Summary: Five different perspectives on how we seek out meaning in scripture.
Over the past two years I have spent a fair amount of time coming to terms with how to read and understand scripture. Mostly this time has been confirming a couple of ideas. 1) The bible is not a magical answer books. 2) Christians (Evangelicals in particular) spend more time arguing about the bible than reading it (myself included.) 3) We think that everyone else ignores their cultural pre-suppositions, but that we have it right. 4) Understanding of scripture should be primarily a community, not individual activity.
Biblical Hermeneutics (how to to understand scripture) takes five authors with five different perspectives and shows how those different perspectives affect the way that we understand scripture.
The best part of the book is that they took a particular passage then used their perspective to explore how they would get meaning from the text. The book uses Matthew 2:13-15 (which is partially quoting Hosea 11:1) as their test case. This allows for both direct look at the meaning of Matt 2 and a look at how to use New Testament passages that refer to the Old Testament.
After having read the initial chapters from each of the contributors I felt that these were not as much five opposing views of hermeneutics but five complementary views. Of course we should look at this historical context and of course we should use our tools to understand the literary forms, of course we bring out cultural presuppositions to the table when we read. Of course we need to read passages in context of the whole scope of the bible, etc.
It really wasn’t until the second section where each contributor critiqued the other four that it was really clear what the various weaknesses of the systems were.
This is a fairly academic book and I think that is a weakness. It feels like it should be an introduction to different methods of hermeneutics. But the language and arguments are advanced. So the average lay person is not going to get a lot out of this book. Many pastors are either well versed in hermeneutics or have chosen to not pay much attention to the higher level details and will not pick this up.
Increasingly my concern about books like this are that people are not reading them as attempts to understand how to better understand God’s word and revelation to us. But people are reading them as confirmation that scripture is either ‘broken’ or unknowable. None of the authors of this book would submit to that. The whole point of hermeneutics is that we can know scripture. The disagreement is how best to know scripture. But none of the systems is complete or allows us to know God apart from the interpretation of the Holy Spirit (which is mentioned by several of the authors.)
I think the biggest issue that needs to be emphasized is that different understandings of scripture do not point to problems with scripture (or God) but problems with the understanding.
So I am not really clear who the audience is supposed to be. Because it is not academic and focused enough to really contribute to the academic world. I guess it would acceptable as text books, but I think there are others that would be either more in depth or a better summary. This is just a strange middle ground.
A paperback copy of this book was provided by IVP for purposes of review. I will send my review copy to the first person that asks for it in the comments below.