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The historical-grammatical method is a Christian hermeneutics process that strives to discover the Biblical author's original intended meaning in the text. [1] It is the primary method of interpretation for scholars in the major branches of Christianity: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox.[2] [3] The terms grammatico-historical, historico-grammatical and historical-cultural are regarded as synonymous with historical-grammatical.

The process for determining the original meaning of the text is through examination of the grammatical and syntactical aspects, the historical background, the literary genre as well as theological (canonical) considerations.[4] The historical-grammatical method distinguishes between the one original meaning of the text and its significance. The significance of the text is essentially the application or contextualization of the principles from text.


The original meaning of texts

The aim of the historical-grammatical method is to discover the meaning of the passage as the original author would have intended and what the original hearers would have understood. The original passage is seen as having only a single meaning or sense. As Milton S. Terry said: "A fundamental principle in grammatico-historical exposition is that the words and sentences can have but one significance in one and the same connection. The moment we neglect this principle we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture." [5]

Many practice the historical-grammatical method using the inductive method, a general three-fold approach to the text: 1) observation, 2) interpretation, and 3) application. [6] [7] Each step builds upon the other, and so they follow in order. The first step of observation involves an examination of words, structure, structural relationships and literary forms. After observations are formed, then the second step of interpretation involves asking interpretative questions, formulating answers to those questions, integration and summarization of the passage. After the meaning is derived through interpretation, then the third step of application involves determining both the theoretical and practical significance of the text, and appropriately applying this significance to today's modern context. There is also a heavy emphasis on personal application that extends into all aspects of the practitioner's life. Theologian Robert Traina, in his 1952 Methodical Bible Study, wrote that "the applicatory step is that for which all else exists. It represents the final purpose of Bible study." [8]

Technically speaking, the grammatical-historical method of interpretation is distinct from the determination of the passage's significance in light of that interpretation. Taken together, interpretation of the passage along with determining the meaning defines the term (Biblical) hermeneutics. [9]

Comparison with other methods of interpretations


Proof-text method

In the proof-text approach, verses and short sections of text are used to support a particular topic or position. Compared with the historical-grammatical method, interpretations based on the proof-text method are often isolated from the context surrounding the verse. It often neglects the historical setting and type of literary genre. The proof-text approach can be susceptible to heterorthodox teachings, and applications tend to be allegorical in nature.[10]

Reader-response method

In the reader-response method, the major determinant for meaning is derived from the reader's personal opinions, attitudes and reactions. Compared with the historical-grammatical method, the reader-response approach minimizes or ignores authorial intent, grammatical considerations and the historical setting. Without any basis of meaning on authorial intent, subjective interpretations in the reader-response method are "on an equal footing" and does not have any basis for validity. [11]

Historical-critical method

The historical-critical method is an interpretative technique employed by liberal christians and some non-Christians. The method utilizes higher criticism in an attempt to discover the sources and factors that contributed to the making of the text. Compared with the historical-grammatical method, the historical-critical method minimizes both authorial intent and the significance of the text.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Elwell, Walter A. (1984). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House. ISBN 0801034132.  
  2. ^ Methods of Biblical Interpretation: Excerpted from the Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2004. ISBN 0687037069.   page 242
  3. ^ Negrov, Alexander I. (2008). Biblical interpretation in the Russian Orthodox Church : a historical and hermeneutical perspective. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck. ISBN 9783161483714 3161483715. "Orthodox Bible Interpretation, by reason of the very human character of the Bible, demands a historical-grammatical interpretation."   page 294
  4. ^ Johnson, Elliott. Expository hermeneutics : an introduction. Grand Rapids Mich.: Academie Books. ISBN 9780310341604.  
  5. ^ Terry, Milton (1974). Biblical hermeneutics : a treatise on the interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House.   page 205
  6. ^ Traina, Robert (1952). Methodical Bible study : a new approach to hermeneutics.. Ridgefield Park? N.J. ;;New York: [distributed by] Biblical Seminary in New York.  
  7. ^ Hendricks, Howard G. (1991). Living by the Book. Chicago: Moody Press. p. 349. ISBN 0802407439.  
  8. ^ Traina, Robert (1952). Methodical Bible Study: A New Approach to Hermeneutics. New York: [distributed by] Biblical Seminary in New York. p. 217.  
  9. ^ Elwell, Walter A. (1984). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House. ISBN 0801034132.   p. 565
  10. ^ Kaiser, Walter C (1994). An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan. p. 298. ISBN 0310530903.   p. 31-32
  11. ^ Kaiser, Walter C (1994). An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan. p. 298. ISBN 0310530903.   p. 32-33
  12. ^ Kaiser, Walter C (1994). An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan. p. 298. ISBN 0310530903.   p. 33


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