(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)
We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning that the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.
We deny the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.
So begins The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the science of understanding what the Bible says, and this statement on Biblical Hermeneutics is the collective wisdom of many evangelical scholars on that subject.
An international conference produced The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics in 1982. Leaders from many different branches of the protestant church signed it. Those who signed the document included Norman L. Geisler, Gleason L. Archer, James M. Boice, D. James Kennedy, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John H. Gerstner, Bill Bright, Paige Patterson, Josh McDowell, Raymond C. Ortlund, Adrian P. Rogers, Bruce Wilkinson, W. A. Criswell, John F. MacArthur, Luis Palau, and John F. Walvoord.
Article XV, printed above, affirms that the Bible should be taken literally, but please note the care taken to define what “literal” means. Literal means “normal” or according to the rules of grammar as normally interpreted by the person who wrote the material. It takes into account “figures of speech and literary forms” used by that author. The “grammatical-historical sense” means, “the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.” Students of the Bible should think carefully about grammar and history. (Commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics by Norman L. Geisler)
The Grammatico-Historical Method (GHM) is the way we discover the grammatical-historical sense. The GHM is a Christian method for understanding the Bible. It “focuses attention not only on literary forms but upon grammatical constructions and historical contexts out of which the Scriptures were written.” The aim of the GHM is to discover the meaning of the passage as the original author would have intended and as the original hearers would have understood. (Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul)
GMH assumes that the original biblical manuscript languages – ancient Hebrew and Greek, with some Aramaic in the Old Testament – were real languages that people used in a real period of history to communicate real, logical thought. This means that we must learn all we can about those ancient languages to understand how the Bible uses them. (The amount of knowledge we have about those ancient languages is more than enough to help us understand the Bible.)
GHM also makes us students of history. It assumes that the Bible’s authors wrote according to the cultural, political, and religious norms of their historical periods. To know what a Bible passage truly means, we must gather information on the biblical authors’ cultures and the audiences who they addressed in their writings.
When people who want to understand the Bible put grammar and history together, they are likely to have a correct understanding of the Bible’s meaning. The Bible is literally true, and it contains no hidden message behind the words or between the lines.
Since the Bible contains all we need to know about how to get to heaven by grace and how to live life on earth by the law, it is very important to use the GHM to understand it. Our eternal destinies might be at stake.