While the general definition of hermeneutics as the art and science of biblical interpretation may be given a casual head nod in the affirmative by most interpreters, it should not be assumed that those doing so agree on the mechanics of the of the art and science of hermeneutics. That is, there is general agreement that hermeneutics has an art and science to it but not what they look like in practice. So while many may look to hermeneutics to provide guidance and constraints for responsible biblical interpretation, one quickly finds out that there are plenty of options to consider, some of which take the interpreter down seemingly very different paths.
In order to help us sketch the hermeneutical landscape, Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell have brought together representatives of five different hermeneutical methods in the new book Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views. The contributors are as follows: Craig L. Blomberg presents the Historical-Critical/Grammatical method, F. Scott Spencer the Literary/Postmodern method, Merold Westphal the Philosophical/Theological method, Richard B. Gaffin Jr. the Redemptive-Historical method and Robert W. Wall with the Canonical method.
The aim of this book is to allow each contributor to present their hermeneutical view and then apply it to Matthew 2:7-15. Instead of listing the responses to each contributor after each chapter, all of the views are presented first and then each contributor has a separate response chapter in which they successively respond to the other views. The conclusion of the book wraps up with a look at how each view presented contributes to the hermeneutical task.
There are several things that stand out about the contents of the book. First, while each contributor takes a different view, each is committed to taking the authority of Scripture seriously on its own terms, though they end up in different places at times. There is general agreement that the approaches presented are not mutually exclusive.
Second, though each contributor I committed to the validity of their view, all recognize value of the other views. Blomberg is perhaps the most vocal about this fact but contends “that all of the other approaches must build on the historical-critical/grammatical approach in order to function legitimately. (p. 28)” He further states, “It is the necessary foundation on which all other approaches must build. (p. 47; see also pg. 145)”
Third, because each view makes a contribution to the hermeneutical process (some more than others), one can see a clearer picture of the text as each method is employed. One question might be, “Would it be possible to eventually get to all of the hermeneutical insights presented through the lens of one view?” Another question might be, “Is each method presented truly a distinguishable method?” In other words, do some methods just merely ask questions and ways looking at the text that can be legitimately used by any of the other methods, thus enveloping the method into another? I am personally partial the Historical-Critical/Grammatical and Redemptive-Historical approaches. However, in reading the other three views, I find that I have always asked some of the questions they do about the text, author and reader.
Finally, all of the contributors rightly recognize that hermeneutics involves understanding something about the world behind, in and in front of the text. The meaning of the text does not just fly off the pages and into the mind of the reader. Neither does, nor can, the text mean anything we want it to mean. The text has limits and hermeneutics is the guardrails protecting the interpreter from misusing and abusing the text for their own purposes.
Biblical Hermeneutics is a great introduction to five of the most used hermeneutical methods employed. I wonder if time will tell as to the longevity of the Literary/Postmodern and Philosophical/Theological views as they are newer to the scene. The methods with the greatest influence and deepest history are the Historical-Critical/Grammatical and Redemptive-Historical and I believe that will do nothing but continue despite the criticism leveled against them.
NOTE: I received this book for free from IVP and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review. The words and thoughts expressed in this review are mine.