One reader’s impression of Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views

A few weeks ago on a week of (mostly) vacation I found time to finish reading this book, which arrived in early June. The publisher’s description is:

Publisher’s Description: In recent decades biblical hermeneutics has been an ever-expanding field of thought and research, with new viewpoints unfolding and debated. The views selected for this volume cohere with a broad center of orthodox interpretation of Scripture. But while they share a common ground and a collection of common tools, their distinctive emphases are at points profound.
In Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views five proponents of differing hermeneutical approaches each describe their approach to interpreting Scripture, put it to work on Matthew 2:13-15, and respond to their dialogue partners. The discussion is introduced and concluded by the editors.

The five views and their essayists are:

Historical-Critical/Grammatical, Craig Blomberg
Literary/Postmodern, F. Scott Spencer
Philosophical/Theological, Merold Westphal
Redemptive-Historical, Richard B. Gaffin Jr.
Canonical, Robert W. Wall

Anyone interested in the ongoing quest to responsibly interpret Christian Scripture for the church will find this a wonderfully informative and constructive dialogue.

224 Pages
Published June 2012

As you gather from above, each author presented his view, then each has a chapter responding to the others, focusing on Matthew 2:13-15 and its use of Hosea 11:1. Given the composition of this forward list, it will come as no surprise that it was the identity of the author of the Redemptive-Historical view that prompted me to purchase and read. I have read his two chapters carefully, and the others considerably more quickly, at least for this first read. Those two chapters are worth the price of the book. May I whet your appetite with a couple of quotes?

Gaffin quotes 1 Thess. 1:9-10 and adds:

An indispensable aspect of this “waiting service” of the church is the interpretation of the New Testament, along with the Old, as the redemptive-historically focused, Christ-centered revelation sufficient for the life and needs of the church in every generation as long as this interim continues. If one grants that theology ought to be essentially exegetical, based on interpretation of Scripture, then along with due consideration of differences also involved (apostolic and postapostolic), awareness of this redemptive-historical continuity, compounded in terms of context as well as content, tends to ensure a more rigorously biblical focus and more biblical boundaries to the entire theological enterprise. (p. 98)


In any event, multivalent, even contradictory trajectories will appear to be the case when the Old Testament documents are read “on their own terms” in the sense of bracketing out fulfillment in Christ and the interpretive bearing of the New Testament. For new-covenant readers submissive to both the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God, such a disjunctive reading of the Old Testament is illegitimate, as well as redemptive-historically (and canonically) anachronistic. (p. 101)

I am happy to note that a phrase I recall Dr. Gaffin using in the NTBT course I had from him in seminary is still being used to describe Luke 24:44-49 as “a crash course in Old Testament hermeneutics and theology from a postresurrection perspective.” (p. 99)

His response to the other authors concludes with a quote which Gaffin traces to the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes and then continues:

“I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity.” Whatever the individual limitations of those who adopt it and however it could be better articulated than I have in this volume, the redemptive-historical view is an approach that, without evading the complexities of Biblical interpretation–whether in the text or on the part of the interpreter–does so in a way that takes us through them to their far side, to the manifold and unsearchably rich (Eph. 3:8, 10) Christ-centered simplicity of all of Scripture.

The five authors interact thoughtfully, making the whole book greater than the sum of its parts. But it is the work of one that motivated me to take up and read.

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