From Hermeneutics to Exegesis: The Trajectory of Biblical Interpretation By Matthew R. Malcolm (Broadman & Holman, 2018).

Malcolm, who did his graduate work at Nottingham with Anthony Thiselton, is the dean of the faculty of liberal arts at Universitas Pelita Harapan, in Indonesia.

His book “gives attention first to the field of hermeneutics (which is more abstract), and then to the practice of exegesis (which is more applied)” (xv). After an introductory chapter, there follow six chapters on hermeneutics, a transitional chapter, and three more on exegesis. Obviously, the focus is more on hermeneutics than on exegesis.

Malcolm discusses the various usages of “hermeneutics,” finally settling on this: “Hermeneutics means the study of what is happening when effective interpretation or understanding takes place” (5). And “exegesis” is the “intentional, attentive, respectful interpretation of a particular written text” (6). Together it sounds as if “hermeneutics means the study of what is happening when [exegesis] takes place.” I wasn’t sure of the value of the distinction made thereby.

The chapter on general and special hermeneutics laid out the distinctions of each and touched briefly upon theological interpretation/hermeneutics, as well. “If general hermeneutics refers to the study of human understanding, then interpretation of the Bible necessarily falls within its scope” (54). But a practitioner of “Christian interpretation” (special hermeneutics) “adopts the faithful prejudice of approaching the Bible as a divine inspired witness to the Lord Jesus Christ” (54). I would agree that Scripture is christological, but lacking any fine-tuning of how Scripture is christological (I believe it is christiconically so—see below), the book only leaves readers, especially us preachers, without a lifeline.

Adopting, again, Thiselton’s two horizon-hermeneutic, Malcolm’s model of interpretation reminds us that when we attend to the biblical author’s horizon and to our own readerly horizon, we must consider: 1) Realm: who is the author and where does the work belong (and who are the readers and where do they belong)? 2) Mission: why was the work written (and why are we reading it)? 3) Emergence: what exigence drives the work (and what cultural milieu drives readers)? 4) Reception: how has the work been received in history (and how has the work been received in the readers’ theological tradition)? (80–87, 104–108). I found these caveats and considerations the most helpful items in Malcolm’s book.

Unfortunately, Malcolm lapses into a standard christocentric understanding of the Old Testament in his exegesis chapters: “It is essential … for the Christian interpreter to ask how any Old Testament passage under consideration relates to the gospel of Jesus Christ” (138). Such a reading is untenable for preachers who, with their congregations, approach the text pericope by pericope (something non-preacher scholars seem to disregard). In such a transaction, the life-change called for by each preaching text (pericope) portrays a facet (or a pixel, if you will) of the image of Christ, calling readers of Scripture and listeners of sermons to align their lives with the christicon in that particular pericope. Malcolm’s illustrative example employs the story of David and Goliath (140–149). Sadly, his exegesis omits much of the intricacies of the text: the similarities between the Philistine’s armor and Saul’s; the fact that both Saul, the king, and Eliab, David’s brother, were exceedingly tall themselves (giants?); the inordinate use of “man” in the account; and all of these adding up to the text’s thrust/force regarding the stature, resources, and experience necessary in a battle for God’s glory, God’s name, God’s reputation. Instead, Malcolm probes the world behind the text for what happened, instead of privileging the text and world it projects in front. And, not surprisingly, after this exercise Malcolm wants us to go typologically to the New Testament and see Christ retrospectively in 1 Samuel 17. He would have the preacher say, “The Christian reader cannot help but recall the burden of the New Testament that Christ himself is God’s surprising, conquering stone” (141)!

Malcolm’s style is accessible, the book is small enough (though the price is a bit hefty for 170-odd pages), and the contents form a quick and adequate survey of the field, perhaps best suited as an introductory textbook on hermeneutics.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 19.1 (2019): 95–97

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