We talk about Biblical hermeneutics a lot with our dear friend Bosco the Great. I thought it would be good to lay out one method of Biblical interpretation. The LIGHTS method. Most Christians actually affirm this method even if they are unaware of it. This does not deny Biblical inerrancy in any way, shape, or form nor does it even necessarily stand contrary to beliefs largely considered fundamentalist. Some seem to think that fundamentalism is entirely interpreting the Bible literally–not necessarily. Some seem to think that inerrancy requires everything in the Bible be taken literally true and accurate–not necessarily. The Bible’s inerrancy is a gift it derives from the context of the Church ultimately. So here is the LIGHTS method.
Some interpretations of the Bible are literal. For instance, John 3:3-5, Rom. 6:1-4, John 6:51-58, Matt. 26:26 are all taken literally. Most passages concerning the deity of Christ are taken literally but it is not a requirement. One can arrive at the deity of Christ without necessarily having all of the passages relating to his deity taken literally. This does not mean that all things can be taken literally though. For instance, Jesus is not a literal door (John 10:7).
I–Illumination by the Holy Spirit
Some things are not always revealed at once in the Bible. Some things wait until much later to be revealed. Some things even come post-New Testament. The point is that the Church is always reliant on the Holy Spirit to guide it. Of course, this means that there must also be taken into account of discerning the spirits for that which is of God (1 John 4:1).
Scripture is interpreted based on its grammar. For instance, Hebrew and Greek grammar primarily for the Old Testament needs to be relied on as we focus on both the Septuagint and the Masoretic texts as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Greek and Latin are necessary to understand the New Testament. That doesn’t mean you need to take classes in all of these languages but you might try getting familiar with how to use a dictionary when reading and interpreting scriptures. A classical Latin dictionary is what is needed for the Vulgate, any Greek lexicon will do (specifically Thayer’s or Liddell-Scott’s), Hebrew dictionaries include Brown-Driver-Briggs’s (early) and Jastro’s (later). Most of these can be found online. I’ll try to ask someone I know who has a better knowledge of Latin what the standard Latin dictionary is.
Some teachings of scripture are best explained by historical context. Especially dealing with Levitical law. Of course, the historical context method is best used last in the hermeneutical journey as it often times locks the divine word in a static position in time. But historical context is in fact important. This comes in handy when we come to interpreting the book of Revelation and other apocryphal books. Bosco has trouble putting these into historical context. They were written not to our modern churches but to seven ancient churches for them. These things were to pass in their time. End times does not always mean “the end of the world” but sometimes just means the fulfillment of a prophecy. The Olivet Discourse was spoken to people around Jesus, not to us modern Christians.
These of course are the human teachers of the Church and the Church itself. This acts as our guide in determining what parts to take literally and what not take literally. Since we don’t take every part literally and everything non-literally, we need the teaching ministry of the Church to inform us.
We need interaction between those of other faiths and other denominations to help guide us as well. Just because we are in what is claimed to be “the True Church” doesn’t mean we have the monopoly on truth. We can still learn helpful tidbits from each other. Many Catholics and Eastern Orthodox appreciate the contributions of Anglican theologians such as T.S. Elliot, N.T. Wright, and C.S. Lewis even if they may disagree dogmatically with them. I of course enjoy reading Orthodox and Catholic theologians (mostly because a majority of Protestant theologians these days can be quite dull and boring). But we need to “put it all together” in order to form harmony with each other and scripture. Catholics and Protestants disagree on many things but we can at least learn why we disagree.
This is another article on LIGHTS. I don’t agree with it all but it helped me to remember the method: