Do any rigors commonly used in the field of hermeneutics have any counterparts in scientific rigors? Is there a corollary in hermeneutics to the requirements that science demands as far as the reproducibility of experiments, peer review of results, etc?


4 Answers 4


There have been theologians historically who tried to use a scientific method of theology (and so presumably of hermeneutics)—specifically the Old Princetonians (Archibald Alexander, the Hodges, Warfield, etc.). Also, higher criticism, Hegelian and Kantian theology all have tried to apply their various views of science to theology and textual interpretation. There's a sense in which scholastic theologians such as Aquinas also took a scientific approach. Sorry that this answer is in such general terms.

Of course, all good hermeneutics will share some basic tools in common with science—logic, etc. However, there are fundamental differences between the two which make it dangerous to apply the same principles.

Science deals primarily with historic revelation; in making the world, God reveals himself. Biblical hermeneutics deals with historic revelation which is administered in the present. Thus the living, active nature of the Word of God; it is a historic revelation which is given to the individual united to Jesus Christ in a special way in the present. Thus, science is more active, and hermeneutics is more passive. Also, science has as its end information, structured models; theory is its goal. Biblical hermeneutics has personal knowledge as its end and not a conceptual model. For this reason, to apply too many scientific techniques can be stifling to the relational aspect of interpreting the Scriptures.

  • Someone else may be able to do a better job but because there was not yet a favored answer I thought I would take a shot.
    – Kazark
    Commented May 12, 2012 at 18:20

Hermeneutics is an example of "qualitative research". According to [my understanding of] the Wiki, qualitative research has methodologies (evident in hermeneutics) but those applying scientific scrutiny are not generally concerned with qualitative research and are more concerned with "quantitative research":

...As a field of study, qualitative approaches include research concepts and methods from multiple established academic fields. The aim of a qualitative research project may vary with the disciplinary background, such as a psychologist seeking in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern such behavior for example. Qualitative methods are best for researching many of the why and how questions of human experience,3 in making a decision for example (not just what, where, when, or "who"); and have a strong basis in the field of sociology to understand government and social programs. Qualitative research is widely used by political science, social work, and education researchers.[5][6]

In the conventional view of statisticians, qualitative methods produce explanations only of the particular cases studied (e.g., as part of an ethnography of a newly implemented government program), any more general conclusions are considered tentative propositions (informed assertions).[citation needed] Quantitative methods can be then used to seek further mathematical support for such research hypotheses.

In contrast, a qualitative researcher might argue that understanding of a phenomenon or situation or event, comes from exploring the totality of the situation (e.g., phenomenology, symbolic interactionism), often with access to large amounts of "hard data" of a nonnumerical form. It may begin as a grounded theory approach with the researcher having no previous understanding of the phenomenon; or the study may commence with propositions and proceed in a 'scientific and empirical way' throughout the research process (e.g., Bogdan & Taylor, 1990).[7]

A popular method of qualitative research is the case study (Stake 1995,[8] Yin 1989[9]), which examines in depth 'purposive samples' to better understand a phenomenon (e.g., support to families; Racino, 1999);[10] the case study method exemplifies the qualitative researchers' preference for depth, detail, and context, often working with smaller and more focused samples, compared with the large samples of primary interest to statistical researchers seeking general laws.3

Qualitative methods are an integral component of the five angles of analysis fostered by the data percolation methodology.[11] These methods may be used alongside quantitative methods, scholarly or lay reviews of the literature, interviews with experts, and computer simulation, as part of multimethod attitude to data collection and analysis (called Triangulation).3

To help navigate the heterogeneous landscape of qualitative research, one can further think of qualitative inquiry in terms of 'means' and 'orientation'.[12] In particular, one could argue that qualitative researchers often reject natural science models of truth, prefer inductive, hypothesis-generating research processes and procedures (over hypothesis-testing models), are oriented towards investigations of meaning(s) rather than behaviour, and prefer data in the form of words and images, that are ideally naturally derived (e.g. in-depth observation as opposed to experimentation).[13]...

My own hermeneutic is the prevailing principle of the scientific method and that is that "a single exception destroys the thesis". I learned this principle though from Hebrews 12:27:

[Heb 12:27 NLT] 27 This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.

Most people seem to read the scriptures in order to "prop up" ideas they "believe". But in my view, the things that can be shaken need to go so that only what is true and therefore unassailable will remain. "Wood, hay and stubble" are all things that can be burned.

Please see this article for more information.


Because of the rules of sensus plenior, the meaning is reproducible and verifiable. It exists like a giant crossword puzzle, but rather than words crossing and tying the solution, whole passages, cross, metaphoric meaning is locked, and theology is consistent with the literal Bible.

Consider a cipher where words are replaced with metaphoric meanings. Garments are always works, donkeys are always prophets, blood is always life, water is always the word, light is always holiness in it's various aspects, and darkness is always grace. Replace those few words everywhere they exist in scripture then find a sensible, theologically sound double entendre wherever they occur. It is humanly impossible to construct such a cipher, yet that is what the rules of sensus plenior demand. Nothing short of divine authorship is acceptable.

Likewise, since all nature testifies of Christ, there are legitimate metaphors in nature. But since they are not revealed prepositionally as in the scripture, they are more difficult to discern. But we have a "more sure word of prophecy" in the scriptures.

The tolah worm is an example.

Physics might be better suited with a model taken from Genesis 1. Since there is nothing larger than God, when he created the void, he created it within himself. We are the voids within God. He made room for us. Now view the physical model of reality where what we think of as primary particles are discontinuities within a hyper-dense plenum. Gravity is caused by the plenum moving to it's lowest energy state and pushing the discontinuities together. Charge is a discontinuity that placed the plenum in tension or compression. Opposite charges move together to reduce the stress. Magnetism is a discontinuity with tension at one end and compression at the other. Energy and mass interchange as the localized energy creates a discontinuity, or a discontinuity collapses and throws energy back into the plenum. Hyper jumps occur when particles of the plenum are lined up and move simultaneously permitting the void to jump without existing between the points of travel. When an electron enters a nucleus, the nucleus void becomes unstable and spits out another electron void in another direction as it collapses to a stable configuration.

In this model, since all the properties belong to the plenum and the geometry of the voids, you automatically have a unified theory.


No there are not. This is because hermeneutics is not a science. There are no hard-and-fast rules in literature. Bible teacher James Jordan, in a recent lecture, said,

"Do you read anything else by rules? When you pick up the latest mystery novel, do you say, "Well, let's remind ourselves of the rules of hermeneutics," or do you just plow in? Do you read the newspaper by rules? The assumption seems to be that the Bible is some kind of weird book, and that if you don't have all these rules you're going to misinterpret it. There's always some helpful stuff... but the problem with reading by rules is that it reduces reading to science. We have what is called 'the ideal of science.' Science has to turn all art into knowledge of a certain sort, with rules. That's not the way the Bible is written and that's not who God is. Some rules are commonsense, designed to get you to read sanely, like 'Pay attention to the context.'"

The reason literature, like art, has no hard-and-fast rules, is because authors and artists confer meaning upon things as they go. So I guess reading cumulatively through a book is one rule. But once you are inside the author's or artist's world, the work becomes uniquely self-referencing. So the Bible makes its own rules based on what has gone before. Which is why I get so upset with the myopia of some voters on this site. Please treat the Bible as literature, as a book, not an autopsy. If you take a single note out of a piece of music, it loses its meaning.

If anyone's interested, the lecture series is here.

Also, if anyone who reads this site is interested in a one day event on hermeneutics and literary structure (held in Australia), you can find details here.

  • 3
    Yes, actually when I pick up anything I do think about the rules of interpretation. When I pick up Shakespeare I remember that it what century the vocabulary is going to be from. When I pick up a Turkish newspaper I remember the special language rules involved in compressing very long words into headlines. When I read a blog post I also check on who the author is and what perspective they are coming from to help me correctly interpret their writing. When I pick up a mystery novel I note the genre and absorb it in kind.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 14:40

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