Disciplines necessary to good hermeneutics

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Grant Osborne in his The Hermeneutical Spiral outlines four disciplines necessary to good exegesis. These are:

  • Exegetical theology – understanding of biblical languages, semantics, grammar, structure, backgrounds etc etc.
  • Biblical theology – understanding the wider narrative arc, and the progression of themes and ideas through the canon of Scripture. It won’t necessarily make it any easier to answer questions regarding the place of the law in the Christian life – but it will at least make you aware of trajectories and fulfilments.
  • Systematic theology – understanding the overall relationships and syntheses of ideas and doctrines across the entirety of Scripture. Systematics helps you exercise proper caution when you read, for example, ‘you see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.’ (Jam 2:24)
  • Historical theology – understanding of the ways in which the church has understood passages and ideas throughout history. If you’re the first person to ever see something that should at least encourage you to pause for thought.

Osborne’s little grid is a really helpful reminder of the various disciplines we need to keep working on – particularly those of us who are pastor-generalists. It encourages us to engage in the various areas regularly and often, and it warns us against dismissing one or other, or becoming fixated on one as the most important thing.

A gently growing understanding across these four areas will help the pastor-theologian grow in wise and faithful handling of Scripture in public and private.

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