Originally posted on my blog unmaskedtheologian.wordpress.com 11/13/15
Biblical Hermeneutics has been written to “provide new insights into biblical hermeneutics and how such interpretive models might aid in biblical understanding and interpretation.” (p.8) The editors of the book, Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell have compiled five views of hermeneutics. Each view has been written by a reputable teacher of the Bible. The editors are also Bible professors, and their vision or purpose for the readers is to “join the diversity of hermeneutical theories (and their proponents) together in a unified purpose.” (P. 210) The vision for unity is a nice idea, but as it is, two hermeneutical methodologies that are different cannot simultaneously be correct. Therefore, it may be helpful to look at other ideas, but progress nor unity is dependent on accepting methods that do not correctly interpret the Scriptures.
Craig Blomberg explains the first method, the Historical-Critical/Grammatical view. Blomberg is the distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Litleton Colorado. (P. 211) Blombergs view is quite appropriate, and in spite of the other readings, remains the preferred method, for at least one. Blomberg writes, “if all we do is take the Bible’s claims at face value without examination, plenty of people will render very different verdicts on the nature of its formation and its resulting credibility (or incredibility) and we will have no reply!” He describes his view as “both analytical and evaluative, based on common ground shared with the skeptic. (P. 37) A bold approach, and perhaps may even result in criticism by others, but this method will lead a student into a sincere understanding of Scripture, rather than a fable handed down by religious parents. This truth is precisely what makes a unified whole of different hermeneutical methods impossible. Regarding history and grammar Blomberg writes, “the historical setting must be analyzed in which a given communicative act occurs. This involves general information about who is speaking to whom, where, when and under what circumstances… at its most basic level, grammatical analysis is necessary because the biblical text does not come to us in our own native tongue.” (P. 37) Such careful examination of Scriptures will help all believers to better understand and apply the Scriptures. Improper hermeneutics can never lead to proper application.
Scott Spencer holds to the Literary/Postmodern View. Spencer is professor of New Testament and preaching at Baptist Theological seminary in Richmond, Virginia. (P. 212)It is unclear whether or not Spencer holds to the inerrancy of Scriptures. He pokes fun at the variances in the existing manuscripts. (P. 50) It is possible that the last remark may be an overstatement, yet he makes other troubling statements. Spencer writes, “The last few decades have witnessed an explosion of distinctive New Testament readings from various grass-roots as well as academic Asian, Latin American and African perspectives, complementing-and often counterpointing-more traditional Western viewpoints. Such “other” readers tend to lay their social and ideological cards on the table and respectfully insist that others do the same, since we all bring our baggage, for good and ill, to the meaning-making experience. Hiding under a smug cloak of alleged objectivity is getting harder to justify, and it sometimes makes it harder to carry on a civil conversation.” (P. 55)
He suggests an open text, and writes in this worldview, “an open Bible does not merely allow for multiple readings, it intrinsically demands them!” There is no doubt that others may interpret the Scriptures differently. However, if everyone interpreted the Bible using this method it would be hard to be objective about anything. And, if you cannot be objective about anything, what is the point of studying at all? The objection lies not in discussing differences for the purpose of edification, but in looking for specific distinctions. Why has it become difficult to justify objectivity? There has been no new revelation, God has not expounded on his Word, and it remains the same. The implication that contemporary culture now dictates what the Scriptures say, or does not say, is offensive. Spencer’s quote is very near an insult to anyone who holds to objective truth.
Merold Westphall writes about the Philosophical/Theological View. Westphall “is distinguished professor of philosophy emeritus at Fordham University in New York, adjunct professor at Australian Catholic University in Australia, and guest professor at Wuhan University in China.” (P. 212) Westphall writes, “there are three things that philosophical hermeneutics is not. First, it is not just about interpreting the Bible… is not restricted to interpreting texts… is not a method of strategy for interpreting. It is a how-to discipline with rules or at least heuristics to follow.” (P.70- 71)
Westphall’s three premises neglect any real interpretation. The first premise undergirds the whole, and contradicts the purpose, Biblical interpretation. The foundation for hermeneutics simply is the correct interpretation of the Bible. Westphall argues that in man’s finiteness there cannot be any absolute, and therefore by nature everything is relative; the desire to be absolute is an attempt to be God. (P. 82) He has constructed a straw man by misinterpretation of, and fallacious application of Isaiah 14.13-14. Very few interpreters, if any, make or want to make objective claims about everything. However, he writes a very good observation of 21st century preaching, “a repetition of some very general truths which, in the absence of any detectable relation to the text, tend to become platitudes, providing neither comfort nor challenge.” (P.85)
Richard B. Gaffin Jr. “is professor of biblical and systematic theology emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” (P. 211) Gaffin explains the Redemptive-Historical View. The danger in holding this view is the possibility of trying to interpret all Scripture through the lenses of Christ’s redemptive work. It is known that God’s best revelation has been provided in His Son. And, that truth, undeniable, has been recorded in the Scriptures. (Hebrews 1.1-2) Gaffin writes, “biblical revelation faithfully records the actual history of special revelation. That history, in turn, is unified as the ongoing interpretation of redemptive history, which centered, on Christ, unfolds organically, like a maturing organism… redemptive-historical interpretation is marked by a sense of continuity between the interpreter today and the New Testament writers… New Testament writers and their interpreters share a common concern in their subject matter, the history of redemption.” (P. 98-99) It would be nice to interpret the Scriptures through the redemptive work of Christ. It would be nice to only recognize the love and compassionate work of redemption. In reality there are many aspects to the person of Christ, judgment for example. Christ tells the Pharisees that the Scriptures speak of Him, with authority this truth can be repeated. But, he never suggested that readers interpret the Scriptures through His redemptive work. The writer of Hebrews implies that Christ was the best revelation of God, but the writer never suggests to only interpret the Scriptures in the light of one event. The New Testament writers were writing to specific people for a specific reason. Contemporary Christians may share commonalities with saints of the past, but this truth is not a good reason to interpret Scriptures through the redemptive work of Christ. One can learn a great deal about God through the redemptive work of Christ. But, there will be many things overlooked if the Scriptures are interpreted through one single event in human history.
Robert W. Wall explains the Canonical View. Wall “is the Paul T. Walls professor of Scripture and Wesleyan Studies at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, Washington. He is coeditor of The Catholic Epistles and Apostolic Tradition (Baylor) and the New Testament coeditor of the Wesley Study Bible (Abingdon).” (P. 212) Wall suggests that the “real task of Scripture is the formation of Christian disciples for today’s world.” (P. 115) Scripture can develop Christians, but Scripture also reveals redemption and brings people to a saving knowledge of Christ. He also implies that the Scriptures are best read and understood when read chronologically. Perhaps, but reading the Pentateuch would never help a young believer to understand the complexity of adoption or sanctification. Wall kept referring to teachers, there seemed to be an implication that the responsibility of hermeneutics has been given to certain people. This violates the truth of believer priests and personal anointing (teaching) of the Holy Spirit for individuals.
The editors compiled these essays to reconcile the differences of people, and hermeneutics. However, it does not matter how slight the differences are. Things that are different cannot be the same, and both cannot be correct. It has been difficult to understand all the complexities of each view. But, after reading this book, it is clear that there can be no presuppositions when approaching the Bible. The only safe premise is II Timothy 3.16-17.
All quotations are taken from Stanley E. Porter, Beth M. Stovall, Craig L. Blomberg, F. Scott Spencer, Robert W. Wall, Merold Westphal, Biblical Hermeneutics, Five Views. Downers Grove: IVP Academic. 2012