I have been studying hermeneutics lately and this summary from Herman Who, a Hermeneutic Primer, by Todd Friel really helped me at the task of interpreting Scripture. I hope it helps you too.
Step 1: Observe the Text.
What does the text say?
Who was it written by and to whom?
What is the author’s reason for writing it?
What is life like?
What are the circumstances?
What is the culture?
What is the commercial trade or industry?
From where and to where is he writing?
When did he write it?
What is his or their situation?
*To answer the questions in step 1, use your Bible, other books written at the same time, and commentaries.
*Note: We cannot understand the verse differently than the original audience. We know more than the original audience, while we can use that knowledge to know how that information helps us form our theology, we can’t use that to expand what the verse would have said to the original audience.
*Example: Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future hope.” This was written to people in captivity, not you. We can’t apply this verse to ourselves and say God has a plan for us and gives us hope. God does, but use other verses to form this theology.
Step 2: How wide is the river? What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?
What is the culture?
What is the setting?
What is the Time period?
Old or New Covenant?
Step 3: What is the theological principle of the text?
Step 4: Does the New Testament change our understanding of an Old Testament text? Ex.: Sacrifices
Step 5: Application
How should the individual Christian apply the theological principles in our lives today?
*We must be specific. Just because it is a principle, does not mean we can use it.
The situation needs to resemble the general situation and then apply the text to our situation.
Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Step 1: Observe the Text. Paul is writing this letter from prison to the church. He is experiencing trials and awaiting sentencing. The theme of the letter is to encourage the church to stand firm in trials.
Step 2: How wide is the river? Not very. We are New Covenant believers that experience trials.
Step 3: What is the principle? Jesus will give Christians strength to endure trials and hardship that come from being a Christian.
Step 4: Does the New Testament change our understanding of an Old Testament text? No
Step 5: Application: We must first meet the criteria of Paul in context. We must be a Christian that is being persecuted because of our faith in Christ, not just typical struggles like working, sports, etc. So the principle applies if we meet the criteria: Jesus will give Christians strength to endure trials and hardship that come from being a Christian. Examples: An unequally yoked Christian that is being treated bad by his or her spouse because of their faith. Being passed over at your job for a promotion because of your faith.