Tag Archives: hermeneutics

Was the Reformation a Mistake?

Today we celebrate (mourn, think about, reflect upon, take your pick) the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. With this momentous event upon us, 517yithbnpl-_sx326_bo1204203200_numerous people have turned their attention to the various historical and contemporary implications of the Reformation. You can see this in the number of books, articles, and blogs that have been devoted to treating either the background of the Reformation, Reformers, and Protestant-Catholic relations.

Among those books these stick out to me as being really interesting:

Biblical Authority after Babel – Vanhoozer 

The End of Protestantism – Peter Leithart

Reformation Theology – Matthew Barrett

The Five Solas Series – Various Authors 

But there is another book that recently caught my eye. A book that was written by a Roman Catholic theologian whom a lot of protestants really like: Matthew Levering (Professor at Mundelein Seminary). Levering, just published a book with one of the foremost evangelical publishers, Zondervan. It’s titled Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine is not Unbliblical. If that doesn’t catch your eye then maybe the fact that it includes a Protestant response by Kevin Vanhoozer will!

Enough about the background of the book. What is this Roman Catholic theologian’s answer? Was the Reformation a mistake? According to Levering – Yes and No.

No, because the Reformation has reminded the Church of things that have been neglected by Roman Catholics, namely, love for Scripture, the authority of God’s word, salvation by God’s grace, gospel, preaching, Bible study, and personal faith and relationship with Christ. (16) Levering is grateful for these thigns. However, in another sense, he does in fact believe the Reformation was a mistake. How was it a mistake? Well he says, the Reformation was built on a mistaken assumption that Catholic views of Scripture, Mary, the Eucharist, Justification, etc. are unbliblical. In light of this he attempts to show that Catholic doctrine is in fact not unbliblical (note he doesn’t say biblical, rather he says not unbiblical).

In order to make his case, he argues that catholic doctrine is based upon biblically warranted modes of reasoning about biblically revealed realities. (21) Essentially this “biblically warranted mode of reasoning” is a way of thinking about the bible and its truths in a communal and liturgical way. Or to put it in a slightly different way,

The reasoning prescribed by the Bible for interpreting biblical texts is hierarchically and liturgically contextualized, in the sense that the Spirit communicates the word of Christ to the people of God who are gathered for worship by “the apostles and elders,” and by those like Timothy whom the apostles (whose testimony to the gospel of Christ remains uniquely authoritative) appointed as their successors. (24)

To put it more plainly, when we think about doctrine, we must come to the text of Scripture and read it through the lens of tradition. Tradition tells us what the text means and what the text is about. To read Scripture outside of this “biblically warranted mode of reasoning” is a wrongheaded way of reading the text.

Given his definition of biblically warranted modes of reasoning, he proceeds to treat the scriptural background of numerous Roman catholic doctrines, including Scripture, Mary, the seven sacraments, justification, purgatory, saints and the papacy. The result is essentially him saying “well, scripture doesn’t exactly teach purgagatory or the papacy, etc.; but through the mode of reasoning we apply to the text, the doctrines are not unbiblical.”

If protestants are not convinced by his conclusions, according to Levering himself, that is okay! He isn’t trying to convince them to accept Catholic doctrine. Rather he simply wants to show them that Catholics aren’t unbiblical in their thinking. I will leave it to you, the reader of this blog, to pick up the book and decide whether you are convinced by him.

However, I do want to throw in my two cents…

Not being unbiblical is not enough. We aim to say what scripture explicitly and implicitly teaches, nothing more and nothing less.

And,

Tradition is not a second source of revelation – it is a helpful external guide.

Both of these are at least in part two of principles we reflect upon on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Anyone who holds to these principles simply won’t be able to buy into Levering’s account, and thus won’t be able to say that Levering’s account of a “not unbiblical” account of Roman Catholic doctrine is adequate.

All in all, despite this criticism, I do have to commend Levering for writing this book. At the very least, it will dispel caricatures that some protestants have about Roman Catholics, namely that they simply make stuff up as they go or that they don’t care about the Bible. That, it seems to me, is a worthwhile result.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

Advertisements

George Hunsinger and Reading Barth with Charity

Today George Hunsinger will be presenting at our Trinity Seminar – and I’m assuming he is going to talk quite a bit about Reading Barth With Charity. In this book he lays out what it looks like to read another theologian in a charitable way. Austin Reed at Reformed Forum gives an excellent summary of what this looks like. He also gives a pretty good description of Torrance’s Evangelical Calvinism:

In his new work, Hunsinger sets forth a reading of Barth very different from his revisionist opponents; a Barth that is, well, strikingly less radical. Hunsinger arrives at this reading of Barth by using a “hermeneutic of charity,”[3] a methodological approach to ambiguous texts that seeks alternative interpretive options when faced with apparent contradictions. According to the hermeneutic of charity, the reader should only subject an argument or proposition to criticism after one has sought to resolve the difficulties themselves.[4] If one cannot resolve the apparent contradiction via a favorable interpretation (i.e. one that does not involve prima facie contradiction), then one is permitted to subject the argument or proposition to criticism. The principle of “charity” is more or less a hermeneutical application of the “Golden Rule.”[5] As one could probably guess, Hunsinger argues that the revisionists’ interpretation of Barth fails to read Barth charitably; that is, they’re guilty of pitting Barth against himself and through deductive reasoning setting a theological trajectory for his theology that Barth never intended.

Hunsinger cites T.F. Torrance’s[6] distinction between “evangelical” and “rationalistic” Calvinism as an example of the principle of charity in action.[7] It is a more or less classic “Calvin and the Calvinists” approach. The “evangelical” Calvinism is allegedly closer to the actual textual Calvin than the logical systemizing of the “rational” Calvinists following Beza. “It judged, according to Torrance, that the filial was prior to the legal, that the personal was prior to the propositional, that the inductive took precedence over the deductive, and that spiritual insight placed constraints on logical reasoning.”[8]

The rationalistic Calvinists’ approach to Calvin’s writings lead to the allegedly “extreme” doctrines of Limited atonement, supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism and worst of all (for Torrance at least), a “legalistic construal of ‘covenant’ that tended toward synergism.”[9] For Hunsinger the present debate is no more than an incarnation of the “Calvin and the Calvinists” debate, only this time, it is Barth and the revisionist Barthians.[10]

Book Review – Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook by Herbert Bateman IV

Over the years I have really come to appreciate all sorts of interpretive handbooks. One of my favorite is the “Handbook on the… prophets, historical books, wisdom books, etc.” series published by Baker Academic. But recently I was given a review copy of the General Letters volume of the “Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis” series. If the rest of the series is as good as this volume, it will soon become one of my favorite handbook series as well.

Interpreting the General Letters by Herbert Bateman IV, professor at the Cyber-Center for Biblical Studies, provides the reader with a step by step approach for analyzing and communicating the general letters.

The book is divided up into several sections:

  • Two chapters on “background” material to the general letters.
  • A chapter on the theology of the general letters
  • Two chapters on how to interpret the general letters using exegetical methods
  • Two chapters on communicating the general letters through expository writing and preaching
  • A chapter on other sources that can aid the interpreter in the exegetical task
  • An appendix with an annotated selection of NT Commentaries

Especially strong are the first few chapters which provide the background necessary for interpreting these texts. One interesting point that Bateman makes in this section is that Jude is actually written to address the issue of Jewish rebellion that permeated all of Judea and that it was not actually written to repudiate false teachers. In other words Jude is a political text. This was quite a surprising interpretation of Jude. Nevertheless it is an interpretation that is worthwhile thinking about.

Also, another strong part of the text is Bateman’s step by step instructions for moving from clausal analysis to preaching on a Sunday morning. Following his step by step instructions can be tedious and time consuming, but eventually those steps will become second nature for the preacher/teacher. Nevertheless, it was helpful to see those steps clearly explicated.

Overall this handbook for interpretation will be a valuable addition to any pastor, teacher, or student’s library. It is certainly a book that I will recommend to the students in my General Letter’s class. Also, I really look forward to reading the other volumes in this series.

(Note: I received the book for free from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.)

Book Review – Christian Faith in the Old Testament by Gareth Cockerill

Let me be honest with you…. It has been a while since I have been as excited about a book as I am for this one. I read a lot of books, and I write reviews for many of them. Most of the books are really good too, but they aren’t books that I am PUMPED for, yet I am absolutely pumped for this one. This book is just overflowing with possibilities….

Summary

In Christian Faith in the Old Testament, Gareth Lee Cockerill helps “ordinary, intelligent, modern Christians” rediscover the Old Testament – the Bible of the Apostles. First he helps readers understand how each part of the OT fits into the big story of the gospel. Second he gives the reader some hermeneutical tools which will be useful when investigating the OT on one’s own time. There are three hermeneutical tools which he employs – Example, Picture, Pattern.

  • Example – How OT characters serve as an example guiding us by teaching us what to imitate and what to avoid.
  • Picture (Typology) – How some of God’s actions and/or people in redemptive history foreshadow a greater and final restoration.
  • Pattern – How certain patterns, either theological patterns or patterns of values, as opposed to specific acts in history guide our lives today.

These three tools alone in the hands of the average layperson will help them make a lot more sense out of the Old Testament, yet Cockerill gives us more! He takes us through primal history, God’s promise of restoration through Genesis 12-50, the beginning of restoration at Sinai, the inauguration of restoration in Canaan, the institutionalization of restoration through David, the anticipation of restoration in the Writings, the experience of anticipating restoration in wisdom literature, the explicit promises of restoration in the Prophets, and finally the accomplishment of restoration in the New Testament.

If there is one theme that ties this entire book together (and the Old Testament together) is the theme of restoration. Everything in the OT points to when restoration will occur through Jesus. Cockerill captures that perfectly!

Pros

  1. It was an easy read – I really didn’t know what to expect. Would this be an in depth study of the redemptive history or would it be a superficial account of how the Old Testament informs the New Testament? I’m glad to say that it was neither. Because it was at once informative but light I could see myself using this book in a church class. At our church we have used another book that helped people taking our Bible Survey class navigate through the Old Testament, I could see us using this book in the future.
  2. It is simple yet hermeneutically sophisticated – there are a lot of hermeneutical moves being made in this book, yet the author is so subtle and clear that the reader might not notice them. For an intro book for lay readers, this is a good thing. For instance, his treatment for Chronicles apart from Kings is a brilliant move. They are two very different sorts of books, Chronicles isn’t history in the same way Kings is history. It would have been way to easy to lump these two together but he doesn’t.  Also, and even more importantly, he mentions in passing, that the organization of the canon is a hermeneutical move as well. Its apparent that he takes this into account when interpreting how all of these books fit together. If he were to have taken the Hebrew organization of the cannon Cockerill would have had to shifted the way he told the story of the OT.
  3. It is full of application – Throughout each chapter you will find “application nuggets.” The book isn’t a straight academic text, it isn’t merely descriptive, it actually challenges the reader in where they are with their walk with God.

Cons

Cockerill uses the three hermeneutical principles in the beginning of the book, and they carry out pretty much through the rest of the book. However, one of the principles really drops out – the pattern principle. He uses the example principle and the picture principle a lot but it seems as though the pattern principle is limited to his treatment of the Law. If the pattern principle is an important principle for interpreting the OT, it would probably be more useful when reading other parts of scripture besides the Law. Also, he leans a bit too heavy on the example principle. If the reader is not cautious or is a new Christian she might end up reading the Old Testament as a collection of useful stories for moral living. Obviously this isn’t Cockerill’s intention, yet giving more weight to the example principle than the typological principle might lead do readers doing this sort of thing.

Conclusion

In a world where Christians either ignore the Old Testament because they don’t understand it or see it as being irrelevant, Gareth Lee Cockerill offers a powerful tool for addressing that problem. I very highly recommend this book. Its informative, easy to read, and constantly points to how Christ is what the Old Testament was looking forward to.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of BookLook in exchange for an objective review.)

Christ-Centered Hermeneutics – 2 Corinthians 1:20

Recently on The Exchange, Ed Stetzer started a blog series devoted to the issue of Christ-Centered Old Testament Preaching (see Part 1 and Part 2). He has invited several respected scholars including Daniel Block, David Murray, Walter Kaiser, and Brian Chapell to weigh in on the discussion.

But this is an issue that is so important to the life of the Church that he also invited others from around the blogosphere to also weigh in…

Here are my two cents:

I don’t by any stretch of imagination consider myself an OT scholar. I do dabble a bit in the Old Testament (being an OT substitute lecturer at Eternity Bible College), but I would primarily see my own area of expertise being in the NT (afterall it should be, I am an NT Prof.). I mainly teach through Pauline Literature and I am fascinated with the NT use of the OT. Richard Hays and G.K. Beale have been extremely helpful for me in understanding how the NT uses the Old. Yet, working the other way OT pointing to the NT is a lot more difficult. On top of that, many of us have to preach this way, so its vital for us who teach the Bible and who preach to figure out for ourselves what the relationship between the OT, NT, and Christ is.

Over the last few years Preaching Christ from the OT has been a hot button issue. With the growing prominence of Reformed blogs and the Gospel Coalition, this issue has come to the forefront of evangelicalism. The Evangelical Theological Society’s Far west Regional Meeting in 2012 even had this as its central theme. So Lets start out by clarifying the issue, or better yet problem…

In most people’s minds we are faced with a two pronged dilemma:

  • We should take seriously what the authors themselves have to say.
  • We should preach Christ and Christ crucified.

Problem 1 – We Should Take Seriously What the Authors Themselves Have to Say

Going through seminary, I took classes on “The Hebrew Bible.” It wasn’t the “Old Testament” it was the TaNaK. Torah, Prophets, Writtings. We read it as it was organized in the Masoretic Texts. We read it as though we were not Christians. Some professors brought it back to Christ as a side-note, but the emphasis was on reading the Old Testament as though we didn’t even possess the New Testament. This in and of itself is already a hermeneutical move, nevertheless we were taught that when studying the Old Testament we ought not quickly jump to the New Testament, to do so would not be to take the Old Testament and its writer’s intentions seriously. So at the end of the day, to take the text seriously meant not to read Christ into the Old Testament. This is understandable, because Christ-Centered OT preaching is often done very poorly. Have you ever heard anybody preach on how Rahab’s red scarf is a type of Christ? I have… its hard not to scoff at a sermon like that.

Problem 2 – We Should Preach Christ and Christ Crucified

Paul famously resolved to only preach Christ and Christ crucified. Many preachers I know have taken this up as their own mantra, and have taken it to be equivalent to “Gospel-Centered Preaching” or more accurately “justification-by-faith-centered preaching.” Others justify Christ-Centered OT preaching by pointing out what Jesus says about his own relation to the Old Testament. In John 5:39 Jesus says to his opponents, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” In Luke 24 we are told about the story of Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. At dinner Jesus begins with Moses and all the Prophets, and he explains to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. So we have a Pauline injunction to always preach Christ, we have Jesus himself saying that all Scriptures concern him, but on top of that we have a deep rooted tradition of reading the OT typologically.

Jonathan Edwards is one of my theological heroes, I have devoted much of my studying in seminary to his theology, one thing that he does is point out how everything reveals Christ.

Check out what he says in his miscellanies:

“I expect by very ridicule and contempt to be called a man of a very fruitful brain and copious fancy but they are welcome to it. I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and divine constitution and history of the holy Scriptures, be full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words; and that the multitude of those things that I have mentioned are but a very small part of what is really intended to be signified and typified by these things.”

He sees Christ everywhere! Why can Edwards say this and why does he risk ridicule and contempt in order to find God (and more specifically Christ) in things like storms, spiders, marriage, family, historical occurrences, and the Old Testament? The reason is quite simple. He believes that “God is a communicative being.” In fact in one of his Miscellanies Edwards says that “communication of himself to their (humans) understanding is his glory, and the communication of himself with respect to their wills, the enjoying faculty is their happiness.”

So it seems as though Paul, Jesus, and Edwards (and the Church broadly speaking) has always placed an emphasis on preaching Christ from all of Scripture. How shall we pass this two pronged dilemma? Well I’m not even sure it is a dilemma.

Why Preaching Christ from the Old Testament is Not a Problem

Daniel Block mentions three problems with preaching Christ from the OT:

  • Christo-centric preaching often morphs into a Christo-centric hermeneutic, which demands that we find Christ in every text.
  • Christ-centered preaching may obscure the intent of the original author and in so doing may actually reflect a low view of Scripture.
  • Rather than clarifying many First Testament texts, Christ-centered preaching may rob them of both their literary quality and their spiritual force.

It would be worthwhile to respond to these objections, but I won’t, instead I will focus on laying out one way which we could preach Christ from the Old Testament, yet stay true to the original human author’s intentions….

The Old Testament authors wrote “directionally” so that the OT scriptures do in fact lead to Christ. Thus we can preach Christ in every Old Testament sermon.

Notice what I am not saying… I am not saying that the cross or our justification is found in every text. I am not saying that every text contains the gospel. I am not saying that Jesus the 1st century citizen of Palestine is in every text. Rather I am saying that all the Old Testament leads to Christ. I believe that it does this in at least three ways:

  1. The OT anticipates a Messianic figure of some sort
  2. The OT anticipates a time when the promise to Abraham would be fulfilled
  3. The OT anticipates YHWH dwelling with his people forever

These three “anticipations” run throughout all the Old Testament as a thread would weave its way through an intricate tapestry. Sometimes a single thread will be on the front side of the tapestry, in full display, but at other times it will be on the back side, hidden from view; nevertheless it is always a part of the tapestry. These three themes or anticipations run through the entire Old Testament, and each of these three themes are fulfilled in Christ.

Four Examples (Three Easy and a Hard One)

Messiah
Consider any part of the Law and Writings. Within these writings there are is a central theme that runs throughout, namely “the expectation of a future anointed king or priest figure who brings salvation to the people of God” (Stanley Porter, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments, 4). If you want proof of this take a look at Genesis 3:15, 14:17-20, Numbers 24:17-19, Pslams 2 and 100, Daniel 9:24-26. Although messianic concepts are not fully fleshed out at this point, they are certainly there.

Consider the prophetic literature. Within the prophets there are numerous retelling of Israel’s history through the lens of Israel’s unfaithfulness. But even within these re-telling there is almost always references to past or present Hebrew leaders and their successes or failures.  These leaders often serve as figures that the authors use to create anticipation (or stir the audience’s imagination) for a future anointed leader who will not fail.

Land
Also within the prophetic literature, there is a strong anticipation for the day when Israel will posses its land and live in Shalom. This is all an out working of the Abrahamic Covenant. Interestingly enough though, Abrahamic Covenant language is picked up even when they are in exile. Jeremiah 29, encourages the exiles to “produce offspring,” “settle down and cultive gardens,” and “bless the city.” It parallels God’s words to Abraham which promise “offspring,” “land,” and “blessing.

YHWH’s Dwelling Place
The Torah anticipates YHWH’s dwelling with his people, in fact this is the central theme of Genesis and much of the law, namely that God wants a people to dwell among.  This is especially expressed in a “temple” theme that runs throughout  the Torah but also in the Writings and Prophets. Genesis is a cosmic temple. The Tabernacle is a proto-temple modeled after the eschatological temple.  Chronicles emphasizes why YHWH’s presence will leave the people. Ezekiel explains, from a priestly standpoint, why YHWH’s kabod left, and promises that YHWH’s kabod will return to his people and dwell with them forever. Even the minor prophets anticipate the day when YHWH will return in all his glory to the temple.

Proverbs
My point in illustrating all of this is that the OT is built around these three themes, and anywhere you turn to in the OT you will find these themes. You will even find them in the book of Proverbs. Some people are quick to point out that you don’t find Christ in the Proverbs. But step back for a second, who is the book written to? Its written to the son of a King, so that the son might rule wisely. Much of the OT anticipates a messianic (or proto-messianic) king who rules with perfect wisdom.  This truly wise king is sometimes talked about as YHWH himself or some Davidic descendant. So even the book of proverbs points to Jesus because  it illustrates what a truly wise king lives like. If you keep bringing any individual proverb back to the purpose of the book as a whole, you see a kingly messianic theme.

Now Get to Christ!

I think its relatively undisputed that these three themes run throughout all of the Old Testament. They might not be found in each passage, but they are certainly found in entire books and collections of scripture (Torah, Writings, Prophets). Now we can get to Christ… How? Christ is the anticipated Messiah. Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (land, offspring, blessing). Christ is YHWH coming to dwell among his people. If Christ is the fulfillment of these three themes or anticipations, and all of the Old Testament authors intentionally wrote in anticipation of the fulfillment of these themes, then we have warrant to preach Christ from the Old Testament. Doing that might not be an easy task, and it will involve immersing ourselves into the Hebrew worldview that desperately anticipated these things. But if we do this, then we will be that much better for it, because we will come to appreciate Christ as the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:20

Let us say “Amen!” to the fact that Christ is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in the Old Testament!

How To Read the Bible (I’m Not Being Snarky!)

The last post in this series of posts on hermeneutics was titled: How to Read Your Bible (or How You Actually Read the Bible), I must admit that that the title was a bit snarky. You probably thought I was going to tell you about ways to read your bible but I fooled you and showed you how you actually read your Bible. I’m sorry about that. This time I will actually outline a few methods for reading the Bible. There are at least three rather obvious places where we can find meaning in the text of the Bible. When you read you probably find yourself engaging in trying to find meaning in all three” locations” Here are the three:

  1. Behind the Text
  2. In the Text
  3. In front of the Text

Behind the Text

  • This way of approaching the texts attempts to locate the meaning especially in history. This has been the dominant approach in biblical studies for centuries. When reading this way the reader attempts to isolate the historically intended, correct meaning of the text. It attempts to inquire into the historical situation/background of the text. It places a majority of its emphasis on what is going on during the actual writing of the text. This type of reading makes use of other discipleins like “Historical Criticism,” “Extracannonical Jewish Text Studies,” and “Classics.” The key word for this type of reading is “History.”

In the Text

  • In the text methods (obviously) attempt to focus on the text itself, its form, its structure, its consistency, etc.  Many times this sort of reading will make use of other disciplines like “rhetorical criticsm” or “Genre Analysis” or “Linguistics.” The in the text reading” is where we might locate the blooming discipline of “new testatment use of the old.” This discipline fits into this way of reading scripture because it focuses on how some texts make use of other texts. This type of reading (new testament use of the old) makes use of intercannonical liteary themes. Thus it limits itself to the study of the text itself. The key word for this type of reading is “Literature.”

In Front of the Text

  • This way of reading scripture takes very seriously the questions, “who is doing the reading?” This method emphasizes the fact that the reader is not an empty receptacle for meaning, rather as the reader engages with the text, the reader contributes (baggage) to his/her reading of the text. In-front-of-the-text readings do not pretend to be neutral, rather they recognize that all our readings come from a particular vantage point, that is, there is no “view from nowhere.” This way of reading scripture makes use of other disciplines like “Feminist Criticism,” “African American Criticism,” and “Latino/a Criticism.” Interpretation for the sake of Christian Ethics might also fall into this sort of reading, namely because Christian Ethics is about the response of the reader and his/her understanding of the text. The key word for this type of reading is “Response.”

This was just a really short outline of three ways we approach scripture. Although professional scholars usually engage primarily in one of these methods (N.T. Wright would be considered “Behind the Text” and Walter Bruggeman would be considered “In the Text”) the truth is that when we read scripture we actually end up using all three methods. When reading a tough passage you probably have asked yourself:

  1. What did this passage mean to them 1000’s of years ago?
  2. What is the “big picture” truth?
  3. What does it mean for me today?

In a rough way these three questions parallel the three methods outlined above. So in one sense you are a biblical scholar engaging in complicated hermeneutical methods!

How to Read Your Bible (or How You Actually Read the Bible)

Today I want to continue our (unofficial) mini-series on hermeneutics. I never intended to start a series on interpreting the Bible but I guess thats what ended up happening. Last time we kicked off the series by looking at the parable in Luke 15:11-32. In doing this we saw how our different vantage points lead us to say different (although responsible) things about a text. The fact that there is a good amount of leeway for what makes a responsible interpretation led us to claim that interpretation is an art with certain sensibilities, and not exactly a science with a prescriptive method. Today we turn to two different ways to read a text, also Kevin Vanhoozer helps us consider the reader’s role in interpreting texts.

In Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation Kevin Vanhoozer sets the stage for understanding the role of the reader in New Testament interpretation. He helpfully points out that

“Reading is not merely a matter of perception but also of production; the reader does not discover so much as create meaning.” (13)

At first glance there seems to be something that’s off putting about thinking that the reader creates meaning with the text. In fact this quote might horrify some of you. (You might even think I am off my rocker and have bought into some sort or relativism.) Usually we think that we have to draw out the texts meaning by using objective, scientific methods. However the truth is that there are certain elements that prevent us from being capable of giving an objective reading of the text. The reader always brings some baggage to the text, whether that is the place of the reader, the gender of the reader, or the race of the reader. (This is exactly what we saw in our last post: That’s Not in the Text!!! )

Taking into account that the reader cannot be neutral to the text, the reader is faced with two options to make meaning, Vanhoozer lays them out as: the relationship of “reader-respect” and “reader-resistance.”

There is no way around it…. you bring your social, cultural, economic baggage to your interpretation. So when you read, you allow your “baggage” to create what you take to be your meaning. So you are left with two options:

  1. You can approach the text respectfully, that is, you can try to allow the text to speak to you on its own terms.
  2. You can resist the text, that is, you can push back against what the text is saying because it doesn’t fit your cultural paradigms.

So how do you read the scriptures? Are you a respectful reader or a resistant reader?

Kevin Vanhoozer: Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Kevin Vanhoozer: Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School