Review: Introduction to Biblical Interpretation

Introduction to Biblical Interpretation

Dr. William W. Klein
Dr. Craig L. Blomberg
Dr. Robert L. Hubbard, Jr.

All theological disputes begin, and end, in hermeneutics. This might seem to be a truism, or a trite factoid devoid of content in the modern world, and yet it remains true —and relevant— in our Christian lives. In light of this, some good solid reading in the interpretation of the Scriptures is useful.

This book, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, is organized into four parts, each one covering a different aspect of interpretation. The first part discusses the importance of Biblical interpretation —the need for a good hermeneutic. Here the reader will find a chapter on the importance of exposing and understanding the hermeneutic you use when reading the Scriptures, some history of Biblical interpretation, and a discussion on the canon of Scripture. The history of interpretation is of particular interest; this is a topic not often addressed in Christian history or hermeneutics. The interplay between hermeneutic principles and the form of government churches take on, for instance, is fascinating.

The second section moves into the goals of interpretation. The first chapter in this section discusses the interpreter himself; what are the qualifications necessary to the task of interpretation? What presuppositions should an interpreter bring to the task of drawing meaning from the Biblical text? The third section discusses the two primary types of text in the Tanach, Prose and Poetry. A chapter is dedicated to each type. The fourth focuses on literary types within the Old and New Testaments.

The fifth section contains two chapters, one chapter on the output of interpretation, including gaining information and understanding, formulating theology, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and other defined results, and one chapter on drawing applications for the Christian life based on the interpretive effort.

The argument underlying this entire book is that hermeneutics is interpretation.

In essence, then, hermeneutics involves interpreting or explaining. In fields like biblical studies or literature, it refers to the task of explaining the meaning of a piece of writing. Hermeneutics describes the principles people use to understand what something means, to comprehend what a message—written, oral, or visual—is endeavoring to communicate.

And that if we are read and understand aright, we must interpret the text through a solid and well thought out hermeneutic. The authors spend a good deal of time breaking the interpretive process apart into varying dimensions, and examining each set in some detail. For instance, the authors break communication down into three meanings to be understood when interpreting: what the author intended, what the reader read, and what the text actually says (as an abstract concept). This neatly captures the three different methods of understanding texts today —author centered, reader centered, and text centered. They break the meanings of words into denotative and connotative meanings, and the process of interpretation into two crucial dimensions; the meaning as it would have been understood by the original readers, and the meaning as it is understood within our own cultural context. All of these breakdowns are useful, but it is difficult to see where they all tie back together into a single “thing” called interpretation —there isn’t a section that clearly links them together into a complete “system,” of interpretation.

The most helpful parts of the book are the discussion on tracing the flow of thought through a Scripture, and the section on Hebrew poetry. The authors do a very good job of bringing light and understanding to placing emphasis on the discourse within a text, and they do a good job of explaining the various types of parallelism in Hebrew poetry.

The least helpful parts of the book are the sections on theology; the authors are clearly progressive dispensationalists, and aren’t afraid to let their theological grid influence their reading of the text. Their take on the Revelation is that it really can’t be understood, so it’s best just to get what you can out of it (in terms of theological content), while only trying to gain a “high level” view of the prophecies. They insist that everything within the Revelation be interpreted as a symbol because the book is apocalyptic literature.

But it is amazing how often those same readers do not recognize that they should interpret the other images in the book as equally symbolic. Instead, many insist that references to a temple (e.g., 11:1 ) must refer to a literal, rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, that the battle of Armageddon (Hebrew for Mt. Megiddo, 16:16) must occur at that specific geographical site in northern Israel, or that the mark of the beast (13:16-17) has to be some actual visible sign that distinguishes unbelievers from believers.

If the writer cannot indicate what is symbolic and what is not within the context, and the reader cannot discern these things, then all Biblical interpretation is hopeless.

The authors make a number of other mistakes of this magnitude and order, insisting that we not read “the world is round,” as an indication that the Biblical authors believed the world was not flat —simply because we all know everyone who lived before the modern scientific age truly believed the world was flat. It’s important to understand the Biblical writing within the culture that produced it, but it’s also important to allow the Biblical writings to inform us about that culture. Assuming scientific ignorance on an ancient culture is no better than assuming scientific genius.

Overall, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation is worth reading for the stronger parts. Theology tends to intrude more than I would have liked, but —on the other hand— I’m not certain this is avoidable in a book on Biblical interpretation.

Comments are closed.