Review: The Future of Biblical Interpretation (IVP Academic)

The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics eds. Stanley E. Porter and Matthew R. Malcolm (IVP Academic, 2013)

I received a complimentary copy for review from IVP Academic.

I’ve already blogged about this book several times (herehere, and here) but I wanted to offer a general overview for those interested.

The Future of Biblical Interpretation arose out of a conference at the University of Nottingham in honor of the contributions of Anthony Thiselton. The book is comprised of eight chapters and an introduction/conclusion written by the editors. The focus of the book is answering the question, “How can readers of the Bible appropriately acknowledge and do justice to plurality, while being responsible as readers?’ (8)

The book is most accessible to those with some familiarity with Anthony Thiselton’s previous works but Thiselton’s opening chapter provides a good entry point into the discussion. Porter and Malcolm also provide a nice overview in their Conclusion (if you are unfamiliar I would suggest start with these two chapters before reading the rest of the book).

Each chapter of the book looks at the plurality in scripture from a different point of view.

  1. The Future of Biblical Interpretation and Responsible Plurality in Hermeneutics -Anthony Thiselton
  2. Biblical Hermeneutics and Theological Responsibility – Stanley Porter
  3. Biblical Hermeneutics and Scriptural Responsibility – Richard Brigss
  4. Biblical Hermeneutics and Kerygmatic Responsibility – Matthew Malcom
  5. Biblical Hermeneutics and Historical Responsibility – James Dunn
  6. Biblical Hermeneutics and Critical Responsibility – Robert Morgan
  7. Biblical Hermeneutics and Relational Responsiblity – Tom Greggs
  8. Biblical Hermeneutics and Ecclesial Responsibility – R. Walter Moberly

If you are interested in Biblical Hermeneutics this is a wonderful read. And if you are interested in Theological Interpretation of Scripture I would definitely suggest you read it because you will find several arguments for and concerns with theological interpretation.

The Purpose of Scripture and Determining its Meaning

I’m reading The Future of Biblical Interpretation from IVP Academic (disclaimer: received free copy to review) and Richard S. Briggs in his chapter on “Biblical Hermeneutics and Scriptural Responsibility” has an interesting discussion on how different hermeneutical approaches result in different types of interpretation seeming plausible. He writes:

Different interpreters at different times simply do have different goals, and while some interpretations may be ruled deficient in that they do not attend to the details of the text (or perhaps misread them as something other), many interpretative disputes that actually occupy anyone’s time are not over such matters, but over competing construals of the nature of the text’s purpose and specific contribution to that purpose.

Briggs point is worth thinking about, how much of interpretation depends not on what the text says but on what we think the text is?

In essence, Brigg’s idea is an extension of Gadamer’s ideas in Truth and Method, and it is one that is often left out when evangelicals discuss the meaning of scripture. But what we think about scripture matters (and here I’m not talking about inerrancy and infallible). If we think scripture is a historical book simply recording what happened, that will, for example, influence how we make assumptions on whether a certain passage is descriptive or prescriptive. Likewise, if scripture’s primary purpose is to reveal the nature of God, or to tell the story of Israel, or Jesus (Christological readings), or the church, or whatever else we can imagine then what becomes important is understanding how each text relates to this purpose.

Therefore, as Briggs identifies, when someone reads a text differently disagreement can come not because we disagree with their reading, but because their reading does not fit with our framework. I guess the questions I have are:

  • can we, myself included, identify our primary framework for scripture?
  • when we begin to argue over the meaning of a passage would it help if we started by outlining our framework? 
  • can multiple frameworks exist together? if so, does one always have to be primary?