Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson have a daunting task ahead of them, to engage me personally and bringing me to a conclusion that they have succeeded in creating a textbook for proper biblical interpretation which takes into account historical and literary contexts while understanding the role of Christian theology in examining these things.
In their note to teachers, students and readers, they write that the time for a new context has developed. They note that in the hermeneutical geometry, there is the circle, the spiral, and now the triangle. Of course, it is only the stylizing and codification of the new triad, represented by a triangle, which is new. They note that other scholars, such as Longman and Dillard, have used the three areas which they will seek to employ. Further, they are also not prepared to say that their method is exclusive, but instead, they leave insight for the other two shapes and even gives their importance. In my opinion, they are succeeding where others fail because they aren’t arguing for exclusivity, but are urging that their new way is simply a different way. Their difference is pronounced. “(R)ather than moving from general to special hermeneutics, we move from special to general. In doing so, we are building on the enormous amount of recent scholarship on the importance of the canon, theology, metanarrative, and Scripture as “theodrama” (p25).” This idea of canon first may be putting off to some, myself included, but this is theology, and not biblical studies, so I can, and you should, allow some room for canonical criticism. Further, they are unabashedly conservative in their approach to Scripture as they almost immediately declare that they will consider Scripture as “inerrant.”
The book is divided into three parts, with sixteen chapters amongst them. In the second part, Interpretation: The Hermeneutical Triad, the authors break this down further, and this is where the student’s work begins. The text teaches students to focus their studies on three parts of the passage: canon, genre, and language. The overarching structure, however, looks like this:
- Application and Proclamation
This is their goal, to engage students to study the biblical texts in a theological construct.
To review every chapter would be somewhat repetitive, so I’ve selected a few of them to examine. The first one which I want to look at is the one dealing with John’s Revelation. This is a good one to start because of the various interpretations given to this book, and sometimes, the heated arguments over those interpretations. In my opinion, while the explanation of the futurist position seems a little biased (I note that unlike the other listed approaches there are not any negative or positive features highlighted), overall, the inclusion of modern scholarship, such as Bauckham, is a welcome sight. You’ll find Aune, Beale, Evans, Longenecker and Hayes as well, who is extremely important in understanding Revelation, especially in regards to the use of the Old Testament in John’s writings, something that they spend a considerable amount of time explaining. This portion of the book doesn’t just skim Revelation, but tackles it from a literary background (note the use of Hayes) and then pushes the student to an exegesis. In this instance, it is Revelation 11.1-13. Their conclusion does not betray biases, but an actual conclusion based on the presented actualization of the evidence.
The second examination occurs in the final chapter of the book, after the ground work has been laid, in going “From Study to Sermon.” We have to remember that theology is entangled with preaching, and preaching theology. To have theology without praxis, is to have a dead theology, so all of the wonderful theology books published which are not geared to praxis is a waste of time. Köstenberger and Patterson have written their book towards a praxis of preaching. I have often said to others, especially students, that the exegesises which many write in Seminary, should be the pattern of a sermon. So, how does this measure up? Very well, in my opinion. They start off by dismissing this entire business of having an outline first. Do you know what an outline does? It generally locks the exegete into a set conclusion. The authors note that the outline is to be discovered. Further, they note that not every passage in Scripture is of the same context. They note the common mistakes made, such as “being ignorant of its literary context,” allegorization (of the Old Testament), and of course, imposition or inference into the text. They demand that preachers actually know what they are talking about before they start talking.
Why is this important? In the first portion of the book, there is a brief essay on the cost of failed biblical interpretation followed by Chapter 13 which contains a discussion on exegetical fallacies. In the essay, the authors note the fallacies which arise from “neglect of the context, prooftexting, eisegesis…., improper use of background information, and other similar shortcomings.” They note that to limit some of this, one needs the community of believers, set against the individualistic enterprise we so often, unfortunately, see today. In the chapter, they note the several fallacies which we find common today, such as believing that a lexicon qualifies as the only interpretative tool. It seems that for our authors, most of the fallacies are based on ignorance of the wider field of biblical interpretation beginning with a faulty use of linguistics. To counter this, chapter 13 is written against pitfalls which individuals seem to make, such as root fallacy, misuse of meaning, appeal to unknown, and, among a few others, the favorite of too many (just as the use of a dictionary means someone knows what the word means), “improper appeal to alleged parallels.” Each fallacy is fully explained and rebuffed while the student given a way to avoid the trap.
How would this book work for a student? Well, as a student, this book provides a clear methodology, from front to back, and it is followed by the authors well. Each chapter has outlines, objectives, assignments, questions, key words and a bibliography. Unlike some books, others scholars and their works are footnoted throughout the entire book. In my opinion, this is a measurable identification of intellectual integrity for the authors, not in footnoting other scholars in the usual sense, but in allowing students to find supporting evidences which may in fact lead to challenges to the personal doctrines of the authors. This is not a book to be the all in all, but a book to be the first in a long line of books for the student in learning biblical interpretation. Further, it is not something that can easily be skimmed over, but something to be digested. Equally, for the teacher, it is a book which will provide a firm basis for in class discussions (especially the scholarship provided) and help to establish real biblical interpreters. That is what we go to seminary for, right? To engage, in some form, of biblical interpretation. This should become a book which sets the course for a generation of students to come.
At the beginning of this review, I noted the task of Köstenberger and Patterson. I am rather harsh on such books. I find that the lackluster skills which many young pastors and seminary students have is a sure sign that the Western Church is going to fall shortly. I often rail, loudly, against the diaspora of intelligence which is fleeing our congregations while we turn to sermons on Sunday morning which are little more than motivational speeches. Why? Because they are often saddled with poor exegetical skills with no real evidence that they have ever attempted real biblical interpretation. They take one angle and attempt to interpret the Text through that lens, which defeats any attempt at sensibility. If students, and former students, will listen to our authors, they will get an education in actual biblical interpretation and thereby, be able to actually engage the biblical text. There are issues, personally, I have with the view of the authors regarding Scripture, but this book gets beyond that quickly. It gets to the point that there is an actual way to interpret Scripture, and it is not the way which is common, or plain. It is one which takes into account what the authors have appropriately name the Hermeneutical Triad. I fully recommend this book. It is a must for students, teachers, and pastors and those concerned with what students are learning, teachers are teaching, and pastors are preaching.