In Mortimer Adler’s classic text How To Read a Book he points out that while reading is a fairly simple physical task, it is an incredibly complex intellectual one. Reading and understanding the author calls for a variety of skills that one continues to sharpen well into adulthood. Having been on sabbatical over the last semester I have both read a large number of books as well as thought about how one learns to be a better reader. Given the fact that any book can be difficult to read, the Bible calls for even more careful thought and skill, so that the reader does not misunderstand and then incorrectly teach the Scripture. It is this set of skills that the class in “Hermeneutics” seeks to impart to the students at Knox.
One of the most often heard complaints of seminary graduates is that they never learned a “method” for reading, studying, and teaching the Bible. The hermeneutics at Knox gives the students a method not only for finding and understanding the meaning of Scripture on their own, but a method for realizing that the entire scope of Scripture points to the grand redemption of God through Christ. This is sometimes called a “Christ-centered” method for reading the Bible.
The old saying, “If you give a person a fish you feed them for a day, but if you teach a person to fish you feed them for a lifetime,” applies to the hermeneutics class. The goal is not to give the student answers to many of the troublesome passages in the text, but to teach them to study and find those answers on their own.
There are a variety of tools that we give to the students for this “fishing trip” but one is exceptionally important. This tool (after the student has prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit) is, of course, the Bible itself. The students learn that there is no substitute for reading the text, reading it again, and reading it several more times. It is our desire that students learn to read the Bible in the original languages (Greek and Hebrew), but if that is not possible we teach them to read several (four to six) good translations and to look for the major differences. This will show them where the translators differ as to what the original implies.
The major lesson that the students in this class should walk away with is that there is no better way to learn about Christ than to read the Scripture. The “scarlet thread of redemption” runs from Genesis to Revelation and truly understanding the Bible comes from recognizing the story of redemption behind every book of Scripture. Thus the hermeneutics class can be said to be not “How To Read a Book,” but “How To Read The Book”; the most important book ever written, read, or taught.