgins (MDiv, PhD) is an Assistant Professor of Ministry to Women and Associate Dean of Graduate Program Administration at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS). She teaches in the Ministry to Women degree programs at Southeastern, with her ministry focus being college-aged and adult women. She is married to Tony, who serves as Executive Director and staff counselor at Bridgehaven Counseling Associates. They live in the RDU area and worship at The Summit Church.


The post The Reference Desk | Explaining Terms: What is Hermeneutics? appeared first on Lifeway Women.



Erin Franklin, DMT.NEWS, DMT BeautySpot,

You Might Also Like


DMT BarberShop

DMT BarberShop
Come get the professional touch you deserve!

YouTube Channel

Contact Form