Biblical Hermeneutics

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  • Edition: 2nd
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2002-04-15
  • Publisher: B&H Academic
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Biblical Hermeneuticsis a textbook for introductory courses in hermeneutics. I takes an interdisciplinary approach that is both balanced and practical with six major foci: the history of biblical interpretation, philosophical presuppositions, biblical genre, the uniqueness of Scripture, the practice of exegesis, and use of exegetical insights that will be lived and communicated in preaching and teaching. Biblical Hermeneuticsis designed for students who have little or no knowledge of biblical interpretation. It provides, in one volume, resources for gaining a working knowledge of the multi-faceted nature of biblical interpretation and for supporting the practice of exegesis on the part of the student. The first chapter "A Student's Primer for Exegesis" by Bruce Corley gives the student a bird's eye view of the entire process. It becomes for the student a kind of template to which they will return again and again as they engage in the process of exegesis. This revised edition ofBiblical Hermeneuticscontains seven new chapter that deal with the major literary genre of Scripture: law, narrative, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, Gospels and Acts, epistles, and apocalyptic. The unique nature of Scripture is presented in part three that addresses the authority, inspiration, and language of Scripture. The book contains two extensive appendices, "A Student's Glossary for Biblical Studies" and an updated and expanded version of "A Student's Guide to Reference Books and Biblical Commentaries.

Author Biography

Bruce Corley is professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Steve W. Lemke is provost and professor of philosophy and ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Grant I. Lovejoy is associate professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Table of Contents

Contributorsp. vii
Preface to the Revised Editionp. xiii
Prefacep. xv
How to Study the Bible
A Student's Primer for Exegesisp. 2
The Grammatical-Historical Methodp. 21
Inductive Bible Study Methodsp. 39
Biblical Hermeneutics in History
Ancient Jewish Hermeneuticsp. 56
The New Testament's Use of the Old Testamentp. 72
The Hermeneutics of the Early Church Fathersp. 90
The Hermeneutics of the Medieval and Reformation Erap. 101
Post-Reformation Protestant Hermeneuticsp. 116
Modern Old Testament Interpretationp. 131
Modern New Testament Interpretationp. 147
Contemporary Philosophical, Literary, and Sociological Hermeneuticsp. 163
The Authority, Inspiration, and Language of Scripture
The Inspiration and Authority of Scripturep. 176
The Authority of the Biblep. 194
Language: Human Vehicle for Divine Truthp. 208
An Introduction to Textual Criticismp. 217
Translations and Hermeneuticsp. 230
The Genres of Scripture
Interpreting the Lawp. 244
Old Testament Narrative: Telling the Story of God's Handiwork in Historyp. 260
Listening to the Lyrics: Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature and Poetryp. 280
Thus Saith the Lord: Interpreting the Prophetic Wordp. 301
Interpreting New Testament Narrative: The Gospels and Actsp. 316
Reading the Letters of the New Testamentp. 331
Interpreting Apocalyptic Literaturep. 347
From Exegesis to Proclamation
From Biblical Text to Theological Formulationp. 356
Contextualization in the Hermeneutical Processp. 374
Biblical Criticism and Biblical Preachingp. 387
Shaping Sermons by the Literary Form of the Textp. 398
The Seeable Sermonp. 419
A Student's Glossary for Biblical Studiesp. 433
A Student's Guide to Reference Books and Biblical Commentariesp. 475
Indexp. 519
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.



Bruce Corley

In the first class of my first semester in seminary, the professor wrote the word exegesis on the chalkboard and told us that one of these research assignments was due in two weeks. I had no idea what he meant. As it turns out, not many others have claimed to know what he meant, and those who have seem to disagree. Exegesis, like its well-traveled partner hermeneutics, "is a word that is forever chasing a meaning" (Frei, 16). The scholarly debate has featured a baffling array of linguistic insights, philosophical critiques, and competing theories of interpretation-all about the "meaning of meaning."

Meanwhile, theological students everywhere, still working to produce acceptable papers, continue to enter the strange world of exegesis and hermeneutics. The puzzled looks and bewildering talk that usually follow are reminiscent of an oft-repeated story, the dispute between Alice and the contemptuous Humpty Dumpty, who with delight turned "meaning" on its head (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass , 1872, chap. 6):

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-that's all."

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything.

Like Alice who did not know the language games of a nonsense world, the alert student could wish for a bit of help in grasping what words really mean, especially when their masters stretch them beyond recognition.

Here, then, is a short primer for beginning students-a field guide for those who are "too much puzzled"-along the fundamental lines of "How to Write an Exegetical Paper." From the viewpoint of the ever-growing literature on this subject, it is a pretentious venture, written at the risk of slighting important issues and technical jargon (that will appear in later chapters) but in search of a clear reward, namely: an approach to exegesis and how to do it in plain and simple terms.

The Aims of Biblical Exegesis

What is exegesis, and how is it related to hermeneutics? Although both words appear in other fields of academic study, they mainly belong to the classical disciplines of theology, where both exegesis and hermeneutics refer to the interpretation of the Bible. Hermeneutics probably first emerged as a name for this biblical discipline in J. C. Dannhauer's Hermeneutica Sacra (Strasburg, 1654); whereas exegesis had already appeared in the title of Papias's five-volume work in the early second century, Exegesis of the Lord's Sayings , an exposition of Gospel teachings known to us only by fragments quoted in later authors. For Papias, like other ancient writers, exegesis and hermeneutics were overlapping concepts; the preface to the Exegesis describes Jesus' sayings themselves, collected and handed down, as "interpretations" (Greek hermeneiai ; see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 39.1, 3). The skills of interpretation taught in Greco-Roman education had long before shaped the popular coinage of both terms, and we must first look there to define their meanings.

Classical Definitions

The Greek word groups related to the nouns exegesis and hermeneia , which gave us the English counterparts, denote an understanding or meaning derived from an object of reflection and study such as an event, a speech, or a law. In the area of our interest-literary usage-both nouns refer to an "explanation, interpretation, or meaning" of a written text, and the corresponding verbs (exegeomai and hermeneuo) describe the act by which meaning is found, "to expound, to explain, to interpret" the text. When applied to texts in foreign languages, hermeneuo means "to translate."

Usage that reaches back to classical Athens (fourth century B.C.) shows the closeness of the two word groups. According to Plato, a hermeneutes could be an "interpreter" of the sacred law ( Laws 907d) or a poet expounding divine utterances as a "spokesman" for the gods (Ion 534e; Statesman 290c), one practicing the "art of interpretation" (cf. Symposium 202e; Theaetetus 209a; Statesman 260d). Plato's exegetes had similar skills (cf. Cratylus 407a), whether an "expounder" of ancestral law ( Laws 631a; 759c; 775a) or the famous Delphic oracle entrusted as the "interpreter [ exegetes ] of religion to all mankind" ( Republic 4.427c). This functional linkage between exegesis and hermeneutics persisted in Greek literature, specifically in the Jewish writings of the Second Temple period (LXX, Philo, and Josephus), down to the New Testament itself.

A wordplay found in the Acts account of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra (Acts 14:8-18) provides an instructive example. After the crowd saw a lame man healed, they acclaimed Paul and Barnabas as miracle workers, shouting "the gods have come down to us in human form" (14:11). Likely echoing local knowledge of a legendary visit of Zeus and Hermes to the Phrygian hill country, Paul was "called Hermes because he was the chief speaker" (14:12). Hermes was the spokesman for the gods who invented language and its uses, and according to Plato's etymology of his name, Hermes meant "interpreter" [ hermeneus ] whose gift was the hermeneutical art ( Cratylus 408a). On the other hand, the description of Paul as the "chief speaker" (literally, "the one who leads in speaking") hints at the exegetical skill. The Greek word used of Paul, egeomai ("to lead"), is the verbal root behind exegesis, which in its compound form (ex + egeomai) means "to lead, bring out [the meaning]."

Biblical Images

More than two dozen terms in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures make up the vocabulary domain related to interpretation (see the references in Thiselton, 574-82). However the noun exegesis , used sparingly in the Old Testament, does not occur in the New Testament, and its cognate verb is used only six times (John 1:18; Luke 24:35; Acts 10:8; 15:12, 14; 21:19). The "hermeneutics" word group dominates the biblical usage (cf. Ezra 4:7; Gen. 42:23; Sir. 47:17; Matt. 1:23; Mark 4:41; 15:22, 34; John 1:38, 41-42; Acts 4:36; Heb. 7:2). Notable instances of hermaneia are Joseph's gift for the interpretation of dreams (Gen. 40-41) and Paul's instruction concerning the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12-14). As for interpretation of the Scriptures, the Old Testament has little to say, but we get memorable images of the biblical perspective in four New Testament passages.

1. Opening Up the Scriptures. Along the Emmaus road, Jesus spoke with Cleophas and a despondent companion, helping them to understand the Scriptures: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained [ dia + hermeneuo ] to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). Later in the evening, after they had recognized Jesus, the two recounted their experience with a parallel term; they said to one another that their hearts had been set on fire as Jesus had "opened up" ( dianoigo , 24:32) the Scriptures to them. Interpretation opened up the closed text, inspiring the mind and heart to a new understanding.

2. Guiding Through the Scriptures. When Philip came upon a chariot on the desert road south of Jerusalem, he heard an Ethiopian eunuch reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked him whether he understood what he was reading. "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains [hodegeo] it to me?" (Acts 8:31). The eunuch wanted a pathfinder to lead or guide, to strike a trail to a chosen place; interpretation was a guide along the right path of meaning.

3. Cutting Straight with the Scriptures. Paul enjoined Timothy to be an unashamed workman "handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15 NASB). The verb orthotomeo conveys the picture of cutting a straight line, for example, cutting a straight road through a dense forest or plowing a straight furrow in a field. Timothy was to expound the word of truth along a straight line without being turned aside by wordy debates or impious talk. Such interpretation cut straight through the issues with the unswerving truth.

4. Unlocking the Scriptures. In warning against "cleverly devised tales" used by false teachers, 2 Peter cautions against an arbitrary reading of prophecy: "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation [epilysis] " (2 Pet. 1:20 NASB). The noun epilysis ("solution, explanation") touches the area of inquiry and problem solving, particularly the unlocking of a mystery or secret. The confirmation (1:19) of the Scriptures was not located in personal whim; rather its meaning was secured and unlocked by the Spirit's activity (1:21).

Contemporary Models

The cases of exegesis and hermeneutics we have surveyed indicate that interpretation aims at the appropriate meaning of a text, that is, a meaning judged to be accurate, responsible, or faithful to a specified goal. How can an accurate meaning be found? This question gave rise to the development of "rules" for interpretation both in Judaism and Christianity, such as the seven rules of Rabbi Hillel (see the description of Middoth in chap. 5) and the seven rules of Tyconius that were appropriated by Augustine (see On Christian Doctrine 3.42-56). Rule-governed procedures were handy controls on the possible meaning(s) of a biblical text; therefore, the rationale and enumeration of such principles were subjects of paramount importance in the history of biblical interpretation. The church's quest for the rules by which to understand the Bible gave hermeneutics its modern definition: the theory of interpretation . When theory was applied and put to work in the text, it was then called exegesis: the practice of interpretation .

Moreover, the traditional aim of exegesis was retrospective, that is, to understand what the text originally meant by discovering the historical meaning intended by the ancient author. The prospective aim, what the text means now for the contemporary reader, was usually called exposition , an application based on exegesis but not part of it. The traditional model can be sketched as follows:

This sequential model, hermeneutics ->exegesis ->exposition, has all but collapsed under the weight of literary criticism with its dual insistence upon the autonomy of the text and the centrality of the reader (see Morgan and Barton, 167-263). The customary distinction between hermeneutics as theory and exegesis as practice, while helpful in some ways, has proven to be artificial. Much hermeneutical theory is distilled from the experience of reading the biblical text; its principles are reshaped and verified by how they work in the text. Hermeneutics and exegesis may be distinguished but not divided; they form a seamless continuum wherein the one constantly informs the other (Ramm, 11). The line between exegesis and exposition, never a clear one, has also faded with the recognition that meaning is shaped by the reader's presuppositions and interests.

Modern theory of written communication involves an author who creates (encodes) a text and a reader who interprets (decodes) a text. Therefore, "the process of discovering the `meaning' of a written utterance has three foci: the author, the text and the reader" (Osborne, 366). A satisfactory model for exegesis should take account of the "trialogue" among the biblical author, the scriptural text, and the contemporary reader. Exegesis in this model (fig. 2) attempts to maintain an author-text orientation with a formal integration of text-reader concerns (for a careful analysis of the issues see Osborne, 366-415, and relevant chapters in parts 2 and 3 below). On the one hand, a reader's tendency to create biased and fanciful meanings is under the restraint of historical investigation; on the other, a dry-as-dust historical account, however tediously factual, is under the constraint of theological relevance. We are suggesting that the aims of exegesis must be balanced so that both the past and the present get a proper hearing.

The aims we are proposing may be construed in terms of three interpretive stances with regard to the biblical text:

1. Behind-the-Text Aim. Exegesis has and should approach the biblical text as a window to see into the world of the author. Questions that go behind the text typically probe the circumstances of a writing, such as its date, sources, and terminology: When did the Exodus occur? How were the Synoptic Gospels composed? What did the term righteousness mean in the Old Testament? In the New Testament? The required studies are diachronic ("through time"), moving through the text to a point of time in the past; the results are historical in nature. Historical-critical methods were fashioned to achieve this goal, and when freed from the tyranny of Enlightenment skepticism ("the historical-critical method"), they still offer the best promise of finding the world and intention of the author (cf. Maier, 376-79, 386-93).

2. Within-the-Text Aim. The literary world of the text itself is a second focal point for exegesis. While still dependent on historical data, the textual aim is primarily literary-critical, giving attention to prominent words, markers, and structures that convey meaning. How does the narrative of Genesis 1-11 set the themes for the rest of the book? Do certain aspects of poetic parallelism in the Psalms signal different meanings? What about the allegorical details of some Gospel parables? Why are they significant? Such within-the-text explorations are synchronic ("together in time"), studying the side-by-side literary features of the text in comparative and contrastive fashion. This generation's fervor for literary criticism has the salutary effect of requiring an exegesis that reads the Bible in a holistic, integrative manner. The word splintering and historicism that often passed for exegesis have long needed the enrichment of literary topics such as genre, style, narrative, plot, semantics, discourse, and rhetoric.


Excerpted from BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS by BRUCE CORLEY STEVE W. LEMKE GRANT I. LOVEJOY Copyright © 2002 by Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, Grant Lovejoy
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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