II Timothy 2:15: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be  ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."

"Hermeneutics" can simply be defined as the method by which we interpret texts. It concerns itself with many of the issues we have raised in this course: How can we know what an author means? How do I respond to a work? What is the social context of the material I am reading?

As a field of knowledge, hermeneutics arose out of Jewish and Christian concern with rightly interpreting the Word of God. Yet today, in addition to religion, hermeneutical issues are researched in fields as diverse as law, literature, history, philosophy, art, and medicine. Wherever people have to understand texts, questions of interpretation come up. Of late, this field of inquiry has been divided between those who suggest that interpretation is simply a set of rules, free from our contexts, that once perfected offer an air-tight, guaranteed right interpretation, and those who believe that interpretation is completely relative, that no common ground of understanding can be found because interpretation is too subjective and individualistic to ever offer definitive meanings. What is often overlooked in this debate is the role that mutual interpretation plays: namely, the sense that we depend on working together to understand a text.

The authors of a recent work on the subject argue:

"Interpretation is an activity that Christians engage in within the context of the promises of God. More important than the question of human certainty is that of divine fidelity. For the sake of human understanding and the future of the Christian church, it is more important for God  to be seen as the maker and keeper of promises than it is for us to perfect  the procedures we employ as we interpret texts and the world about us" (xii The Promise of Hermeneutics)

When we understand God as a keeper of  promises, we learn to put our hope in  communication. God has promised us understanding within the context of relationships. We learn and grow and argue inseparably tied to those around us.  The issues we raise, the questions we ask, even the words we use arise out of a specified time and place in history. Christ the Word offers us a world where community is possible because communication is possible, and paradoxically because community is possible, communication is.

The way we interpret a text is deeply a part of our communities and traditions. This is something to be proud of.   We aren't required to make sense of everything on our own.  We have a heritage of response that shapes our own questions.  As Hans-Georg Gadamer has noted, "To think is to thank." In a very real sense, we are dependent on all who have gone before us for understanding.

 Central Insight: Interpretation is carried out in the context of community.  We are designed by God to understand together with others.

Suggestions for Application: Relate how the insights of a fellow student or perhaps a scholar from a work of secondary criticism increased your understanding of a text.