Inerrancy and Hermeneutics

George Bernard Shaw is credited with saying, “The English and Americans are two peoples divided by a common language.”[1] Language is varied and complex and differs from location to location.  The method by which humans communicate with one another differs from nation to nation and person to person.  The language barrier between people of the same community and the same language is troublesome for some to navigate and communicate effectively. 

Serious study of the Bible throws in a nearly 2000-year culture, language, and people gap in the mix of the complexities of human communication, understanding, and mannerisms.  Those who desire to be serious students of texts far departed from their current time must have a firm foundation to interpret effectively and properly what the original authors meant to write.  The firm foundation must be concerning the people, the language, customs, geography, technology, religions, and all aspects that helped to form their unique understanding of their “blip” in time and redemptive history.  Just as a soldier is ineffective in battle without weapons and training, so is the expositor when attempting to interpret the proper meaning of the Scriptures.  Consideration should be given to how the prophets, apostles, and Jesus read Scripture.[2]  The question then becomes, what does a proper biblical hermeneutic look like considering Inerrancy?  Since the Bible is written in ordinary language and customs, then the Bible needs to be interpreted with hermeneutical tools that allow for understanding.  

The reality is that there is a nearly 2000-year gap between modern Christians and the 1st century Jewish, Greek, and Roman mindsets, and that is a gap that must be navigated to interpret properly. N.T. Wright summarizes the contemporary issue of intrinsic intellectual laziness,

There is innate laziness which affects us all: the sense of’d’ you mean I’ve got to learn all that stuff about first-century Judaism just to get the simple gospel message?’ Answer: Yes. If God chose to become a first-century Jew you might have thought finding out about first-century Jews would be something a believer in God would want to do!


If the Bible is true in its statements and that God ought to be, as Piper declares, “the blazing center of our hearts,”[4] then Christians ought to fight against this innate spiritual and intellectual laziness in order to deepen and strengthen their relationship with God. If a husband misinterprets everything his wife says, then their relationship will be built on mistrust and misunderstandings and will rapidly deteriorate. Interpreting and applying the Bible properly and accurately is an essential step in strengthening the relationship bought for through the precious blood of Christ.[5]

People mistakenly view a literal biblical hermeneutic as taking every aspect of the Bible literally when that is not the case.  The proper way to look at a literal hermeneutic is an approach to Scripture that considers the aspects that the original audience would have understood and read it according to the literary devices utilized.  The Gospels are filled with agrarian parables and stories because the original audience was an agrarian society.  Further, the literal hermeneutic does not take figures of speech or other genres of literature literally but rather identifying its use properly and interpreting appropriately.  Similes that are used in Scripture should be taken as a simile.  Jesus was not literally a door[6] or literally a vine[7] , nor does the Father literally have wings.  These are word pictures that help describe the roles that the Lord accomplishes, and a literal hermeneutic interprets them as such.  One who subscribes to a literal hermeneutic is going place themselves in the shoes of the original audience to gather the intended meaning of a text.  Familiarity with the customs, culture, and people are necessary to understand the Bible.[8] 

[1] George Bernard Shaw, Reader’s Digest ,1942.

[2] Abner Chou, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers. Grand Rapids:  Kregel Publications 2018.

[3] Brown, Scripture as Communication, 190

[4] John Piper, The Blazing Center, Crossway: Multnomah, 2006.

[6]  John 10:7

[7] John 15:1-27

[8] Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, Colorado Springs:  Zondervan, 1982.

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