Lesson 2- Circles of Context and Hermeneutics

Have you ever thrown a pebble into a quiet pool of water? The waves emanate from where the pebble entered the water, outwards in concentric circles until the wave dissipates into the pond.

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When we read a passage in the Bible, we need to remember that there is no such thing as a single thought, or a single word, which represents the entire message God has for us. Like the pebble, the word is part of the sentence, which is part of the paragraph, which is part of the chapter, which is part of the book, which is part of the entire Bible.

The meaning emanates from the word all the way out until it is understood within the context of the entire Bible, which brings us to another tool for proper interpretation called Hermeneutics.

OK, so why the big word? I mean, I had enough trouble trying to remember what exegesis means, so who’s this Herman guy?

Let me give you a very simple explanation of what hermeneutics is, with regard to interpretation of the Bible: it means that whatever we read, wherever we read it, the meaning should be the same as we read in other messages or thoughts or lessons within the rest of the Bible.

For example, we read in Genesis that we should not eat the blood, and several times again in Leviticus, and again in Deuteronomy, in Ezekiel, in Acts, in Hebrews, in John, and even in Revelation. The one message is the same, throughout the Bible. So, if we were to have someone tell us that a particular passage says we can eat the blood, it would not be correct because it isn’t hermeneutically confirmed.

Let’s get back to Circles of Context.

Hebrew is a consonantal language, which doesn’t mean it originated in Europe- it means it is composed solely of consonants, with no vowels. Of course, there are vowel sounds used when we pronounce the words, but these are not found in the original Hebrew in the Torah. The Masoretes developed a system of vowel identification, called Masoretic Text or Cantillation Marks, between the 6th and 10th Centuries in order to secure a standard pronunciation of the Hebrew in the Torah. This was to help those who did not have an advanced ability to read Hebrew properly pronounce the words, thereby being able to interpret their meaning correctly, as well.

As an example, let’s take the two letters, G and D…does it stand for God? Maybe it means the word good? Is it Gad? Is it Aged? Is it Goad? Is it Egad!

The only way to properly understand the meaning of these two letters is to see how they make sense within the sentence (first circle), then to look at that sentence within the paragraph (second circle), and so on.

Circles of Context also applies to the author and the audience. For example, in the letter to the Hebrews the author is writing to Jews, but in the letter to the Colossians, the author is writing to a congregation of (mostly, if not all) converted pagans who are not that familiar with either Jewish law or lifestyle.

One letter is written to those who know how to understand Jewish logic and the other is written to ex-pagans who probably never talked to a Jew, except to give him or her orders and have no real understanding of Jewish logic.

What the heck is “Jewish Logic“? It’s my own term, and it describes how a Jewish person will present an argument, which is that he will tell you everything it isn’t before he tells you what it is. The trouble with this, as with the letters Shaul (Paul) wrote to the Gentile congregations he formed, is that he first proposed arguments against following Torah until he, eventually, showed how those very same arguments were wrong. The letter to the Romans is a great example; over the centuries it has been used as a polemic against the Torah, justifying that Believers in Messiah do not have to follow the Torah, but he wrote it as an apologetic to confirm the importance of Believers in Messiah to continue to follow the Torah.

The wrongful interpretation is not justified, either by proper use of the Circles of Context within the letter, or hermeneutically by comparing it with the rest of the New Covenant writings, especially the Gospels, or the Old Covenant.

Many people believe that Shaul stopped going to Jewish temples early in his ministry, but when we read all of the New Covenant Epistles, we can see throughout them the constant references to how Shaul did go to the Temples first. This is how hermeneutics helps us to understand the Bible correctly- Shaul never stopped living a Jewish lifestyle or being a Pharisee- he NEVER converted to anything and always went to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles. And that is hermeneutically confirmed by the prophecies in the Book of Isaiah, which state the Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles.

To properly interpret the Bible, we need to look at each word within the sentence, the sentence within the paragraph, all the way out until we take into account the entire Bible, as well as remembering who wrote what to whom. When Moses and the Prophets wrote and spoke to the Jewish population, the laws and the lifestyle were known, but when Shaul and other Disciples wrote to the new Believers who were Gentiles, they had to change their way of writing to (pardon the expression) “dumb down” the message and the interpretation so that these converting pagans wouldn’t have too much forced on them at one time.

When you read Galatians you have to remember this was written to new Believers who were Gentile, but being told by the Jewish Believers they had to convert to Judaism, completely, overnight! That’s why Shaul was so mad at those “Judaizers”: he knew that much of a paradigm shift of lifestyle and worship would cause more to apostatize than to convert. By using Circles of Context and Hermeneutics, we can see the true meaning of what Shaul was saying to the Galatians.

Todays lesson was to explain Circles of Context and Hermeneutics and show how they are essential tools to help you better understand and properly interpret what you read in the Bible.

Next time we will talk about another tool of biblical exegesis (there’s that word again!) called PaRDeS.

Until then, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

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