Grundlinien eines bibeltreuen Schriftverständnisses

Written by Helge Stadelmann Reviewed By I. Howard Marshall

Most evangelicals tend to think of Germany as the home of radical biblical scholarship and theology, but appearances can be deceptive, and within recent years there has been a most welcome revival of evangelical theology among younger scholars, the fruits of which are being seen in a series of technical works and more popular presentations. Dr Stadelmann is one of the leaders of this movement. He has shown his expertise as a biblical scholar in his monograph on Ben Sira als Schriftgelehrter (Tübingen, 1980), and has now written a short, non-technical book on the evangelical understanding of the Bible. It is unusual to review non-English publications in Themelios, but it would give an unfair picture of the state of scholarship—and of evangelical scholarship in particular—if we totally failed to do so. Let Dr Stadelmann’s work, therefore, stand here as representative for so much more that equally deserves mention and commendation.

Dr Stadelmann writes from the kind of stand-point associated with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and therefore much of what he has to say will not be new to English-speaking readers. But he also writes for the German situation, and he has his own important contribution to make to the topic. He singles out two themes in his book. The first is the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Writing, it would seem, primarily for his fellow evangelicals, and assuming that they are unlikely to be taken in by the excesses of radical scholarship, he develops his case over against ‘positive’ scholars who, in his opinion, do not go far enough in asserting the full inspiration of Scripture. Naturally Brunner and Barth come in for criticism, but also a number of scholars within the Pietistic wing of the church. Over against them he shows how the evangelical doctrine of Scripture has had a distinguished list of supporters right through the history of the church and he develops briefly the biblical basis for the doctrine along familiar lines.

His second theme is the interpretation of the Bible, and here Dr Stadelmann pursues less familiar topics. He finds himself in opposition to the kind of interpretation prevalent in some German circles (and elsewhere) which relies on the Spirit and ignores the accepted ‘methods’ of study. Equally he rejects historical criticism of the Troeltschian variety. He stresses how the Holy Spirit works through our minds in study. He allies himself with E. D. Hirsch in stressing the need to discover the intention of the author, and he further emphasizes the basic clarity of Scripture understood in its ‘literal’, i.e. ‘natural’ sense. Above all, he insists that interpretation must include application to the modern reader so that he can be brought to the point of obedience to the text. Here he grapples with the problem of finding a method of applying the text that will be a part of interpretation and not an optional addendum. He wants to be able to say, ‘the interpreter finds the Word of God in and with the text, not somewhere behind the text’ (p. 102), and yet he recognizes that not all parts of Scripture speak to us in the same way. So along with the need for ‘spiritual’ and ‘methodical’ exegesis he makes an interesting plea for a ‘salvation-historical’ approach which recognizes and takes into account the various epochs of biblical history and then asks whether the text spoken in a particular epoch is relevant for me in my epoch: ‘not everything in the Bible is directly applicable to me’ is the conclusion which he reaches (p. 127), and therefore it is the principles behind some texts rather than the texts themselves which apply to me. What is lacking is a discussion of how we know whether what was said in a particular epoch is directly relevant to us in ours.

Dr Stadelmann’s treatment of these difficult issues is always clear and simple. His book is probably too brief to offer a fully convincing defence of his view of biblical infallibility and inerrancy; my feeling is that he cuts some corners in his defence and is not likely to persuade those who do not already agree with him. This is not to say that the case is necessarily a weak one, but for a proper defence of it one still needs to go elsewhere, e.g. back to Warfield. He has difficulties in defending Luther, who argued that Scripture was indeed inerrant and then proceeded to de-canonize those parts of Scripture which he could not harmonize with the rest. However, he well and truly puts paid to some modern objections to the evangelical doctrine of Scripture. I find it puzzling that he seems to doubt whether some of his German evangelical colleagues such as G. Maier hold fully to the inerrancy of Scripture.

But one can only welcome a book such as this and pray that the author will find many sharing his basic theological outlook, whether or not this book is convincing in every detail. And all students should certainly pay heed to the wise dictum of A. Schlatter which is quoted: ‘Scientific study is first of all seeing, second, seeing, third, seeing and over and over again seeing.’

I. Howard Marshall

I. Howard Marshall
University of Aberdeen
Aberdeen, Scotland, UK