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.

Runge on Porter’s Use of Contrastive Substitution

Steve Runge has posted a paper on his blog (to be published next year) critiquing Stanley Porter’s theoretical framework regarding the Greek verb. This is an important paper for readers of Greek and I highly suggest you check it out. Steve provides an explanation on his blog regarding the back story of why this particular paper is sorely needed:

“At the 2010 ETS meeting I presented an overview of some foundational errors in Stan Porter’s theoretical framework that significantly undermine the validity of his claims regarding the Greek verb. These issues initially came to light in research for my 2009 paper on the historical present.What I read left me with a knot in my stomach. Why? Well, Stan taught me second year Greek while I served as a TA for his first year Greek class at TWU. He was one of the folks who got me interested in linguistics in the first place, and he published my first article on Greek in one of his journals. I owe him a lot.

What was the big deal? The nature of the problems suggested a failure to adequately engage the linguistics literature. Significant counter arguments were ignored, as were warnings which should have led him to reach opposite conclusions about the presence of temporal reference in the Greek indicative tense-forms. One of the most significant pieces of evidence is the work of Stephen C. Wallace. I have posted his article, which is quoted at length in my critique. I would strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety. These problems were not just in his dissertation, but also in his recent writings on the prominence of the Greek tense-forms.”

Read more here: Porter’s Use of Contrastive Substitution

Hermeneutics: Theoretical, Practical or ?

Over the past several months, I have listened to Hermeneutics courses – thanks iTunes U, edX, OpenEdX – from multiple universities with various religious affiliations or no affiliation. While each course presented a particular perspective, I found one constant – hermeneutics is taught either in theory or practice.

The theory of hermeneutics, commonly referred to as ‘the art of interpretation’, is usually more philosophical and approaches hermeneutics as a general theory of human understanding. A course will often discuss the works of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, and Jacques Derrida. In religious contexts, Anthony Thiselton and/or Stanley Porter regularly serve as guides.

The practice of hermeneutics, also known as ‘exegesis’, is usually a strategic approach that identifies the principles (or a model for) exegesis. In such a course, one would encounter different paradigms of interpretation, such as ‘the fourfold sense of scripture’, historical-critical method, literary criticism, rhetorical criticism, social-scientific criticism, canonical criticism, advocacy criticism, and theological interpretation. In religious contexts, Gordon Fee and/or Michael Gorman are common companions.

Yet, I am puzzled how each of these methods differs from the way earlier generations of Christians approached the issue (not trying to discredit them, each is informative and necessary in own right). For the past week, I have returned to Augustine (On Christian Doctrine), Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis), and Aquinas (Summa Theologiae) and have been constantly struck by their two-fold primary focus of hermeneutics – the centrality of God (the Holy Spirit) and the life of the exegete in understanding. As Clement aptly states, “Almost all of us…have ‘in power’ grasped through faith the teaching about God.” Or consider Augustine’s seven steps to understanding Scripture:

  1. Fear of God – humility
  2. Piety – what is written is better and more true than anything else
  3. Knowledge – begins with understanding sinfulness leading to repentance
  4. Fortitude – a hunger and thirst for justice
  5. Counsel of mercy – exercises love for neighbors
  6. Cleansing – death to the world
  7. Wisdom – “Therefore this holy one will be of such simple and clean heart that he will not turn away from the Truth either in desire to please men or for the sake of avoiding any kind of adversities to himself…From fear to wisdom the way extends through these steps.”

Wisdom is the result of a process, but it a process of transformation not information. The first step towards understanding (or six according to Augustine) is humbly submitting to the purifying work of the Holy Spirit. Then the Holy Spirit who is at work in our lives will also open our eyes to the truth contained in scripture.

I understand to some these are antiquated ideas that can’t be left behind fast enough, but to those in confessional Christian settings:

Do your hermeneutics courses teach about the power of God and the life of the exegete as well as about the philosophy and principles of hermeneutics? If so, what resources do you use? If not, what keeps you from approaching the subject this way?