Hermeneutics


When it comes to the study of hermeneutics the New Testament use of the Old Testament is one of the most controversial areas. Central to the swath of differing interpretations is the idea of continuity and discontinuity between the testaments and the definition, nature and use of typology and allusions.

There is perhaps no one else on the contemporary scene who is known for their studies on the NT use of the OT than G.K. Beale. In 2007 Beale and D.A. Carson released a co-edited book Commentary on the New Testament us of the Old Testament. This book has no doubt set an example on how to understand this important topic. Along these lines, Baker published Beale’s new book A New Testament Biblical Theology. In this book readers saw a stellar defense of what is essentially an amillennial interpretation of the NT. Agree with it or not, Beale provides a compelling model and case for how the NT uses and interprets the OT and how that should inform our understanding of the OT’s intent. Among other things, the primary basis for Beale’s understanding of the NT’s use of the OT is that there is a high degree of continuity between the testaments and that typology and allusions run rampant throughout the NT text. While Beale does tip his hat to some of the hermeneutical pillars of his understanding of the NT use of the OT in the introduction to this book, for those who have read or are reading this work and would like a more detailed description of the criteria by which he makes the hermeneutical decisions he does the wait is over.

Baker has now published Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation. While some would have rather seen a more exhaustive treatment of the subject, Beale is clear that “the purpose of this handbook is to provide a short guide to the use of the OT citations and allusions in the NT.” (p. xvii) As a handbook, as opposed to a more detailed study, Beale is more general in his assessments of thoughts and a lot of the content is taken up with surveying the various views within the field of NT use of the OT. It is the guidelines laid out in this book that served as the basis by which all the contributors to the Commentary on the NT use of the OT followed.

Fundamental Issues in Interpreting the NT use of the OT

For Beale, there are two main and foundational issues that need to be brought to the fore in order to effectively understand how the NT uses the OT. First there is the issue of continuity between the testaments. Central to this issue is deciding “whether the NT interprets the Old in line with the original OT meaning.” (p. 1) Even a cursory reading of just the OT quotations in the NT brings the attentive reader to ask how did Paul or the others authors get such and such conclusion from that OT passage? This is a question everyone’s method must answer. After surveying various answers to this question Beale concludes “that NT authors display varying degrees of awareness of literary contexts, as well as perhaps historical contexts, although the former is predominant.” (p. 12)

The second foundational issue is that of typology. Defining typology is of great importance because it can determine what and how much of the NT is typological. Beale defines typology as the following:

The study of analogical correspondences among revealed truths about persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation, which, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature and are escalated in their meaning.” (p. 14)

This definition is long but helpful as it rightly includes several elements: analogical correspondence, historicity, a pointing-forwardness/foreshadowing, escalation and retrospection (p. 14). Lest some think that typology cannot be listed under the umbrella of exegesis since it seems to fall out of the parameters of authorial intent Beale says the following:

Typology can be called contextual exegesis within the framework of the canon since it primarily involves the interpretation and elucidation of the meaning of earlier parts of Scripture by later parts…..the expansion of the database being interpreted does not mean that we are no longer interpreting but only that we are doing so with a larger block of material. (p. 25)

For some this may be stretching it in order to make ones conclusions about the text fit just so they can be called “exegetical”. Anyone who has red his NT biblical theology will feel that there a places where Beale has crossed the line with his broad use of typology and Beale is reasonable to recognize that not everyone will go the extra mile with him in a number of passages. However, this should not cause the reader to toss his definition out the door.

Along these same lines, which the discussion of quotations is important, what is perhaps more germane to the discussion of typology is the definition of an allusion. It is here again that various interpreters and theologians widely disagree. While a simple definition of an allusion maybe that of “a brief expression consciously intended by an author to be dependent on an OT passage,” this needs more explanation (p. 31). Beale expands this a bit when he says, “The telltale key to discerning an allusion is that of recognizing an incomparable or unique parallel in wording , syntax, concept, or cluster of motifs in the same order or structure.” (p. 31) For Beale, there is not necessarily a minimum word count or other similar type criteria for identifying something as an allusion. In fact, he goes so far as to say that “it remains possible that fewer than three words or even an idea may be an allusion.” (p. 31) This will no doubt strike some readers as odd and wonder then how can anything not be termed an allusion so long as a connection can be made. To be fair, Beale is not setting up a definition so he or others can get away with exegetical abuse just to see an allusion anywhere they want. While readers will find a number of his allusional finds to be stretching it, Beale does the hard work of exegesis and is persuasive nonetheless.

The Nine Step Process to Interpreting the NT use of the OT

With foundational matters and definitions take care of, Beale spends the second shortest chapter in the book outlining his nine step process for interpreting the NT use of the OT. In regards to these steps Beale notes, “The procedures discussed here suggest different angels from which we can look at a passage. When all these approaches are put together, they will provide a cumulatively better understanding of the way the NT interprets the OT.” (p. 42) The steps are as follows:

  1. Identify the OT reference. Is it a quotation or allusion? If an allusion it must fit the criteria mentioned earlier.
  2. Analyze the broad NT context where the OT reference occurs.
  3. Analyze the OT context both broadly and immediately, especially interpreting the paragraph in which the quotation or allusion occurs.
  4. Survey the use of the OT text in early and late Judaism that might be of relevance to the NT appropriation of the OT text.
  5. Compare the texts: NT, LXX, MT, and targums, early Jewish citations (DSS, the Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo)
  6. Analyze the author’s textual use of the OT.
  7. Analyze the author’s interpretive use of the OT.
  8. Analyze the author’s theological use of the OT.
  9. Analyze the author’s rhetorical use of the OT.

The whole of chapter three fleshes out these nine steps more fully. While there may be debate as to what counts as an allusion I cannot see how any camp would have much grounds for rejecting any of these steps. These would be steps used by all sides of the debates. Following this, chapter four is spent discussing the twelve primary ways in which the NT uses the OT. Once a passage, verse, phrase, word or concept is identified as an allusion then it helps to be able to categorize what use the allusion fits into. Various examples are given for each category. For the fourth and fifth steps Beale deals with these at length in chapter six. There is a multitude of works listed and the sheer sight of them is daunting making one wonder if they can ever complete the task without owning or having access to them. In chapter seven Beale uses Isaiah 22:22 and Revelation 3:7 as a case study in showing these steps work.

Tucked in the smallest chapter in the book and briefly touched on in chapter three (p. 53), chapter five addresses what he believes to be the five hermeneutical and theological presuppositions of the NT writers:

  1. There is an apparent assumption of corporate solidarity or representation.
  2. In light of corporate solidarity or representation, Christ as the Messiah is viewed as representing the true Israel of the OT and the true Israel – the church – in the NT.
  3. History is unified as a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the later parts.
  4. The age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ.
  5. As a consequence of the preceding presuppositions, it follows that the later parts of biblical history function as the broader context for interpreting earlier parts because they all have the same, ultimate divine author which inspires the various human authors. One deduction from this premise if that Christ is the goal toward which the OT pointed and is the end-time center of redemptive history, which is the key to interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises.

Even if everyone could agree on Beale’s nine steps mentioned above and the definition of typology and an allusion, it is here where readers of one theological persuasion or another will find great disagreement. No doubt, Beale’s theological bent plays a clear role in seeing these as theological and hermeneutical presuppositions. Some readers will use this list to toss his whole method but I think that would be unwise. There is still much to be gleaned from Beale’s approach to the subject.

Conclusion

As a guide book the Handbook on the NT use of the OT will serve as a helpful tool for this field of study and I expect it to be used in school classrooms of varying theological persuasions. Despite the theological differences some readers will have with Beale there is much take away from Beale’s methodology and proposed steps of interpreting the NT use of the OT. Despite differences, Beale must be respected for his desire to rightly understand and interpret Scripture’s intended meaning. He has a high view of the text and the task of exegesis. This is a book that should be broadly read and will provide exegetes of all levels with many things to think about.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Baker Academic in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review and the words and thoughts expressed are my own.

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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.

Interpretation of Scripture, followed by right application, is the primary way that we are to be like God. This is not an issue of education. It’s an issue of imitation. (p. 23)

It has been the concern of many that the church has abandoned the task of serious Bible interpretation to the “ivory towers” of the academy and the PhD’s that dwell therein. This has resulted in an unhealthy and shallow church as well as a look of suspicion of the church upon the academy. For too long the church has relegated the task of interpreting Scripture to those with formal education while the church goes along reading their Bible’s simply at “face value”.

This is the current model of thinking for many Christians. But according to Curtis Allen, this should not be the case. To combat this wrongheaded thinking he has written Education or Imitation?: Bible Interpretation for Dummies Like You and Me. This is a challenging and thought provoking book that will shed new light on what it means for Christians to faithfully and fully imitate Jesus.

Allen’s central thesis is simple: the primary way in which Christians imitate Christ is by being faithful interpreters of Scripture. Initially, to many who read that statement, it will come across very odd, out of place and, well, seemingly down right wrong. After all, aren’t the churches two main responsibilities to evangelize and disciple the nations to the glory of God (Matt. 28:19-20)? For Allen, those two commands may be the beginning and end of the mission of the church but there is the middle to consider as well. Allen asks, “What are the means that produced the end?” (p. 19). The answer – “Interpretation of the Word of God, spoken and applied, is the primary means that Jesus used.” (p. 19)

If interpretation of God’s Words is the primary means of imitating Christ then there is a lot of bad imitation because there is a lot of bad interpretation going on within the world and the church. “Bad interpretation of one kind or another can be seen in all acts of disobedience to the Word of God. And like anything else in creation, bad interpretation had a beginning.” (p. 25) Starting with Adam and Eve, mankind has been an interpreter of God’s Word. In the garden, Adam and Eve had to interpret God’s instructions to them regarding the fruit on the various trees and the consequences for eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As we know from Genesis 3, Satan challenged both God’s Word and their interpretation of it. In the end, Adam & Eve accepted Satan’s misinterpretation of God’s word and correction of their interpretation resulting in their sin.

But Adam and Eve were just the beginning of a long line of bad interpreters of God’s Word. Some notable examples that Allen points out are Saul and Satan. In 1 Samuel 10-15 Saul misinterprets Samuel’s words to him concerning how God would mediate His blessing on Saul as king. Later, Satan enters the scene to tempt the 2nd Adam, Christ, while He is in the desert and misinterprets Scripture three times (Matt. 4). But not only does Christ have to correct the misinterpretation of Scripture by Saul and Satan, he has to with the Pharisees as well – the religious leaders of the day! Most of Christ’s interaction with these kinds of religious leaders was correcting their bad interpretations of Scripture.

Thankfully there is hope for bad interpreters like all of us. Jesus. Yes, Jesus is the answer to our bad interpretations of Scripture. Jesus is “the primary interpreter of Scripture because He is the primary object of Scripture.” (p. 43) So often we focus so much imitating Jesus in word and deed that we miss out on an equally important way in which Jesus lived out His ministry among people on earth – as the perfect interpreter of Scripture. Allen points out that “some of the most amazing things recorded in Scripture are not actually miracles but the instances when God explains His own Word to people and then shows them how to apply it….Interpretation and application of God’s Word is of the highest importance to Jesus.” (p. 43-44) Time and time again, Jesus was challenging the bad interpretations of the religious leaders of the day. Then moving from correcting their bad interpretations He corrects their bad applications stemming from their bad interpretations. This is what Jesus wants to do for us. He corrects our bad interpretations and applications so that we can better live for Him.

By following the example of the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures daily to see if the words of the apostles were true (Acts 17:11), Christians are to be actively involved in interpreting Scripture for themselves and not just leaving it up to those educated in biblical studies. Allen is not saying we cannot learn from others. After all, God speaks through His Word to all believers. However, we are not to entirely depend on the interpretations of others (p. 69). Allen’s words are bold, “All believers should be able to interpret the Bible with little to no theological education.” (p. 72) Again, Allen is no discouraging formal theological education. In fact he encourages it for those who are able and gifted to do so. Rather, he is encouraging all Christians to realize that intentional, active and faithful interpretation on Scripture is a necessary part of imitating Christ. Therefore, all Christians need to take it seriously.

Allen’s proposal is right on the money and he should be applauded for his work here. There is only one thing I felt was missing from the book. Besides a few passing references to the Holy Spirit, there was no extended discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit as the believers helper in imitating Jesus as an interpreter of Scripture. In John 14, as Jesus tells the disciples that He will be leaving them soon, He encourages them with the coming of the Holy Spirit. In 14:26 He tells them that the Holy Spirit will “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” It seems that the Holy Spirit would be the primary way in which believer can imitate Jesus as a Spirit led interpreter of Scripture.

Nevertheless, Education or Imitation? is definitely a challenge to much of the contemporary churches thinking on education as a requirement for interpretation and the, quite frankly, lackadaisical attitude that too many believers have towards interpreting Scripture for themselves. This is the kind of book I would want to put into the hands of everyone in my church and would pray that every Christian reads it. Allen’s book is spot on and his words need a wide hearing.

Do historical matters matter to faith? This is an intriguing question. Though the answer may seem obvious to many it is not so to others. To many evangelical Christians, Scripture, among many things, is an historical book that gives us a window into a time gone by in world history. There are events, places and people it gives an account of that only it gives us an account of. To those would answer no to the beginning question these historical discrepancies leave them questioning the historical accuracy of the text and sometimes abandoning it all together. To those who would answer yes, they either have to say Scripture is plain wrong or, as a historically reliable witness to these things, it is the only record we have of them and can be trusted as much as any other historical text as a single witness to the past. What are Bible believing Christians to make of this?

For decades, this discussion has been raging but it seems to have picked up more steam more recently with the work, among others, of Kenton Sparks and his book God’s Word in Human Words. In short, Sparks calls into question the inerrancy of Scripture in regards to its historical reliability. To Sparks, Scripture is no less authoritative in its theological assertions and worldview even if the historical references it makes are tied to those theological assertions. To many evangelical Christians who hold to the traditional understanding of Scriptures authority and inerrancy this is problematic.

In an effort to respond to Sparks work, and that of others, James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary have edited a new book titled Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. This is an academic work that addresses the issues the authors see in the works of Kenton Sparks, Peter Enns, Donald McKim and others in regards to their view of inerrancy and subsequently their interwoven view of the historicity of Scripture.

To the contributors of this book their basic assessment is this:

Spark’s proposal and similar proposals have been frequently weighed and found wanting in the history of the Christian churches. Not only does his viewpoint depart from a traditional Christian understanding of Scripture’s truthfulness, but it likewise does not accord with Scripture’s self-attestation about its truthfulness or trustworthiness. (p. 17)

This is no small accusation but their desire to respond to and interact with Sparks and others shows the seriousness of the issue at hand when questioning the Bible’s accuracy when it comes to historical matters.

The book is broken into four major sections: Part One deals with biblical, systematic and historical considerations, Part Two deals with the Old Testament and historicity, Part Three deals with the New Testament and historicity and Part Four deals with the Old Testament and archeology.

Part One lays the foundation for ones understanding of the relationship between history and Scriptures account of it within the narrative. In the first chapter Thomas Mccall deals with the issue of knowledge as it relates to history. How can we know what happened in the past, how sure can we be that we are right in our knowledge of it and how does this effect or reliance of Scriptures attestation of the past? To be sure, these are important questions. Also related to the discussion is the place of critical biblical scholarship (CBS). CBS has traditionally seen itself and its method as authoritative and binding on all historians and historiography. Following C. Stephen Evans, McCall essentially concludes that while CBS provides some helpful guidelines for accurate historical method, they are just that – helpful guidelines that are not authoritatively binding on the method (p. 45-46).

In the second chapter Graham Cole addresses the issue we are faced if we have a “historyless systematic theology.” “Sensitivity to the historical dimension of Scripture is not an option. It is inescapable if justice is to be done to the Bible’s own content” (p. 57). If Christians are to rightly regard Scripture as an interpretation of history than surely, its accuracy on historical events matters to faith and its subsequent theology. Cole later argues that the actual happenings of history matter for systematic theology for three reasons: it is of valuable source for ancient cultural expressions such as weights and measurements, it is of value as a witness to God’s deeds in the past such as the Exodus and it is of greatest value is God’s breathed out Word as stated in 2 Tim. 3:14-17 (p. 66).

Perhaps the most accessible and helpful chapters in the Part One, and the book, are Mark Thompson’s chapter on the theological account of biblical inerrancy and James Hoffmeier’s chapter on the historicity of the Exodus as essential for theology. These two chapters alone are worth the book. Thompson gives five theological pillars of the doctrine of inerrancy which I have spelled out in an earlier post. As I have also discussed more fully in an earlier post, Hoffmeier uses the Exodus as a test case to show why it is necessary for theology and Christianity that the historical events recorded in Scripture actually took place.

Parts two and three address a number of historical accounts in Scripture in both testaments in order to show both why their historicity is a necessary part of the theological foundation for the text and that in fact the events, people and places recorded in the text can be assuredly trusted to have actually existed in the past. Many of these chapters take up the issues presented in various forms of critical reflections of the Biblical text such as form and literary criticism.

Part four deals with archeology and the Old Testament. The authors here show the relationship with and the role that archeology has in supporting the historicity of the Bible. John Monson’s chapter on the conquest of Canaan is a breath of fresh air as he removes the dirt and fog that CBS has tried to put on our Biblical reading glasses. Monson rightly contends, as do a number of the other contributors, that it is wrong to conclude that the absence of archeological evidence is evidence against something. There is more to providing reliable support for an event than archeological evidence. “Cumulative evidence that yields strong possibilities in favor of the biblical text is far more convincing than nonevidence (p. 456).

Do Historical Matter Matter to Faith? is evidence that the traditional view of the authority, reliability and inerrancy of Scripture is not without merit, evidence or a strong scholarly case. This is a scholarly and academic work that proves its case well. I recommend this book to every biblical student, pastor and teacher. The only drawback to the book is its lack of accessibility to the lay audience. Chapters like eight which deals with Word Distribution as an Indicator of Authorial Intention: A Study of Genesis 1:1-2:3 will be lost by even many Bible students and pastors unless they have a very good grasp of Hebrew and textual analysis.

Do historical matters matter to faith? The answer to this question is a water shed issue with very divergent conclusions. The contributors of the book believe they do for a number of reasons not the least of which is the trustworthiness of Scripture and God Himself who has spoken through it to us. The character of God, our relationship to Him and our theology depend, in part, on the historical accuracy and reliability of Scripture.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Crossway and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review. The words and opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Ask the average Christian today what hermeneutics is and you might receive more blank stares than informed answers. We wonder how so many Christians come to interesting and sometimes crazy interpretations of Scripture but the answer is staring us in the face. The church has not equipped them to be faithful interpreters.

Needless to say, many pastors wish the members of the congregations would willingly take an introduction to hermeneutics. Unfortunately, most will not. That is why it is so important for the academy and church to produce books on hermeneutics for the layperson – at least those who will read them. I am glad to say that Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology by Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Patterson is one of those books. Though it will most likely be used in colleges and seminaries for intro to hermeneutics classes, there is enough of this book that is accessible to the layperson that everyone should have it.

As the subtitle states, this book explores hermeneutics through the triad of history, literature and theology. The authors defend this three-fold method by stating:

Since Christianity is a historical religion, and all texts are historically and culturally embedded, it is important that we ground our interpretation of Scripture in a careful study of the relevant historical setting. Since Scripture is a text of literature, the bulk of interpretive work entails coming to grips with the various literary and linguistic aspects of the biblical material. Finally, since Scripture is not merely a work of literature but inspired and authoritative revelation from God, the goal and end of interpretation is theology. (p. 66)

Part One: Historical Context/Setting

Part one deals with the historical context of Scripture in both Old and New Testaments. The authors lay out a brief overview of the chronology of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation The role of archeology is discussed and it is concluded that archeology has done nothing but verify what we have already known from Scripture to be true about persons, places and events in the past. There is a brief overview of the primary and secondary sources for historical-cultural background studies. While the authors highly regard the importance of background information of the historical setting of the text (eg. Ancient Near Eastern Studies), “it should never override what is stated explicitly in the text” (p. 94). In recent decades ANE studies have tended towards letting the comparative results control our understanding of and interpretation of the text to the point where the uniqueness of the text is lost. Kostenberger and Patterson have not fallen into this trap but have retained a balance in their approach to ANE studies as useful for biblical interpretation.

Part Two: Literary Focus

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to interpreting the books of the Bible. There are several different genres and each has its own unique features. Here the authors have divided up this section into several areas.

First, the canon of the Old and New Testament are discussed. For the OT the authors discuss the role, types, application and transmission of Law in the OT. The historical event of the Exodus is discussed. The significance of the covenants is discussed with the definition and explanation of each type in the OT. Further, a number of coordinating themes in the OT are discussed such as the relationship of the Messiah to everything previously discussed. For the NT the issue of getting the gospel from the Gospels is discussed along with the theological contribution of Acts for the NT canon, the placement of the Epistles within the book of Acts and the culmination of Revelation as apocalypse.

Second, the many genres of the Bible are laid out in a thorough and easy to understand way. The section on genre is divided into a discussion of OT narrative, Poetry and Wisdom literature, OT Prophecy, NT Historical Narrative, the Parables, Epistles and Apocalyptic literature. While the literary features of each genre can seem overwhelming at times the authors do a good job of simplifying the features of each while avoiding oversimplification. This section is worth the price of the book alone. The best parts are on the OT & NT Narratives, the Gospels and the Apocalypse (as well as the complimentary section on Interpreting Figurative Language in chap. 14).

Third, the unique features of the languages (Hebrew & Greek) are laid out. Here the many aspects of the grammar, syntax and discourse are discussed. The importance of the grammatical foundations of each language is explained as well as a helpful discussion of discourse analysis with four examples. What is so good about this section of the book is that, unlike any other intro to hermeneutic, it discusses the languages of the Bible in a way that does not require the reader to know Greek or Hebrew in order to glean from it. I have always believed that if a layperson knew their English grammar well they could do grammatical analysis of the text (especially the Epistles as well as the Narrative sections of the OT & NT). While nothing can replace the knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, most people will not learn them but you don’t need to learn to read it (in terms of vocabulary and translation) in order to apply much of this section to reading your English translation of choice. One section that stands out is the twelve fallacies of determining word meaning (p. 631-50). This is something that plagues too much of contemporary exegesis and preaching.

Part Three: Theology

The third part of the hermeneutical triad is how we get our theology from the Bible. Unfortunately, theology for the church has fallen on hard times and the cry of many laypeople, and pastors, is, “Just give me Jesus”, and “rather than viewing theology as nurturing and stabilizing elements in their journey of faith, many today view it as an enemy, or are skeptical at best if not indifferent if not outright antagonistic” (p. 694). This chapter deals specifically with the concept of biblical theology as opposed to systematic or historical theology. A number of issues related to biblical theology are discussed such as the many proposed approaches to the discipline, the use of the OT in the NT and a short history of the discipline.

Application & Proclamation

The final part of the book deals with addressing the way in which the student of Scripture can utilize the tools available to them in applying the hermeneutical triad to their preaching and study. The authors walk the reader through the many interpretational tools available today in both book and electronic format. They explain how the shape, genre and literary features of a given book or text are to shape your sermon and rightly point out that “the task is to discover our outline, not to come up with one” (p. 741). Guidelines for crafting a sermon based on genre are laid out as well as mistakes to avoid.

The appendix has twenty three pages listing the best recommended books to get in terms of general resources (bibliographic aids for building a library), reference works (intros, surveys and background books), biblical languages aids (grammars, textual criticism, lexical and syntactical studies), dictionaries, theologies, hermeneutics and then commentaries for both testaments and each book of the Bible. Reading through the list some readers will feel some books were left out but overall you would be hard pressed to say any of the suggestions should be taken out. The book ends with a glossary of relevant and basic terms every interpreter should be aware of.

Conclusion

For all that this book has I would have liked to see more on the ANE (Ancient Near Eastern) background of the OT and the Greco-Roman background of the NT. Contemporary ANE studies are running crazy today and this is an issues that deserves more attention by conservative scholars. Also, as W. Randolph Tate has laid out in his book Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach, it would have been helpful to include a chapter on the world of the reader.

Laying these caveats aside, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation is a book that I cannot recommend enough. Every pastor should have it on their desk, every seminary and even college student studying for the ministry should have it and I would say that this is one of the standard reference works that every believer should have in their personal library, especially Sunday school, small group or Bible study leaders/teachers. This will probably be the most used text book for intro to hermeneutics classes in college and seminaries in the years to come.

NOTE: This review copy was provided by Kregel for free and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.