Introduction to Biblical Interpretation

Written by William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard Jr. Reviewed By Richard N. Longenecker

How should one read and understand the Scriptures? This has always been the basic question for all Christian thought, life and communication, whether on the part of the individual believer or the church corporately. And this is the question that has arisen, particularly of late, to top priority in the theological agenda of the day.

Conservative evangelical Christians have always wanted to know the author’s intent in any particular portion of Scripture. So they have been interested in hermeneutics, which is the technical term for the science and art of understanding what is written. In large measure, this has meant in the past (1) understanding the historical circumstances of both the author and his addressees, (2) being conscious of the differing purposes and functions of the various literary forms an author uses, (3) analyzing the morphology of his words and the syntax of his sentences, and (4) comparing what he says in the portion being studied with what is said elsewhere in Scripture, giving particular attention to instances where our author has written one or more other comparable portions or where other writers have written on tire same or a similar matter. Such a hermeneutic is usually called ‘grammatical-historical exegesis’, and is laudatory as far as it goes. But other issues have arisen today in the area of biblical interpretation that take us far beyond such a seemingly rather straight-forward grammatical-historical exegesis and a simple intra-biblical hermeneutic. And they are legitimate issues, which cry out for serious consideration, judicious evaluation and intelligent application—particularly by those involved in the formal study of Scripture and Christian theology.

There are all sorts of hermeneutical works on the market today that either deal in detail with particular issues or assume an extensive background in one or more of the biblical, theological and/or philosophical disciplines. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, however, is different in that it seeks (i) to map out the terrain for the serious student who is just beginning a religious studies programme or graduate work in biblical studies, and (2) to offer positive guidelines to such a student for the working out of an evangelical hermeneutic in the study of Scripture. In so doing, it defines a number of important terms, reviews various interpretive approaches and methods, clarifies issues that are often quite complex, sets out a number of significant rubrics for the understanding of materials in both the Old and New Testaments, identifies and deals judiciously with various literary genre found in the two testaments, and offers a great deal of sound hermeneutical advice for the serious student who is just beginning his or her formal theological study.

I am particularly impressed by the authors’ treatments of such matters as ancient Jewish methods of interpretation, the New Testament’s use of the Old, levels of meaning in a given text, redaction criticism, canonical criticism, the parables of Jesus, rhetorical conventions within the Pauline letters, early confessional materials used by the New Testament writers, and the development of teaching both within and between the testaments, as well as throughout Paul’s letters. The discussions on each of these matters can be said, of course, to be only introductory and elemental. But that is the purpose of the book, and it does its job well. For though its discussions of these matters are, indeed, introductory and elemental, they evidence a breadth of coverage, a depth of understanding, a soundness of judgment, and a clarity of thought and expression that makes what is written both true to the subject being considered and extremely helpful for the reader. And while my own interests are chiefly in its New Testament presentations, I’ve noted these qualities to be true as well of the book’s Old Testament treatments.

Every writing has its intended audience. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation avowedly has in view the conservative evangelical student. I could have wished that the book dealt more adequately with some matters that such a student will face in a non-evangelical context, as, for example, form criticism, structuralism, deconstruction, social description, narrative criticism, liberation theology, feminism, and the so-called third hermeneutic—each of which, to varying degrees, has some merit and needs to be carefully evaluated by evangelicals. As well, I felt somewhat unhappy with the repeated use of the adjective ‘biblical’ in the title biblical theology as having reference only to content (i.e., ‘the theology that the Bible itself shows as opposed to that of philosophers or systematic theologians’), and not principally to method. Nonetheless, most of these matters are touched upon to some extent in either the text or an appendix, with bibliographic footnotes alerting the reader to some of the better sources for further study on the subject. In fact, it needs to be noted here, as well, that a real strength of the book are the bibliographies that appear in the footnotes and at the back in classified and annotated form. Likewise, if not already alluded to earlier, its clarity of presentation and expression make the book easy and enjoyable to read.

In sum, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation is an important hermeneutics text for the conservative evangelical student who is beginning theology or religious studies, but it can also be profitably read by theological students at whatever level in their formal training. It should be a required text in all evangelical seminaries and theological colleges. As well, it should be studied carefully by evangelical theology students in non-evangelical contexts. It hardly provides all that is to be known about any of the subjects it treats. But it will not lead the earnest seeker astray, and it will provide a great deal of sound, thoughtful and helpful advice to one engaged in the academic study of Scripture.

Richard N. Longenecker

McMaster Divinity College, Ontario