Biblical Hermeneutics. An Introduction

Written by Duncan S. Ferguson Reviewed By W. A. Strange

‘Not another book on hermeneutics!’ Yes, but this one is different. It is animated throughout by the concern which the author expresses pp. 67f.) that the critical study of the Bible has not been very fruitful in enriching the life of the church. It has been, as Ferguson says, better at deconstruction than at reconstruction. This book aims to make a positive contribution, not merely to academic debate, but to equipping Christians to use the Bible better in worship, liturgy, preaching and Christian nurture.

In order to achieve this, the author has written in commendably clear English—something which is not always found in books in this area of theology. A good index and a systematic arrangement of the material mean that the reader could dip into the book to find straight-forward and helpful descriptions of, say, ‘redaction criticism’, or the hermeneutics of Bultmann. However, the book is conceived as a whole, and takes the reader through in three sections: The Issues of Biblical Hermeneutics, The Practice of Hermeneutics, and Hermeneutics and the Life of the Church.

The book is not merely a work of reference, retailing other people’s points of view (although it does this, remarkably comprehensively and concisely). The author also has his own proposals for the use of the Bible in the church. Ferguson argues that both faith and critical study contributes to hearing the Word of God. This means that the issues raised by scholarship cannot be ignored—indeed they may help us to understand the content of Scripture better. Hence the careful attention which he gives to a wide range of issues in hermeneutics today. But hearing the Word of God is not an academic exercise; it involves the faith of the hearer also. The final chapter is entitled ‘A Brief Summary and a Modest Proposal’, and in it the author makes his own suggestion that, if we are looking for a pivotal hermeneutical principle, then ‘an avenue of approach is to understand the guiding norm for the use of Scripture in the church as the inauguration of God’s kingly rule in the resurrection of the crucified Jesus’ (p. 192).

In some places, the space devoted to different topics might have been allocated differently (so that Origen has 13 pages to himself, while Ebeling, Fuchs, Ott, Pannenberg, Moltmann, the liberation theologians, process theology, Gadamer and Ricoeur share a rather crowded nine pages between them). All in all, though, its clarity of expression and practical concern will make this a most useful book. If you are looking for an introduction to biblical hermeneutics, this book will probably serve you better than any.

W. A. Strange