Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views

July 23, 2012 — Leave a comment

9780830839636Originally, I thought I would review this Spectrum Multiviews book the way I went through Justification: Five Views. However, for two reasons I decided to just condense it to a single post. First, the essays in this book were shorter, and the work as a whole also lacked the longer editorial background chapters of the justification book. Second, as I was reading, and as the contributors themselves remarked, the views weren’t all that mutually exclusive.

In fact, it is more than possible to combine all of them into a single approach.The idea that these views are complimentary to some extent is established early on, in Craig Blomberg’s opening essay. He suggests that the historical-critical/grammatical approach should be foundational, but once that foundation is laid, the others are welcome to build on it (28). This is bookended by very similar sentiments in the closing editorial essay, “Interpreting Together: Synthesizing The Five Views.” It would seem that this book is a little different than some of the other multiview books. In principle, the views are harmonizable to a degree, but that doesn’t eliminate disagreements among the contributors.

Overview

The book is also laid out a bit differently than Justification: Five Views. Rather than two long introductory chapters setting the stage for the views, there is only a brief (15pg) introduction by the editors, Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell, explaining various trajectories in biblical hermeneutics. Then follow each of the views back to back:

  • Craig Blomberg explains the historical-critical/grammatical view
  • Scott Spencer explains the literary/postmodern view
  • Merold Westphal explains philosophical/theological hermeneutics
  • Richard Gaffin explains the redemptive historical view
  • Robert Wall explains the canonical view

In each essay, the author sketches the general contours of his approach and then applies it to Matthew 2:7-15 (not just Matthew 2:13-15, like the back cover says). The exception to this is Merold Westphal. Because his view is “not a method of strategy for interpreting” (71) he does not offer extended exegetical reflections. Instead, he is more interested in offering a “metaperspective” on the interpretive task from a philosophical vantage point. Given that, one can take his insights and then build a foundation with Blomberg’s method before incorporating elements of Gaffin, Wall, and Spencer’s readings. As in any harmonization task, there will be some level of modification, but in principle, it is clearly possible.

After these opening essays, which make up Part 1 of the book, Part 2 allows each contributor to collect his responses to the others into another essay. I think I liked this more than the approach in Justification: Five Views, which had successive responses collected after each view was presented. Allowing the contributors to offer their collective responses in a single essay also allowed them flexbility in their responses. So, for instance, Richard Gaffin first interacts with each contributor’s take on Matthew 2:7-15, and then offers broader thematic reflections on the differing views. His specific focus in on how they handle the question of divine authorship, but he explores other topics as well in a way that wouldn’t be possible in the other format (or at least easy to follow). Other authors offered more traditional view by view responses, but because they were collected into a single essay, repetitions were reduced.

Strengths/Weaknesses

Very clearly for the topic of this book, the format is a big strength. Since the views overlap and are in principle able to be synthesized, I thought it was helpful to read an author offer his view, use it, and then collectively interact with the other views. Likewise, it was a great idea to have a single passage that everyone used for interpretive purposes, and picking Matthew 2:7-15 with its use of Hosea was another smooth move. It would have been nice for the the editors of Justification: Five Views to have each of those contributors exegete a key passage in Paul so you could see the different interpretations side by side. In this case though, the side by side interpretations give off the vibe of being more like “layers” than mutually exclusive views.

I also liked how the essays were a bit shorter and more accessible. I approached reading the book by reading the first two chapters, and then reading each section of those author’s responses to each other. Then I would read the next view, and read that author’s response to the two views I had already read before reading the critiques of his view. So it looked kind of like this:

  • Opening essay by the editors
  • Blomberg’s essay
  • Spencer’s essay
  • Spencer’s response to Blomberg
  • Blomberg’s response to Spencer
  • Westphal’s essay
  • Westphal’s response to Blomberg and Spencer
  • Blomberg’s and Spencer’s response to Westphal
  • Gaffin’s essay
  • Gaffin’s response to Blomberg, Spencer, and Westphal (which was tricky because of his layout)
  • Blomberg, Spencer, and Westphal’s response to Gaffin
  • Wall’s essay
  • Wall’s whole response chapter
  • Blomberg, Spencer, Westphal, and Gaffin’s responses to Wall
  • The concluding essay by the editors

Sure, I made that probably more complicated than necessary, but I found it a helpful way to read the book. It helped me see the views in dialogue with each other. Most of the contributors were quick to remark that they shared much in common, but their differences served to sharpen the fact they still do represent different views, or perhaps “schools” or interpretive philosophy. Gaffin was probably the most critical of all the contributors, which was both predictable and disappointing. Predictable because I expected the professor from Westminster to be the most critical and disappointing because his responses proved me correct. I hope it doesn’t further promote the idea of combative Calvinists, but I’m afraid it might do so.

Conclusion

That aside, this was a particularly all around great book. It is a little advanced in the discussion so it’s probably not a general reader kind of book. It would definitely make a great supplement in a hermeneutics class in a Bible college or seminary. I was helped in my own understanding by reading each of the views and responses and will most likely come back to this in the coming months as I work out a good hermeneutical approach for high schoolers to use.

If I were to take a stand on the spectrum after reading this book, I would probably include elements of each contributor. I was trained in Blomberg’s method, but like him, see the need for theological insights in the interpretive process. I would probably most strongly combine Blomberg and Gaffin then, with a sprinkling of Westphal. I’m not crazy about Spencer’s postmodern literary approach, but I like some of his insights. I think some literary sensibilities would compliment a Blomberg/Gaffin approach. Doing that leaves you with a hermeneutical triad of sorts, which is just what Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Patterson argue for in Invitation to Biblical Interpretation.

In the end, I would highly recommend this installment in the Spectrum Multiviews series, and will look forward to the next one coming later this fall!

Book Details

  • Editors: Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell
  • Title: Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (April 20, 2012)
  • Paperback: 224pgs
  • Reading Level: Bible School
  • Audience Appeal: Anyone interested in seeing different approaches to biblical interpretation in dialogue
  • Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of IVP Academic)

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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