Scripture, Tradition and Interpretation

Written by W. W. Gasque and W. S. LaSor, eds Reviewed By Andrew T. Lincoln

This volume is a collection of essays presented to E. F. Harrison, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, in honour of his seventy-fifth birthday. Harrison was a founder faculty member at Fuller and David Hubbard, the current president of the seminary, provides a tribute to Harrison as a Christian man, teacher and scholar. Naturally the essays from colleagues and former pupils reflect the variety of evangelical thinking and scholarship that has come to be associated with Fuller and progressive evangelicalism in the States.

The essays are divided into the three fairly loose categories of Scripture, Tradition and Interpretation. Tradition is a rather arbitrary heading for the contributions which appear in this section which range from Davids’ useful article on ‘Tradition and Citation in the Epistle of James’ to Wead on ‘The Centripetal Philosophy of Mission.’ Basically the essays treat the nature, purpose and interpretation of Scripture with some discussions of particular passages and issues. As is frequently the case with Fest-schriften the contributions vary considerably in quality, and in this instance there is also a variety of levels, from Ladd’s popular exposition of 2 Timothy 3:16 to more technical pieces such as those of Davids and by Gay on ‘The Judgement of the Gentiles in Matthew’s Theology.’ Unfortunately, in the opinion of this reviewer, some contributors chose simply to offer revamped versions of or further reflections on material they have treated more fully elsewhere, for example, Bromiley on ‘Authority and Scripture,’ Mounce on ‘Revelation 5 and its Christology,’ Gasque on ‘Nineteenth-Century Roots of Contemporary New Testament Criticism,’ Morris on ‘The Composition of the Fourth Gospel’ and Vanderlip on ‘Interpreting the Gospel of John.’

Some of the strengths of evangelical scholarship can be seen in the following contributions. Carlston’s brief discussion ‘On Q and the Cross’ highlights the theological significance of the fact that it was not Q with its emphasis on Jesus’ teaching as an envoy of wisdom that was a document in the final canon, but rather Matthew and Luke in which this teaching of Jesus was encased in a narrative framework in which his death on the cross is pivotal. Rogers uses his knowledge of Berkouwer (he was a student of his and the translator of the volume on Scripture in the Studies in Dogmatics series) to argue that Berkouwer’s views on Scripture, Tradition and Interpretation provide a third alternative to the scholastic rationalism of many of the defenders of an inerrancy position or the subjectivism of a liberal theological tradition. By stressing that the model by which we understand Scripture should be a functional rather than a philosophical one, Rogers shows that Berkouwer’s perspective both frees us from scholarship (the central saving message of Scripture can be received in faith without depending on the vicissitudes of the latest scholarly investigations) and for scholarship (the forms in which that message has been given to us are completely open to scholarly investigation). Fuller’s essay on ‘The Holy Spirit’s Role in Biblical Interpretation’ is in many ways complementary to such a perspective. Contributions are made in this volume to the interpretation of two disputed passages. Fung on Romans 7:14–25, though failing to do justice to the view that Paul has in view the Jew under the law, makes some worthwhile points in the course of arguing that the passage is describing the believer who has slipped back into a legalistic attitude to God and to righteousness. Gay on Matthew 25:31–46 argues that the judgement of the Gentiles here is not the final judgement of all humanity but the judgement of the subjects of the kingdom, gathered from Gentile nations as a result of world mission and remaining a mixed group until the consummation. However, his view that the basis of this judgement is their treatment of another distinct group within the kingdom—those who have humbled themselves (his interpretation of the ‘little ones’)—has difficulties.

Other essays reflect both consciously and unconsciously the problems within traditional evangelical hermeneutics and scholarship. In what is presumably preliminary work for the remaining part of his theological magnum opus C. F. H. Henry argues pointedly that evangelicals amidst their concern over Scripture and global evangelism have been woefully deficient in their contribution to Christology, the area even more central to evangelical commitment. There is often also a tension for evangelicals between their espousal of rigorous exegesis in order to ascertain the original meaning of Scripture and their overall view of Scripture, because the results of their exegesis are often hard to fit into their preconceptions about the nature of Scripture. LaSor’s essay on ‘The Sensus Plenior and Biblical Interpretation’ argues the necessity of there being a spiritual meaning of Scriptural texts, by which he means some timeless truth inherent in them as they are applied to the preacher’s day and its needs. He rejects twisting the text or allegorizing but also acknowledges that sometimes the grammatico-historical method fails to yield a spiritual meaning. Here he resorts to the notion of a fuller meaning. He has, of course, no difficulty in showing that the New Testament writers used something of this sort in some of their interpretation of the Old Testament but curiously stops at this point without showing us how this could help us in our interpretation of the New Testament and is vague about what controls there can be when no magisterium of the Church is posited. In ‘The “Analogy of Faith” and the Intent of Hebrews’ Schoonhoven shows that often the ‘analogy of faith’ hermeneutical principle obstructs hearing what a particular biblical document is saying in its own right, here the conditional nature of salvation as set forth by the writer to the Hebrews. Just as it is difficult for evangelicals to accept that there can be differing emphases in regard to salvation within the canon, it is apparently equally difficult for them to accept differing emphases in regard to the place of women, as is evidenced by Johnston’s ‘The Role of Women in the Church and Home: An Evangelical Testcase in Hermeneutics.’ After providing a useful survey of the current evangelical debate on this issue, Johnston attempts to show faulty hermeneutical assumptions on the part of both egalitarians and traditionalists. He accuses both sides of inconsistency, ignoring passages which do not fit their schema, and of too facile an exegesis of Paul, which only takes his surface meaning. He then lists some basic principles of hermeneutics with which presumably all would agree, but somehow appears to believe that emphasizing the full context, literary form and historical setting will change what Paul says about submission and women not teaching men. Johnston’s principles (7) and (8) bring in the ‘analogy of faith’ notion, and in this connection 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 and 1 Timothy 2 are all conveniently found to be obscure passages which must be interpreted by the plain. His principles (10) and (11) that hermeneutics has to be done in the context of the whole Christian community and not just one’s own narrow tradition and that Scripture has to be continually actualized for one’s own cultural context are more to the point and somewhat obscured by his earlier insistence that if only we will re-evaluate our exegesis we shall come up with an interpretation of Paul that can be fitted into one unified Biblical schema. Rather than attempting to show that despite his actual words what Paul really meant was something different, it seems more satisfactory to cut the Gordian knot by allowing what Paul said to stand and then to admit that within Scripture itself there are divergent emphases—more ‘egalitarian’ and more ‘traditionalist’—and that in our actualization we are opting for one rather than the other.

Inevitably Johnston’s essay will provoke further discussion, indicating that evangelicals, despite their commitment to the authority of Scripture, have a long way to go before they reach anything like a consensus on this hermeneutical issue. The same is true of some of the broader issues of Scripture and Interpretation treated in this volume, but a number of the contributions in it will be of help in the continuing debate.

Andrew T. Lincoln

Cheltenham and Gloucester College