How many distinctly different common hermeneutical approaches are there, and what are the major distinctives of each approach?

I'm not asking for a long description of each - just a concise summary of the general principles that are unique, if it is even possible to have an objective list of 'major' approaches.

  • 1
    I'd already vote for this to be a wiki/sticky/whatever because it is both broad, and valuable. It could serve as an excellent reference point for any answerer/commenter who wishes to leverage/understand a particular approach. As such, it'll be a good living document as we have the opportunity to revisit and refine it.
    – swasheck
    Commented Apr 16, 2012 at 19:32
  • Hmmm, I was thinking of deleting it.... Commented Apr 16, 2012 at 20:19
  • The diamond next to your name indicates that you may do as you wish :)
    – swasheck
    Commented Apr 16, 2012 at 20:25
  • Going through old posts (all posts not tagged with any specific book of the Bible, to be precise), and this seems to be a list question. I'd close as too broad but wanted to let you handle it. Especially since you were thinking of deleting it at one time. I'd just close, not delete, though (so Bob's answer remains) - but your call.
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 22:25

1 Answer 1


Let's start the list from memory, then we can revise it as we go:

In the Bible we are made aware of methods used by: The saints of old (see Hebrews 11&12) Sadducees Pharisees Christ/apostles Gnostics

About the same time Jewish sages were formalizing methods related to Pardes, the four-fold interpretation of scripture, concerning the literal, hints, comparisons, and a hidden esoteric meaning.

Meanwhile there was another Jewish methodology relating to a four-fold interpretation but was based around "voices" or applications to the king, priest, judge and prophet. (I need to go back and find my references on this, but I think it predated Pardes).

Alexandrian Judaism practiced allegorism as firmly established by Philo.

Clement of Alexandria championed the allegorical approach which used Greek rhetorical invention. He also tried to reclaim the title Gnostic from what he called Greek plagiarizers. He insisted that God created the first and only true Mystery religion.

At Antioch in the fourth and fifth centuries, the literal interpretation was championed in opposition to the school of Alexandria.

In the 12th -13th century Jewish Kabbalah came into practice, though it's adherents claim that it precedes all religions.

Thomas Aquinas references the four-fold meaning of scripture (Quadriga).

In the 18th century, the Age of Reason, introduced methods that elevated the reason of man above the revelation of God. These methods are still common today.

The 20th Century brought us methods where the intent of the authors is superseded by the meaning that the reader derives from a text.

The 21st century has introduced a hermeneutic where the text doesn't even need to be referenced, but is based upon a vague understanding of spirituality imposed back upon any scripture that might accidentally be involved. Truth itself has become a personal belief system since we all "create our own realities".

There should be a few modern Jewish methods added to the list.

We can go back and correct my memory and add distinctions.

  • +1 this is a very helpful and thought-provoking perspective Commented May 13, 2012 at 7:23
  • @Jack You have asked for general principles describing each hermeneutic. Do you have an enumeration of attributes or properties by which each can be tabulated? If general principles don't have standardized names, then each description could be a thesis paper by itself. For instance, if P.J. Wiseman's thesis is correct, and Genesis was written by those who were eye witnesses, the we may be able to 'reverse engineer' Abel's hermeneutic by assessing why he would be a shepherd (and offer of his flocks) based on the text of Gen 1-3.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 14:23
  • my hope was to get a bullet list of named hermeneutical approaches with a single sentence broad summary for each - but I'm far from sure that is possible. If I don't get that I will accept your answer because it paints a helpful broad picture and includes a historical perspective that I hadn't thought of asking for as a bonus Commented May 19, 2012 at 10:05
  • @Jack It is interesting how the four-fold, and mystic methods arose early and have persisted, yet is so adamantly denied by modernists in favor of a single literal-historical approach. The Qudriga is still referenced by modern Catholics.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 13:39

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