REVIEW: Prima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation @bakeracademic

prima scriptura

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This is the sum total of the review, including the previous posts. My final thoughts begin after the ***. Note… if you leave a comment, after reading, you will be entered to win a copy of the book.

After reading the first 60 pages of Clayton Croy’s latest book, Prima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation, you will be far more educated on the inroads critical literary theory have made into biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, as well as how, even unrecognized  we become users of these tools to read the text then you would in most introduction to the New Testament classes. From Derrida to Hirsh to a few more important names in the current struggle between structuralists and post-structuralists, Croy truly introduces his readers to interpreting the New Testament.

It is a classroom book, of that there is no doubt. Each chapter ends with a few serious questions, some of which tempted me to answer and ask Croy to grade. However, do not mistake my words here. This work is every bit a theologian’s, a layperson’s, and a perpetual student’s book as well. It is not simply a way to interpret the New Testament, but provides the reasoning behind certain levels of interpretation as well as the logic behind why we should separate exegesis from hermeneutics. We do not often do that and I would wager that most seminarians, if queried, would not find in their experience the right answer. The differences aren’t taught so easily, nor applied in a manner to respect those differences. However, Croy, in the introduction (alone worth the book) lays out these concepts, explores their differences, and begins to draw out the methodology to insure that these concepts will remain demarcated. But, this is not all in the introduction.

The introduction begins by rendering our understanding of meaning as an introspective exercise. What is meant, or rather, how do we mean to imply the meaning of the word meaning so that our audience will understand what we mean and not what others meant? This leads us to examine not just the words on the paper, but so too the historical context, including the author, of the word as they would appear to the audience. Not everyone is convinced the author matters when we explore the meaning of texts. Croy defends against this and wages a fine battle against the creeping of the modernist post-structuralist’s murder of the author. Granted, Croy does not give us license to treat the author as a ventriloquist dummy either. He demands, rather, that the interpreter understand the limitations of our position in time to establish certain interpretative boundaries, thus avoiding the pitfalls of relativity so often producing the rather disastrous post-modern interpretations.

Croy is unafraid to explore the inherent biases presumed in interpretative contexts as well. Drawing on Ben Myers and N.T. Wright considerably here, the author walks a fine line between out-right subjectivity and blinding objectivity. Citing recent scholars who have alerted their reader to their only empathetic ear to the text, Croy determines that we are not completely free on presuppositions in reading Scripture. To this, for the most part, I would agree. He quotes Samuel Sandmel in suggesting we strive for objectivity with the fully understanding of our subjectivity. This is where Croy will run afoul of the Van Till types who rely on absolute surrender to presuppositions in reading the text. Unfortunately, if anyone discounts Croy — if anyone fails to read him closely here — they will lose invaluable insight into themselves as biblical interpreters. This insight will come more fully from the discussion of the hermeneutic of suspicion Croy presents to his readers.

In the very brief first chapter, Croy leads us into examining the most crucial and hidden aspect of the interpretation process — the interpreter. This allows us to place the text down and attempt to identify who we are before we read the text. Are we a Baptist minister in a small town in southern Mississippi who waffles between self-confidence and over-compensation so that we must read the text as we have been taught in order to not either be wrong or be challenged? Are we in Africa, West Virginia, or some place else? Are these “bad places” from which to read the text? Croy says no. The only “bad” thing we can do is to ignore the very real idea that everything we are and have done before approaching the text will affect how we read the text. We cannot simply wash away our prejudices like we wash away the dirt before we eat dinner. No, we must take these things — the sum total of our parts — and understand that they may sway us.

In all of this, as a Wesleyan, Croy is able to present Scripture as the ideal,prima and not sola. In truth, not only does Croy follow Wesleyan tradition, but he follows what the Reformers actually believed and taught. While professing asola view, their view is more along the lines of prima. Perhaps a book needed written before this one to explain the nuances; however, this should not limit the reader from taking hold of this book. Indeed, once you read Croy, you will understand that his attempts are to always place Scripture first; even if that means understanding how far in front of Scripture we really are.

Do you remember the first time your were introduced to something new, like a language? In south Louisiana, we are introduced to French sparingly until the ninth grade when it suddenly and without warning becomes a required class. Believe it or not, biblical exegesis is a language. It has rules, fallacies, word play, progression, and a learning curve. Sometimes, you need more than a momentary introduction and a class that you’ll never use again to get the hang of a proper exegesis methodology. Sometimes, you need exercises and incremental baby steps where you practice each new, say, syllable until you are ready to move on. Unfortunately, I never really learned French, although I passed the class with an ‘A’. Mainly because it was not a learning class, but a class to fulfill requirements. Let me bring this around around to New Testament exegesis.

In Seminary, many of us will have introduction to New Testament classes. Regardless of how good our teachers are, we will most like have a paper or two to do but never really get into the full depth of the language of exegesis. We know the oui‘s (the lexicons) but we do not know how to put those words into proper place. Sure, we know how to look up words and look for the differences in translations, but do we ever really go beyond that and examine the original languages, the translations, and how we’ve become indoctrinate to examine this or that word/concept in a certain way? Take the word justification, for example. When we read it in the NLT, we read some variation of “set aright;” yet, in the ESV, we will read “justification.” The cursory examination of the translations will reveal hardly anything different. We aren’t really trained to look that deeply into the words of the text because that would require us to almost step outside of ourselves, out of what we expect the text to say. Thus, because we think we know what we are doing, we begin to speak in odd accents, placing emphasis on the wrong parts of the word — butchering romantic French with a rough Southern drawl if you. Or, we commit fallacy after interpretative fallacy.

What Clayton Croy does between the pages of 13 and 128 is to give the reader — the perpetual student — a wealth of education in how to speak the language of the New Testament exegete. The text is throughly analyzed, but so too is the motivation of the interpreter. Exploring several fallacies and pitfalls along the way, Croy tackles some pretty diverse topics in exegesis. From understanding the words to understand the progression of the story to, and this is important, understand the amount of patina the reader brings to the text (the dump truck fallacy). But, there is more. He tackles the issues of intertextuality, context, and backgrounds too! And does so while providing not just exercises, but key bibliographies inside the chapter. No footnotes; no appendixes. The reader is treated to the best method of reading the bibliography — it is right there in front of her. Once the proper examination is done, Croy turns to the theological reflection and then, the synthesis, again accompanied by the tools of learning — exercises, examples, and bibliographies.

No doubt, the length of this chapter may worry the casual observer of the table of contents, what with its over one hundred pages of exegetical goodness; however, it is perhaps one of the best chapters on New Testament exegesis in print. As a user of Gorman’s exegesis work, I am now a Croyian convert.

My first draw to this book, truth be told, was the title of it. As a student of history and Christian theology, I have come to understand both the faultiness ofSola Scriptura and the faultiness of suggesting that this is what the Reformers actually believed. Unfortunately, I realize that such a title is a turn off for many Christians who do not know the real intent beyond the Reformers’s literary solitude, who have not escaped their own contextual lexicon. What the author needed to soften the title’s reception was a chapter on the role of Scripture, and perhaps even mentioning why he chose the title the way he did. I read the preface, the introduction, and the first two chapters hoping to stumble upon this rather apparent truth.

It is rather unfortunate to the reader who passes this book up due to the title that it is not the first but the third chapter that deals with the proper role of Scripture and how the title, and thus outlook of the book, is well within the tradition of the mainline, or magisterial, Reformers. If there is one fault with this book, it is that this chapter does not come first. Because in this chapter, the reader is introduced to the need for a proper reading of Scripture as well as the proper placement of Scripture. Further, Croy is able to reasonably take a shared experience with the tradition of the scripturally based Wesley Quadrilateral and show why it is a perfect method, when used correctly, to read Scripture. Croy’s great sincerity, his appreciation, and his love of Scripture is plainly evident in this too-short and ill-placed chapter. Yes, he is a Wesleyan theologian – flying in the face of William Abraham’s great pronouncement of the death of Wesleyan theology(ians) – and because of this, he straddles the neutral zone between the extreme views of Tradition and Scripture. He is able to take into account both the Catholic views (and advances of Scripture within Roman doctrine) as well as Anglican and more conservative views. Because of Croy’s unique position afforded by his Wesleyanism (experience), his work is respectful of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason so when he arrives at the goal of contemporizing the Text we can trust that he has only Christ as his goal.

There are names here that every reader will recognize. The great cloud of witnesses at Croy’s disposal surrounds us with a hope that we can reclaim a proper reading of Scripture. Yes, he pulls from those still alive, such as Tom Wright, but he turns to those who are Triumphant, such as G.K. Chesterton. There is Lane, Torrence, and Hill and still more. The casual reader may not fully appreciate the wealthy of knowledge and experience these names lend to Croy’s work, but the student must. We, as perpetual students, stand only on the shoulders of those who have come before and we should listen to them still yet. This chapter is best served as read first. If this book was a map, you would have to begin here.

***

The fourth and final chapter is a plea for proper biblical exegesis, to correct the imbalance as Croy calls it. It is a very Christian chapter in that it regards reading Scripture only as an element of performing Scripture — ethics, commands, hope. This chapter is followed by several helps to demonstrate Croy’s overarching points. Familiar to most are the exegetical examples, but new to me were the pictographs – a very insightful tool, I think – of several of Paul’s epistles. I can see how this would help, especially in books like Revelation (and even Isaiah). Further, Croy presents a chart on Mark and a comparison between the NA27 and the UBS4.

The value of this book is difficult to pin down. Perhaps it is the exegetical examples or the bibliography. Sure, the sources cited are beneficial. Maybe it is the distinct Wesleyan influence. Or rather, the value of the book is the sum of the parts. There is nothing in this book that will not contribute in some way to the student’s progression as a New Testament exegete. Perhaps the seminarian or lay reader is not a Wesleyan; perhaps they are Anglican. Or independent Protestant of some sort. Or Catholic. Regardless, the attention to Scripture, the surrender to biblical authority, and the hope for a return to a Scriptural life is surely the goal of the New Testament exegetes regardless of denominational persuasion. The title is not unfortunate or misleading, but well within the mainstream Tradition of both Catholic and Protestant views on the role and primacy of Scripture. Indeed, the title is my main draw.

Every New Testament class, either introduction or perhaps an advanced exegetical class, should have this as their primary tool. Every believer who wishes to read Scripture without discarding historical criticism, Christian Tradition, and the command to go and do likewise needs this book. Every lay reader who seeks to engage Scripture on a deeper level, even without higher education, but only with the goal of knowing and applying needs this book.

Post By Joel L. Watts (10,125 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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12 thoughts on “REVIEW: Prima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation @bakeracademic

  1. Well, wether you are right or wrong I know one thing for sure. I really want to find out for myself of this book is that good or not.

  2. Joel, thanks for good and thorough review. Sounds like I need this book, though the Kindle edition will do just fine. ;-)

    God bless,

    Joh

  3. “The only “bad” thing we can do is to ignore the very real idea that everything we are and have done before approaching the text will affect how we read the text. We cannot simply wash away our prejudices like we wash away the dirt before we eat dinner. No, we must take these things — the sum total of our parts — and understand that they may sway us.”

    This is something I think many people do forget. They look at the words on the page and assume they are what they are without ever accounting for their own subjective biases.

    It’s important to know not only the context the scripture was birthed in, but the context the scripture is being read in… both can shift interpretation off of being accurate.

  4. As I read this review I wonder again, ‘why doesn’t the church expect each member to delve into the study of scriptures as if we were all seminary students?’ Is it asking too much? Why is there a separation of scholarship as if a line were drawn between the laity and the clergy. Why are there two words to describe one body?
    Notwithstanding, what if the ‘clergy’ were more in tune to hear the Holy Spirit whisper truth and what if the ‘laity’ were more inclined to study? What then?

  5. Good review. I’d really like to read the book now. I’m curious to see his presentation of prima scriptura as I’m not entirely sure where I fall on prima/sola and come from a more Reformed background. I’d love to win a copy. Probably be pretty helpful for my divinity school studies as well.

  6. I have been wanting to get this book for a long time due to my interest in hermeneutics. I think this is a great addition as the church continues to rethink the relation of Scripture to the Great Tradition. Pick me! Pick me! :-)

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