The word hermeneutics is derived from the Greek hermeneuein, “to interpret.” It denotes the art of finding meaning in a text. In the case of such an authoritative text as the Bible, this is more problematic than it seems. On the surface, the Bible can seem to make statements about God that are contrary to reason or even contradicting each other. For example, if God is omniscient, and has ordained all things before all times, how can this same God change his mind and admit to a mistake, saying, “I regret that I made Saul king,” (1 Sam. 15:11)? Or how could Adam have lived to be 930 years old (Gen. 5:5) after eating of the forbidden tree in paradise, if God had said “the day that you eat of it, you shall die” (Gen. 2:17)?
Other texts in Scripture pose even greater challenges, because they seem very specific to an historical context that is utterly alien to the reader. David Steinmetz gives an example from Psalm 137, which bemoans the Jews’ captivity in Babylon, expresses a longing for Jerusalem, curses the Edomites, and pronounces a blessing on him who “take your little ones and dash them against the rock.” (Ps. 137:9). A French priest in the twelfth century, Steinmetz points out, had never been to either Babylon or Jerusalem, had no quarrel with the Edomites, and was expressly forbidden by Jesus to avenge himself on his enemies. Hence, “unless Psalm 137 has more than one possible meaning, it cannot be used as a prayer by the Church, and must be rejected as a lament belonging exclusively to the piety of ancient Israel.”
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