Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell (InterVarsity, 2012)

Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Books) (Paperback)
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Multi-view books on particular theological topics has virtually become a genre, with every publisher producing versions of their own. InterVarsity joins the fray with this one on biblical hermeneutics, with a twist: the contributors were also charged with discussing Matt 2:7–15 that cites Hos 11:1. Nice idea!

“Biblical hermeneutics” is, of course, a broad concept that spans a variety of interests and agendas. My agenda, as I reviewed this work, was that of a preacher, as I asked: How will this help me preach better?

After an overview by the editors, Craig Blomberg begins, expounding the “Historical-Critical/Grammatical” view. Nothing particularly new here, but one sentence caught my eye: “The idea of preserving a dispassionate chronicle of events for posterity—with no necessary lessons to be learned from it—is largely a modern invention” (33). Bravo! That’s exactly what I, as a preacher, am looking for: What is the lesson or agenda here? What is the author doing with what he is saying? But that’s all he says about it, unfortunately. In his dealing with Matt 2:7–15, Blomberg spends a lot of ink on historical analysis (who the magi were and where they came from, etc.), but had really nothing to say about Matthew’s use of the OT in the NT. Nothing here to help me preach Matt 2.

Scott Spencer takes over, dealing with the “Literary/Postmodern” view. His is a clever approach: final text (final form of the text), cotext (coherence with adjacent text), intertext(uality), context (circumstances of the writing), and open text (engagement by audiences everywhere). On Matt 2:7–15, Spencer shone, respecting the literary art of both Matthew and Hosea. Jerusalem is seen as the center of opposition, whereas, ironically, Egypt is a haven. Matthean irony makes Jesus’ journey an escape from the dangers of the homeland into Egypt, and a return, his homecoming, bespeaking the mighty deliverance and covenant love of God. However, Spencer, in my opinion, takes things a bit too far (postmodern?) as he depicts the unwise magi as “naïve fools blindly following the shiny star here and the shady king [Herod] there” (67). Apart from that, I might find something useful for preaching here.

Merold Westphal is next—the “Philosophical/Theological” view. He favors a “double hermeneutic”: What did the author say to the original audience? and What is God saying now to present readers? Somewhat later in his essay, to my gratification, Westphal calls the second hermeneutic “application.” I also said “Amen!” to: “To take this double task seriously in sermon preparation is not easy” (86). As expected, he does not touch at all his appointed task of interpreting Matt 2:7–15; after all, his, he claims, is “not a method or strategy for interpreting” (71). Altogether interesting, but not going to help me much in my preaching endeavor.

Richard Gaffin represents the “Redemptive-Historical” view. As expected, this is christocentric, and he makes the history of redemption the fulcrum of his interpretive transactions: “The subject matter of revelation is redemption” (92)—a broad (and, in my opinion, arbitrary) sweeping of all the intricate specificities of the all the pericopes of all the books of the canon under a cruciform rug. On Matt 2:7–15, Matthew and Hosea, it seems, simply establish God as Savior. In sum, Egypt = sin, and the calling of Jesus out of that land portrays salvation for sinners. That conclusion may not be all that off the mark, but his redemptive-historical rationale is weak.

Robert Wall concludes the five essays with his “Canonical” view. He outlines his approach looking at Scripture as a text that is human, sacred, single, shaped, and belonging to the church. He is also for canonical “shaping” of texts—their final form (OK) and their locations in the canon (?). Wall argues for Matthew’s canonical position as giving it a “strategic” position in the NT, that calls for a unique “reading strategy” (120, 125). Is such ordering inspired and authoritative? Wall seems to think so. On Matt 2:7–15, he, like the others, thinks “Egypt” recalls the exodus event. I didn’t think this essay would help me preach Matt 2 either.

The remainder of the book is made up of responses from each of the contributors to the offerings of the others, and a final conclusion by the editors.

In sum, the book made interesting reading, though I’m not sure I’d want to buy this book to help me preach better. Rather it left me with a melancholic feeling that much more work needed to be done on biblical hermeneutics for preaching.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 13.2 (2013): 78–79

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