If hermeneutics is the study of the meaning of a text, whose meaning are we trying to find when we study the Bible? How does Scripture being inspired by God but penned by men affect our ability to understand its meaning?

How does hermeneutics, as a study of the text, account for the multiple-layer nature of the text?

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    Surely the answer to this question will depend upon what "inspired" is supposed to mean; whether you take the "God told the author every single word to write down" view or the "People wrote from their own experience after having a God-encounter" or any others.
    – Smashery
    Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 5:13

2 Answers 2


Ultimately, it would all be purposeless if we weren't trying to find God's meaning in the text. We have to study the various contexts and viewpoints of the author, since God used that particular author for a reason, but in the end we're trying to find out how God thinks.


In "The Meaning of the Pentateuch", John Sailhamer (a conservative Evangelical professor) states that the goal of reading the Bible is to find the human author's verbal meaning.

He explains:

The study of biblical hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation, is complex, and we should avoid simplistic solutions to the questions it raises. Nevertheless, the complexity of biblical interpretation does not rule out the basic simplicity of the the task of discovering the meaning of the OT. The goal of the interpretation of the OT is its author's intent. What is the biblical author trying to say? What is his point? What do his words say and mean? The goal is always to understand what the author has written.

In his book he does not contradict in any way the inspired nature of the scriptures, he simply points out that even through inspiration the author wrote the words he did in order to communicate meaning to the reader. It is the author's intended meaning that scholars are seeking to understand.

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    If hermeneutics is defined as finding the meaning of the human agent, is there another word for specifically finding God's intended meaning?
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 4, 2011 at 23:19
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    The implication here is that the human author's intent is God's intent. Meaning, the act of writing Scripture was divinely inspired through a sovereign God who led the authors to write what he wanted them to. Of course, as Paul was writing to the Romans for example he had a meaning that he was trying to convey to that church. This view holds that the meaning he was communicating to them is the divinely inspired meaning that God wanted in Scripture.
    – blundin
    Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 14:04
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    @Caleb To those who have decided a priori that God only intended to speak literally, the author's intent is God's intent. However, the church has traditionally believed that God also had a hidden spiritual meaning. The Catholic church has called it the Quadriga, and more recently discussion have used the term sensus plenior. Deniers of sensus plenior are in the same logical position as atheists. Since they don't see it, it must not exist. A single case disproves it. We can't call Joseph a type since he isn't mentioned in the NT. He must be a SP shadow.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 5:48
  • To follow up on @BobJones's comment, because I believe that all of Scripture is massively Christological, more so than the primary authors of the Old Testament could have seen from their B.C. vantage point, I cannot affirm this position.
    – Kazark
    Commented May 12, 2012 at 19:26
  • @blundin The authors intent is not necessarily strictly equivalent to God's intent. The author may be saying one thing while God is saying a whole bunch of entirely different things that the author never even thought of. Bob Jones talks about this in his comment Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 3:52

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