Monday, September 10, 2012

Quick Review of Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views

“Hermeneutics” sounds like the training program that Ivan Drago endured in Rocky IV.  Though it at times seems a laborious as Drago’s training, hermeneutics actually has to do with interpretation.  The most basic definition of it is, “the science and art of textual interpretation”.  Though you may not be familiar with the word, every one has a hermeneutic.  Some might be sloppy.  Some might be erroneous and start from the wrong foundation.  And some might be helpful.  But everyone has a hermeneutic.

When we consider biblical hermeneutics the text that we are attempting to faithfully interpret is the Bible.  If given one text (especially one of the more difficult ones)and ten people, you are likely to come up with ten somewhat different interpretations or at least different applications.  Why is that?  The answer is hermeneutics. 

In Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views, five different scholars explain their hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures.  Craig L. Blomberg defends what is known as the Historical-Critical/Grammatical approach.  This is the approach that most of our readers are probably most familiar with.  F. Scott Spencer defends the Literary/Postmodern approach, which as you can tell from it’s title is a somewhat newer approach.  Merold Westphal considers the Philosophical/Theological approach.  Richard B. Gaffin Jr. defends the Redemptive-Historical approach and Robert W. Wall helps the reader understand the Canonical approach to hermeneutics. 

The book begins with a helpful introduction from the editors: Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell.  The introduction considers the trajectories in biblical hermeneutics.  It also offers questions that need to be answered when attempting to outline your own hermeneutic. 

This offering in the Spectrum series is formatted a little differently than the others.  Typically an author will present his view and then those from the other views will then critique his/her viewpoint.  In this book each author defends his view.  Then in the second part of the book he responds/critiques the other views. 

The book closes with Porter and Stovell offering a synthesis of the five views.  This is a theme that seems to resound throughout the book.  As other reviewers have noted this book is not quite the same as other Spectrum books.  Though each having a different emphasis and maybe a different starting point these views are not for the most part true alternatives.  As Porter and Stovell show in the conclusion there is a way to synthesize and use each of these methods to have a faithful hermeneutic.

My Take

One of the most helpful things about this book is that each scholar is given the task of applying his method to Matthew 2:13-15.  The reader is then able to see how the differing hermeneutical starting points yields differing interpretations and thus differing applications. 

I also appreciate that each of these perspectives can offer a little more insight into doing hermeneutics.  It might be helpful for really deeper study to consider a text from each of these perspectives. 

The book is probably most helpful for those already involved in the study of hermeneutics.  I probably would not even suggest it as an introductory book for a college course on hermeneutics.  But for advanced students that have spent a good amount of time in the field of hermeneutics it is an interesting read.  One can actually use information used in this book to understand how other scholars and biblical interpreters give some of the interpretations that they do. 

It would be an interesting read for all, though quite laborious for those not already introduced to the world of hermeneutical discussions.  Serious students of hermeneutics will need to consider this book.  Those that are merely dabbling in the field would benefit but may benefit more from more introductory level books.

You can buy it here

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