“Wow! An awesome book! What a lot of useful things to begin working into my own interpretive practices!” Those were my first thoughts as finished reading Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, by Andreas Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson. Their book is sub-titled Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature and Theology and they have put together a comprehensive guide to help navigate the path of Biblical interpretation, so that the person preparing to preach can do so thoroughly and for one overarching purpose: the faithful proclamation of God’s word.
The authors’ thesis is that proper study of a Biblical text in preparation for preaching involves studying the text from three different perspectives. They are the historical setting of the text, its individual literary characteristics, and the theology it expresses. In the first chapter they provide an overview of their thesis and an introduction to their method. This includes a comparative discussion of other models of exegesis, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of those models, as well as the historical settings that they arose in. Then they embark on a systematic discussion of their proposed method.
Part 1 explores the importance of the “context of scripture”, i.e. history. In order to properly probe a Biblical text we need to understand and consider the historical-cultural setting in which it was written, so that we can accurately discern how an ancient text can speak vibrantly into our time and culture.
Part 2 deals with the “focus of scripture”, i.e. scripture as literature. This part comprises the bulk of the book, being subdivided into units of canon, genre and language. They dig deeply into each of these literary units, exploring the differences between both parts of the canon, the importance of understanding the text as a type of literature (i.e. narrative, poetry, prophecy, et.al.), and then addressing matters of language (i.e. determining specific textual units, word studies, common fallacies, et.al.).
Part 3 considers the “goal of scripture”, i.e. the theology it teaches. While this part of the book is only one chapter it is the first of two chapters that bring everything together. The authors have a strong belief that theology should be derived from the Bible, rather than imposed on it. They believe that pastors, preachers and professors need to dig into scripture and be willing to be taught by it, rather than boxing scripture into a pre-conceived framework. This does not mean that only theology which is explicitly taught is what the church should hold to, but that all of the doctrine and teaching of the church should be built on a Biblical foundation.
The book’s final chapter addresses application and proclamation of what has been learned through conscientious study. The intent of our study is to bring God’s word to life in the world and the authors discuss various ways in which this may be done.
This book has a number of strengths. The first is the logical and coherent way the authors have laid out what they intend to teach within the pages. As I read I felt that each chapter and each section fit within a whole. Second is that each chapter contains a summary, review questions and suggested assignments. While the book may have been written primarily as a classroom textbook those features make it easy to learn from in a situation as my own, where I am pursuing additional study independently.
The third strength is that each chapter in the Literature section includes a sample exegesis of what has been taught within the chapter. This did a lot for me to illuminate the chapter’s teaching. Fourth is the extensive footnoting that the authors have included. While they have compiled a comprehensive way to approach the practice of hermeneutics, their footnotes make it easy to explore any particular subordinate aspect in greater depth.
And lastly, the appendix contains extensive suggestions for the biblical student in building their own library. This includes multiple suggestions for each category of general resource and reference work, as well as several suggestions of commentary for each book of the Bible.
My own seminary training in hermeneutics was a bit fragmented, coming through classes in language, theology and preaching. I liked the way in which the authors have chosen to teach hermeneutics as its own integrated discipline, and particularly their intent to make it not merely an academic subject but one that serves a greater purpose.
The last chapter closes saying “God’s Word has real authority and power, but only to the extent that it is faithfully and properly interpreted and proclaimed. To this end, may this book make a small contribution, for the good of God’s people and for God’s greater glory” (800). To which I say “Amen!”