–noun (used with a singular verb)
- the art and science of interpretation, esp. of the Bible. Commonly distinguished from exegesis, which interprets the text by applying those principles.
- the skill of all but totally ignoring the Bible while appearing to accept it.
The playful definition comes from Moisés Silva, “The New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Text Form and Authority,” in Scripture and Truth (ed. D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 156:
During the past decade or two, biblical scholarship has shown a growing obsession with the issue of hermeneutics, a harmless enough word, but one occasionally used as a euphemism for “the skill of all but totally ignoring the Bible while appearing to accept it.” Although one may be excused for feeling irritated at the way the word is thrown about as the ultimate panacea, it would be a grave mistake to dismiss the issue altogether. It is so easy for us to read the evening paper and understand it—that is, interpret it accurately—that we tend to think of interpretation as an eminently simple process. In reality, we depend on a massive framework of assumptions slowly formed by innumerable experiences. As a result, those aspects of interpretation that appear to us to be the most obvious are often the ones that cause us the greatest difficulty. In particular, when we confront a text written by someone whose “framework of assumptions” differs significantly from ours, how can we possibly bridge the two? The attempt to answer that question is what hermeneutics is all about.