If you were a normal person and you heard I was currently reading Anthony C. Thiselton’s Hermeneutics: An Introduction, you would ask, “Why?” You might wonder “Is Mike’s life so sad?” “Is Mike’s life THAT boring?” “Doesn’t he have ANYTHING better to do with his time?” “Is Mike trying to be dull on purpose, or is this just an unfortunate accident – a sort of early mid-life crisis?” These would all be good questions. I ask them to myself. But of course, I’m not bored, I’m not sad, and I’m happy to spend a few hours here and there in these pages. But, “Why?” I like the way Thiselton answers on pages 5-7 of his book:
- Reading hermeneutics teaches us the importance of listening to a text on its own terms, rather than rushing in with premature assumptions or making the text fit in with prior concepts and expectations they may have.
- Many find that hermeneutics, by virtue of its multidisciplinary nature, provides an integrating dimension to their theological and religious studies. If previously there had seemed to be little connection between biblical studies and fundamental philosophical problems, or between New Testament studies and the history of Christian thought, all these different areas and methods of approach came together in hermeneutics as coherent, joined up, interrelated factors in the process of understanding texts.
- Reading hermeneutics produces habits of respect for, and more sympathetic understanding of views and arguments that at first seem alien or unacceptable. Hermeneutics seeks to establish bridges between opposing viewpoints. This does NOT necessitate GIVING GROUND to the other view, but sympathetically to understand the diverse motivations and journeys that have led in the first place to each respective view or argument.
- Hermeneutics helps to explain two types of phenomena. On one side hermeneutics shows that “understanding” can be a slow process in which disclosure of the truth can take many years. Understanding is not an on/off event in which we expect belief always to happen suddenly. Some take many years fully to come to faith. Yet it is equally otherwise with others. Some experience understanding dramatically and suddenly, as if scales fell from their eyes. Both means, however, are equally in accord with what it is to understand. To understand understanding helps people to see that both ways of belief are to be expected.