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Hermeneutical Circle - Essay Example

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The 'meaning' may be open-ended, but the particular text that is being considered is a close-ended circle because of the self-referentiality of individual parts and whole (Jasper, 2004).
Christianity is based upon a number of tenets, including the idea, at least within the Protestant faiths, that the Bible is in fact an "organic whole" rather than a series of contrasting individual texts that have been gathered together over quite a long period of time. Yet on another note, the only way for a Christian to understand many parts of the Bible is to refer to other parts of the Bible for understanding. This is the self-referentiality of the Bible that can be seen as a part of the hermeneutical circle.
A central example is the 'nature of God' which has concerned Christians for more then 1900 years. The various manners in which God reveals Himself within the Bible, particularly in reference to the contrast between the Old and New Testaments, might seem to be contradictory. The same God who asks for the first-born to be killed and demands that one of his faithful kill his own son to prove his faith is also the same God who reveals that love, mercy and forgiveness are the central aspects of his nature in the New Testament (Goldsworthy, 2007).
It is the closed circle of self-referentiality that is found within the Bible is the answer to that question. Various parts of the Bible, in revealing the nature of God, refer to one another. One cannot understand the God of the New Testament without reference to the Old Testament and visa-versa.
One version of the circle of hermeneutics, as expressed by evangelical theology, suggests that it is not merely "word studies" that should be involved in interpretation but rather "Word study" (Goldsworthy, 2007). This is the Word of Jesus Christ which is regarded as being the central focus and prism through which the rest of the Bible, and in fact "all of reality" can be discovered and understood (Goldsworthy, 2007). The gospel of Jesus Christ is the central fulcrum around which the rest of the Bible revolves according to this kind of hermeneutics.
Of course this essentially counters the non-hierarchical structure of self-referentiality that exists within the traditional hermeneutical circle. In traditional hermeneutics all parts relate to the whole and the whole relates to all the parts in equal measure. Within a Christian theology that includes hermeneutics the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the focusing structure that involves comprehension. Jesus "communicates" (Brown, 2007) with people through the closed circle of the Bible, and enables them to navigate through the often complex and seemingly contradictory passages that it offers.
The hermeneutical circle may appear to be complex, but in fact it is quite simple when seen in terms of revelation. As Brown (2007) suggests, "reading scripture is learning to discern a communicative act initiated by God". That "communicative act" needs to be understood within the context of all the other acts of communication that are contained within the Bible, but for the Christian at least, it is the word of Jesus Christ that offers a complete explanation for how that communication has occurred and what God is intending to mean.
To conclude, the hermeneutical circle is one of the largest dilemmas within all philosophy in general and within theology in particular. The self-referentiali ...Show more


The hermeneutical circle is one of the central dilemmas of philosophy, and by extension Christianity. The basic definition of the circle is that an understanding of a 'text' (and this can imply any kind of communication which is being evaluated) can only be established through referring to the individual parts…
Author : jacobsmuriel
Hermeneutical Circle
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