BH seems to be divided into several different approaches. What is the Grammatical Historical Approach and what are the primary ways that it differs from other modern approaches?

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First of all, the historical-grammatical approach requires certain assumptions, definitions and foundations. Some of the other frameworks will probably have very similar foundations.

  • As the original texts were written (primarily) in Hebrew and Greek, some level of meaning can be best derived from studying the text in those languages.
  • As a corollary, many would view the study of earlier manuscripts to be more reliable or more likely to be unchanged by clerical error, insertion or deletion. On the flip side, being older, they also tend to be more fragmentary.
  • The authors of scripture wrote within a historical framework and to an audience within a historical framework. Therefore, an understanding of that historical framework is beneficial.
  • Setting aside certain other principles for a moment, the author had an original intent that is communicated and understood through the points outlined above.
  • Correct application comes from correct interpretation and interpolation.

Broadly, the grammatical-historical principle works within these points to understand the text. In other words, the language, culture, environment, practices, etc. of the authors and original readers are foundational to a correct understanding and application of the text and its principles. Many other principles also factor into this - for example, a determination must be made as to whether a passage is descriptive or prescriptive. (Does it contain a command that must be followed, or describe an event that happened?) Is it literal or allegorical? Furthermore, an understanding of the culture will aid in determining whether a prescriptive passage is still effective for today.

As a gross generalization/simplification, this approach compares to other hermeneutic frameworks in the following ways: (I got this list from Wikipedia)

  • Covenantal - God has established different covenants with His people, primarily as seen in the contrast between the Old and New Testaments; these are viewed and enforced in different ways by those inside and outside each covenant. Under this view, the covenant in effect in any context prescribes the interpretation or application of scripture.
  • Dispensational - This is effectively a more granular view of the Covenantal principle; throughout time, God has dealt with His people under different "dispensations" of knowledge or grace. This view may distinguish between the patriarchs, the Mosaic period, the judges, the Davidic kingdom, exile, the "silent years", Jesus' earthly ministry, the early (Jewish) church and the worldwide (Gentile) church as separate periods or dispensations.
  • Christo-centric - All scripture and application points forward to or back to Christ.
  • Numerous sub-division principles (first mention, full mention, double-reference, triple-reference, etc.) that attempt to determine God's intended message based on a plurality of scriptural references. In other words, if God addressed something multiple times, particularly if it varies between instances, which of these is considered authoritative?
  • Symbolic/Typical - Characters and events in scripture are to be viewed through a symbolic lens or considered to be "types" for orthodoxy/orthopraxy. This does not necessarily deny their historicity.
  • Parabolic/Allegorical - All scripture is to be viewed as thematic allegory, not at face value. Those who hold this view tend to reject the historicity of most events described in scripture, or to assume that the stories have been embellished.

Some of these distinctions are obviously blurred.

  • 2
    No apologies needed, this is a beautiful answer.
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 4, 2011 at 22:07

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