Lecture Notes
2.1 Exegesis and Hermeneutics
Religion 314 (NT Theology) and Religion 311 (Synoptic Gospels)
last revised: 9/4/03

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Sources to
The Nature of a 
Scripture Text
New Testament 
in Summary
The Hermeneutical 

Sources to Consult:
Vanhoozer, K. J. "Exegesis and Hermeneutics."  New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity & Diversity of Scripture. Edited by Alexander, T. Desmond, Rosner, Brian S., Carson, D.A, Goldsworthy, Graeme, 52-64. Downers Grove, Il: Inter-Varsity, Press, 2000.

"Biblical Exegesis." Catholic Encyclopedia online, URL: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05692b.htm

"Hermeneutics." Catholic Encyclopedia online, URL: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07271a.htm

2.1.1 Definitions
        Before understanding of the task of interpreting scripture can proceed, some parameters of definitional meaning of commonly used terms is necessary. Most common are the terms exegesis and hermeneutics. Other related terms include exposition, interpretation, application etc. Some sorting out of what these terms have been understood to mean, as well as establishing a working definition of them for a given situation, becomes very important.
        Almost at the outset, the student encounters a bewildering maze of different understandings, overlapping understandings, vague almost incomprehensible understandings etc. As I have worked in this specialized field at the PhD seminar level of teaching since the early 1980s, I have been astounded often at how elusive a common understanding of what is meant by the above terms has been.
        This unit of study is not going to solve this problem. But we will explore the situation largely to determine some working definitions of at least these two most pivotal terms -- exegesis and hermeneutics -- that can serve as a basis for communication in this course. Exegesis
First we will get a series of definitions out on the table for examination in order to begin formulating an understanding.

Meriam-Webster online:
      Pronunciation: "ek-s&-'jE-s&s, 'ek-s&-"
        Function: noun
        Inflected Form(s): plural ex·e·ge·ses  /-'jE-(")sEz/
        Etymology: New Latin, from Greek exEgEsis, from exEgeisthai to explain, interpret, from ex- + hEgeisthai to lead -- more at SEEK
        Date: 1619
        EXPOSITION, EXPLANATION; especially : an explanation or critical interpretation of a text

        "The critical explanation or interpretation of a biblical text. The term etymologically related to the Greek word meaning 'to guide' or 'lead out.' The history of the exegesis of the Bible can be traced to the Bible itself. In particular, the case can be made that at least some of the editing of the Bible began the process of exegesis. Some scholars claim that the Psalm titles are among the earliest forms of exegesis. Further evidence for this early process are texts like deuteronomy and Chronicles, both of which appear to reinterpret and re-present material that we know from other parts of the Bible. In addition, versions of the Bible in other languages, and much in the Pseudepigrapha, can be understood as exegetical. Moreover, the history of exegesis continued in early rabbinic Judaism and early Christian sources, and onward into the medieval literature of each religious tradition.
        "Modern, so called 'critical,' exegesis began with the realization that the Bible could be understood as a product of its historical period as well as a guide to religious life. As a result, modern exegesis tends to have as its goal the pursuit of the objective realia that lie behind the text. The 20th century has seen the relativization of many of the modern critical assumptions about exegesis, with the result that exegesis now comprises an extremely wide range of approaches to reading the Bible, many of which share little other than the object of their inquiry."

Larry L. Lyke, "Exegesis," Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible, edited by David Noel Freedman
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 438-439.

        "Exegesis is the branch of theology which investigates and expresses the true sense of Sacred Scripture.
        "The exegete does not inquire which books constitute Sacred Scripture, nor does he investigate their genuine text, nor, again, does he study their double authorship. He accepts the books which, according to the concurrent testimony of history and ecclesiastical authority, belong to the Canon of Sacred Scripture. Obedient to the decree of the Council of Trent, he regards the Vulgate as the authentic Latin version, without neglecting the results of sober textual criticism, based on the readings found in the other versions approved by Christian antiquity, in the Scriptural citations of the Fathers, and in the more ancient manuscripts. With regard to the authorship of the Sacred Books, too, the exegete follows the authoritative teaching of the Church and the prevalent opinions of her theologians on the question of Biblical inspiration. Not that these three questions concerning the Canon, the genuine text, and the inspiration of Sacred Scriptures exert no influence on Biblical exegesis: unless a book forms part of the Canon, it will not be the subject of exegesis at all; only the best supported readings of its text will be made the basis of its theological explanation; and the doctrine of inspiration with its logical corollaries will be found to have a constant bearing on the results of exegesis."

"Biblical Exegesis." Catholic Encyclopedia online,
URL: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05692b.htm

        "The term is a transliteration of a Greek noun, exêgêsis, namely the process of bringing out. The Greek verb that dominate the word-constellation to which exegesis belongs means to direct, to expound, to interpret. Hence exegesis is the process of bringing out the meaning of a text; the work of textual interpretation. Exegesis is generally understood to designate the praxis of the interpretation of texts. Thus it is usually differentiated from hermeneutics, frequently taken to refer to the theory of the interpretation of text, although in times past it was most often understood as a term which designated the general rules of interpretation as, for instance, those of the school of Hillel. Exegesis is also to be distinguished from eisegesis, the process of bringing in, commonly employed to designate the tendency to read meaning into a text rather than deriving meaning from a text itself."

Raymond F. Collins, "Exegesis," The Westminister Dictionary of Christian Theology,
edited by Alan Richardson and John Bowden (Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1983), 197.

      "Exegesis means interpretation and as we apply the term to the books of the New Testament we may begin with a provisional definition of the task. To practice exegesis in regard to the New Testament literature is to enquire what was the meaning intended by the original authors. The process is one of uncovering that meaning, and the technique is known as heuristics, i.e. the study which explains how to discover the sense of a passage of Scripture. This is to be the interpreter's primary aim, requiring that his approach to Scripture be one of honest enquiry and a determined effort to find out the intended meaning of the author for his day."

Ralph P. Martin, "Approaches to New Testament Exegesis," New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods,
edited by I. Howard Marshall (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 220.

        "'Exegesis', 'exposition', and other words in this field are used in various ways. In this chapter, however, 'exegesis' refers to elucidating a verse or passage's historical meaning in itself, 'exposition' to perceiving its significance for today. 'Interpretation' and 'hermeneutics' cover both these major aspects of the task of understanding the Bible.
        "All four words are sometimes used synonymously, however. In part this reflects the fact that these two major aspects of interpretation have often not been sharply distinguished. The 'classic' evangelical treatments of Stibbs or Berkhof simply assume that if you can understand a passage's 'meaning', the question of its 'significance' will look after itself. Consequently, all that is required of the preacher is 'to say again what St. Paul has already said'. His message to us will then be self-evident. There is of course a realization that a literal application of a text will sometimes be illegitimate. On the one hand, social and cultural changes make anxiety about women's hats unnecessary today and out job in expounding 1 Corinthians 11 is not to dictate fashion to contemporary ladies but to see what principles underlie Paul's specific injunctions there. On the other hand, the change in theological era effected by Christ's coming complicates the application of the Old Testament to God's New Testament people. With such provisos, however, the application to today of the Bible's eternal message has not seemed difficult.
        "Earlier chapters of this book have show how modern study of the Bible has raised major problems for this approach, and 'the strange silence of the Bible in the church' witnesses to it. The development of critical methods, even when most positive in its conclusions, has made interpreting the New Testament much more complicated. What if 'John (has) written up  the story (of Jesus and the Samaritan woman) in the manner he thought appropriate' which is thus 'substantially the story of something that actually happened' -- but not entirely so"? What about tradition- and redaction-criticism which, far from revealing 'the historical Jesus', might seem to remove any possibility of knowing what his actual words were, let alone of saying them again? And, while the study of the New Testament's religious background may not seem threatening in the same way, to be told that to try to understand a particular passage 'without a copy of the Book of Enoch at your elbow is to condemn yourself to failure' may be daunting.
        "Nor can we still assume that when the exegetical problems are solved, the application will look after itself. Modern study has striven to read the Bible in its historical context as a document (or an anthology) from a culture quite different from outs which thus speaks to quite different circumstances. The situation of the church, the customs of society, the very nature of life were unique (as those of every culture are unique -- they are not even uniform within the Bible itself). But the Bible's message relates to the particulars of that situation. There is thus a 'hermeneutical gap' not only between the event and the account of it in the Bible, but also between the Bible and us, because of the chasm between its situation and ours; a gap which yawns widest when the Bible speaks of the supernatural realities which are the very heart of its concern but which are missing from 'modern man's' world-view -- hence the pressure to 'demythologize' them. Thus elucidating God's message to Timothy does not establish what is his word to us, to whom he might actually have something very different to say. Indeed, 'simply to repeat the actual words of the New Testament today may well be, in effect, to say something different from what the text itself originally said', and to contribute further to the 'death of the Word'. Our task is to stand first in the Bible's world, hearing its message in its terms, then in the world of those to whom we have to speak -- as we see Jesus doing in the parables -- if we are to relate the two.
        "Paradoxically, however, we can in fact only rightly hear the Bible's message as we do bridge the gap between its world and ours. Appreciating its meaning in its own day, even 'objectively', cannot be a cool, 'academic' (in the pejorative sense) exercise. We may only be able to do so in the act of working out and preaching the equivalent (which may well not mean the identical) message today. Thus exegesis and exposition are interwoven after all, and sometimes the exegete cannot resist nudging the preacher, while the preacher finds himself having to come back with additional questions about exegesis."

John Goldingay, "Expounding the New Testament," New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods,
edited by I. Howard Marshall (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 351-352.

        As can be clearly detected from the above, a wide range of definitions of exegesis exist, although they all have in common the idea of making sense out of a written text.
        Playing off the original meaning of the Greek term ejxhvghsi" (ejk + hJgevomai = I lead out), the concept was to bring out the meaning of something. The verb is used in the New Testament at
        Luke 24:35 ("Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread" [NRSV; kai; aujtoi; ejxhgou'nto ta; ejn th/' oJdw'/ kai; wJ" ejgnwvsqh aujtoi'" ejn th'/ klavsei tou' a[rtou] );
        Acts 10:8 ("and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa" [NRSV; kai; ejxhghsavmeno" a&panta aujtoi'" ajpevsteilen aujtou;" eij" th;n  jIovpphn] );
        Acts 21:19 ("After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry" [NRSV; kai; ajspasavmeno" aujtou;" ejxhgei'to kaq j e&n e&kaston, w|n ejpoivhsen oJ qeo;" ejn toi'" e[qnesin dia; th'" diakoniva" aujtou'] );
        Acts 15:12 ("The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles" [NRSV;  jEsivghsen de; pa'n to; plh'qo" kai; h[kouon Barnaba' kai; Pauvlou ejxhgoumevnwn o&sa ejpoivhsen oJ qeo;" shmei'a kai; tevrata ejn toi'" e[qnesin di j aujtw'n] );
        Acts 15:14 ("Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name" [NRSV; Sumew;n ejxhghvsato kaqw;" prw'ton oJ qeo;" ejpeskevyato labei'n ejx ejqnw'n lao;n tw/' ojnovmati aujtou'] );
        John 1:18 ("No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known [NRSV; qeo;n eujdei;" eJwvraken pwvpote, monogenh;" qeo;" oJ w[n eij" to;n kovlpon tou' patro;" ejkei'no" ejxhghvsato] ).
        Just a cursory reading of these uses of the verb in the NT suggests the central idea of ejxhgevomai is to explain the details of things that have happened. The emphasis on these verses in Luke-Acts especially is the narrating of an event with emphasis on divine actions in an extraordinary manner. A slightly different use is seen in the prologue of the fourth Gospel where the Logos has 'exegeted' the Father to the believing community through his words and deeds.
        The noun ejxhvghsi" is not used in the New Testament. But in the apostolic fathers it is used with the sense of either (1) narrative, description (1 Clement 50:1 ["See, beloved, how great and wonderful is love, and that of its perfection there is no expression" LCL ] ) or (2) explanation, interpretation (Shepherd of Hermas, Visions 3.7.4 ["So she ended the explanation of the tower" LCL] ).
        The personal noun ejxhghthv" (exegete), which is never used in early Christian writings, has an interesting background in the Greco-Roman society. According to the Oxford Classical Dictionary [S.v., EXEGETES] this person was "an interpreter or expounder, usually of sacred lore. Herodotus (1. 78. 2) gives this title to the college of diviners at the Telmessian oracle in Lycia. The Athenians traditionally considered Apollo Pythius their exegetes. From c. 400 B.C., if not earlier, Athens had official exegetai, expounders of the patria, the sacred and ancestral laws. The evidence about their numbers and functions is unclear and disputed. There were (1) at least one exegetes chosen by the Demos from the Eupatridae; (2) at least one exegetes chosen by the Pythia, called exegetes Pythochrestos; (3) at least two exegetai of the Eumolpidae, who expounded Eleusinian sacra. The Athenian exegetai were generally concerned with the unwritten sacred law, but they often pronounced on secular and domestic questions (e.g., duties and obligations) untouched by statutes and of possible religious implications. Other cities too had exegetai, official or unofficial."
        When Greek and Roman influences began transforming primitive Christianity beginning in the second century C.E., this idea of the ejxhghthv" (exegete) who interpreted the words and actions of deity fit naturally with the Jewish and early Christian concept of  didavskalo" (teacher). Gradually emerging out of this were the teachers whom we now refer to as the Church Fathers. The Latin patros (father) was a natural expression since teacher and student were often understood to be in a father/son role. Clement of Alexander (Stromata 1,1,2-2,1) phrased it as "Words are the progeny of the soul. Hence we call those that instructed us fathers...and every one who instructed in in respect of subjection the son of his instructor" (as quoted by Johannes Quasten, Patrology, 1:9). Early on the office of bishop was a teaching office over against that of the priest who administered the sacraments to the congregation, but not all of the church fathers were bishops, especially after the doctrinal controversies of the fourth century. "The use of the term 'Father' became more comprehensive; it was now extended to ecclesiastical writers in so far as they were accepted as representatives of the tradition of the Church" (Quasten, 1:9). The first list of officially approved ecclesiastical writers or Fathers occurs in the sixth century (Decretum Gelasianum de recipiendis et non recipiendis libris). Four foundational qualifications are necessary for an ancient Christian teacher to be viewed as a church father in Roman Catholic tradition: doctrina orthodoxa (orthodoxy of doctrine), sanctitas vitae (holiness of life), approbatio ecclesiae (ecclesiastical approval) and have lived in antiquity. Another title, Doctor of the Church, precludes the fourth qualification above, but also adds two additional ones: eminens eruditio and expressa ecclesiae declaratio. The significance of this for our study relates to the fact that these individuals were charged with the responsibility of interpreting the scriptures in light of the regula fidei (rule of faith) to the church. They were the officially established exegetes of scripture and tradition for orthodox Christian belief. Where concensus of interpretation of scripture existed (unanimis consensus patrum), their interpretation was regarded as infallible (Quasten, 1:11). Many of these Church Fathers, who were not bishops, lived and worked in the monasteries.
        The emergence of the university in the middle ages continued this role of the officially established teacher of church dogma but extended it to the professor working in a university under the strict control of the Church. This pattern continued with the Protestant Reformation in which either new universities were established or the older Roman Catholic controlled universities were switched over to Protestant control. Thus with Gabler and later with Wrede, the insistence that the religion professor in the university be given freedom to study the Bible completely free from ecclesiastical inteference (the beginnings of the idea of academic freedom) was radical indeed and represented a serious break with the past. But the Enlightenment created an atmosphere where the idea gained acceptance.
        Thus the role of authoritative teacher (exegete) of scripture has taken diverse directions with the emergence of denominationalism in Christianity during the past two centuries. Usually, the religion professor in the church related university or seminary, often called a theologian if his/her writings and views have gained notoriety, is still regarded as a major source of accepted interpretation of scripture. The nature and level of this influence upon church dogma depends upon the individual denominational tradition. Typically, the level of influence is higher in the more ecclesiatical Protestant denominations as well as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. In the free church movement with its roots in European Pietism and in the American sphere where revivalism has also had great impact, the level of influence by the professor-exegete upon church belief is more ambivalent. In both situations, high level tension occasionally erupts over the level of official church control over the work of the professor-exegete.

        From this background of the use of the word both in its Greek origin as well as in modern religious studies the task now is to form a definitional understanding of the English word 'exegesis.' This understanding needs to take into consideration a range of presuppositions and then clearly define the parameters of what is intended by the term. To be sure, this will be a working definition, but one that will be adopted for use in this class, so that when the term is used we will understand what is being meant.

Questions for Discussion in light of the above:
1. What presuppositions seem to be behind each of the above definitions of 'exegesis'?
2. Write out your 'working definition' of exegesis, carefully noting its distinction from other terms such as hermeneutics, exposition, interpretation. Hermeneutics

      Main Entry: her·me·neu·tics
      Pronunciation: -tiks
      Function: noun plural but singular or plural in construction
      Date: 1737
      : the study of the methodological principles of interpretation (as of the Bible)

        "Derived from a Greek word connected with the name of the god Hermes, the reputed messenger and interpreter of the gods. It would be wrong to infer from this that the word denotes the interpretation or exegesis of Sacred Scripture. Usage has restricted the meaning of hermeneutics to the science of Biblical exegesis, that is, to the collection of rules which govern the right interpretation of Sacred Scripture. Exegesis is therefore related to hermeneutics, as language is to grammar, or as reasoning is to logic. Men spoke and reasoned before there was any grammar or logic; but it is very difficult to speak correctly and reason rightly at all times and under any circumstances without a knowledge of grammar and logic. In the same way our early Christian writers explained Sacred Scripture -- as it is interpreted in particular cases even in out days by students of extraordinary talent -- without relying on any formal principles of hermeneutics, but such explanations, if correct, will always be in accordance with the canons of our present-day science of exegesis."

"Hermeneutics." Catholic Encyclopedia online, URL: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07271a.htm

        "Although contemporary usage of the term varies, 'hermeneutics' generally means the theory of the interpretation of texts. Hermeneutics is thus the science of the interpretative process which begins with determination of the original meaning of a text (exegesis) and leads to elucidation of its sense for modern readers (exposition, paraphrase or sermon). Because of the nature of the problems involved, hermeneutics has from classical times involved philosophical inquiry, in addition to calling upon lexical, linguistic, literary, and other disciplines.
        "The origins of the word lie in the Greek hermeneuein, 'to interpret' (cf. hermeneia, 'interpretation', hermeneus, 'an interpreter', and other cognates). The root is apparently derived from (or conceivably reflected in) the divine name Hermes, the messenger of the gods who makes intelligible to human beings that which otherwise cannot be grasped. The Greeks associated Hermes with the discovery of language and writing, the indispensable tools of understanding. The verb is common in classical literature in such senses as 'to express aloud', 'to explain', or 'to translate', and often appears in contexts which stress the responsibility of human beings rightly to interpret ancient writings thought to contain messages from the gods. The importance of the notion for philosophical reflection can be seen in Aristotle's treatise, Peri hermeneias, 'On Interpretation', a work which remains of fundamental importance for some phases of contemporary discussion. If the meaning of the word be derived from the classical usage of its root, hermeneutics is the art and science of elucidation of the meaning of texts or oracles: especially ancient messages held to contain divine truth.
        "These general notions comported well with late Jewish and early Christian understandings of the interpretation of sacred scripture. In the NT we find hermeneuein and its cognates used in reference to the translation of unusual or specially significant terms and proper names (John 1.38, 42; 9.7; Heb. 7.2) and to the interpretation of 'tongues' (I Cor. 12.10; 14.26-28). Paul, at Lystra, is called 'Hermes' because he is the chief speaker (Acts 14.12). But by far the most significant instance theologically is to be found at Luke 24.27, where we read of the risen Christ at Emmaus that '...beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted (diermeneusen) to them in all the scriptures the things concerning hmself'.
        "Prior to the Enlightenment (and, in conservative circles, afterwards as well) the Western church understood the interpretation of scripture as a matter of following rules which would yield a correct sense. For the most part the different schools of interpretation and the different modes developed with the schools (e.g., the literal, allegorical, analogical and anagogical methods recommended in the Middle Ages,, see Senses of Scripture) appear to us today innocent of much sense of historical relativity either of the texts interpreted or of the presuppositions of the interpreters (see Historical Criticism, History). Soon after 1800, the situation for theologians in touch with the larger intellectual world began to change. The early development of historical-critical method as well as the beginning of scientific historiography raised the question whether the interpretation of human signs, as inscribed in the texts of other cultures and other times, could be the subject-matter of a 'science' analogous to that involved in the study of nature."

Lewis S. Mudge, "Hermeneutics," The Westminister Dictionary of Christian Theology,
edited by Alan Richardson and John Bowden. (Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1983), 250-251.

Questions for Discussion in light of the above:
1. What presuppositions seem to be behind each of the above definitions of 'hermeneutics'?
2. Write out your 'working definition' of hermeneutics, carefully noting its distinction from other terms such as exegesis, exposition, interpretation.

2.1.2 Presuppositions

        Every attempt to interpret scripture builds off presuppositions, and then develops into a set of guidelines to be applied in the interpretative process. Here we must explore two issues: the inherent nature of a written text and an emerging interpretative procedure taking into consideration this inherent nature of a written text. The Nature of a Scripture Text

        Elsewhere I've explored the essential nature of a written text around its two fundamental aspects: (1) Historical and (2) Literary. See Religion 102 Lecture Notes, topic 3.1 for details. This material will serve as a starting point for our discussion:
        Every written text possesses both historical and literary aspects, whether composed today or two thousand years ago. Any interpretative approach that can be considered legitimate must respect these aspects and seek to devise methods that take both into account. In the history of biblical interpretation, appreciation of this nature of written texts did not emerge seriously until the Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation. Gradually, over the past four hundred years biblical scholars have come to recognize that they could profit immeasurably by learning from their colleagues working in the fields of history and literature. In western Christianity this appreciation has blossomed in the last half of the twentieth century.
        Every student of the Bible must then become sensitive to these aspects of the biblical text. To be sure, interpretative skills in utilizing the insights of historical and literary methods will vary greatly from the beginner to the seasoned scholar. But, the essential method of interpretation remains the same at what ever skill level the Bible student is working. The objective here is to introduce the beginning to these aspects so that he/she can begin learning how to incorporate them into a program of reading and studying the scripture.
        These aspects can be charted as follows:

Historical Aspects: Literary Aspects:
1. External Aspects 1. External Aspects
2. Internal Aspects 2 Internal Aspects

        Every interpretative method that can claim legitimacy must take into consideration these aspects. To be sure individual methods will emphasize one or more of the above aspects, but any comprehensive method cannot ignore these essential aspects of the text. To do so is to fail to consider the full nature of a scripture passage and to then risk using a lopsided method of interpretation that is blind to important things the text is attempting to say to the reader. New Testament Interpretation in Summary
Sources to Consult:
Lorin L. Cranford, "Modern New Testament Interpretation," Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scripture, 2nd ed., edited by Bruce Corley, Steve W. Lemke, and Grant I. Lovejoy. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 2002), 147-162.

        Modern interpretation of the New Testament has evolved around either (1) the historical aspects of the written text (mostly through the middle of the twentieth century) or (2) around the literary aspects of the written text (mostly in the US in the second half of the twentieth century), or (3) around a blending of the historical and literary aspects (beginning with last decades of the twentieth century). Of course, these are not absolutely pure characterizations. Literary concerns were present prior to the middle of the twentieth century, and historical concerns still are important in many approaches at the end of the twentieth century. It is fair, however, to say that historical concerns are still the dominant concern among European and British scholars, while American scholars have been much more open to the literary aspects, especially since the rise of New Literary Criticism in the post-war era in American literary circles. The older literary concerns present in Source Criticism (originally called Literar Kritik in German) and Form Criticism are focused, however, on historical interests ultimately, as is reflected in the prior German title for Form Criticism, Formgeschichte (history of forms).
        The chart below attempts to outline this pattern in exegetical methods that have developed over the past three centuries:

of the Text
of the Text
Historical Criticism
Source Criticism
Social Scientific Exegesis
Form Criticism
Redaction Criticism
Literary Criticism
Narrative Criticism
Reader-Response Criticism
Rhetorical Criticism Historical Methods:
        Beginning with the emergence of historical criticism in the early modern period among European biblical scholars, the study of the Bible from the seventeenth century on has devoted enormous amounts of time and effort into trying to understanding the history of the world in which the New Testament texts were composed. This has had two areas of focus: (1) the external history of a scripture text, that is the compositional history of that text; and (2) the internal history of a scripture text, that is, the allusion to movement through time and space contained inside a pericope of scripture text. Important to note is the fact that most of these methods were developed first either with non-religious literature and/or with the study of the Old Testament. Gradually, the concepts and methods were brought over into the study of the New Testament with needed modifications and adaptations.
        Historical Criticism was the first to emerge in the modern era. Closely connected to it was the probing of the sources used in the composition of scripture texts, especially of the synoptic gospels, thus providing the dynamic for the development of Source Criticism. At the beginning of the twentieth century the study of literary genre and how those forms worked during the oral transmission of the Jesus tradition led to the development of Form Criticism. By the middle of the twentieth century, the shift took place from analysis of individual forms in isolation from the written texts to an emphasis on how the writers of the NT, especially the gospel writers, stitched together their sources in order to tell a story of Jesus. Recognition of the religious interests of these writers took place and Redaction Criticism emerged as a holistic approach to a NT document in order to understand the theological viewpoint of each writer.
        Growing out of the old comparative religions approach (die religionsgeschichliche Schule) an interest in the social history of primitive Christianity has flourished, again in the late twentieth century. The difference of this revival of interest in social history from the earlier Chicago School, using comparative religions and archaeology, is the implementation of modern sociologically derived models for analyzing human interaction in groups. Thus the Social Scientific Exegesis came into the forefront. This approach, first called Sociological Exegesis, has attempted to devise ancient, culturally sensitive models for analyzing human group interaction in ancient written texts based on modern insights derived from anthropology. Literary Methods:
        In American society the study of contemporary literature began to change in the 1930s with the emergence of the New Literary Criticism. Emphasis began to focus on the reader of literature and the various factors that influence the comprehension of what is being read, thus creating a wide variety of understandings of the text. By the middle of the last century these trends began finding their way into biblical studies.
        Gradually the literary aspects of the written text received more attention. The initial texts to be treated were the narrative texts in the gospels and Acts, along with the isolated narratives in the epistolary section of the New Testament. Especially with the emergence of Reader-Response Criticism and Narrative Criticism in the 1980s the emphasis centered on the horizon of the reader and how the text generates comprehension of meaning. In these two approaches, the act of reading is highlighted from the vantage point of four levels of dynamic in the text:

The Narrator(s) 
outside the text 
who composed
the text
Scripture Text
The Narrator
inside the text 
who tells the story 
providing a narrative 
The Reader(s)
inside the text 
who hear and interact 
with the inside narrator
The Reader(s) 
outside the text 
who comprehend meaning 
from the text

Narrative Criticism retains more concern for the historical element, especially in identifying authorial intent from both narrators as a reading control on perceived meaning. Reader-Response Criticism stresses more the Readers of the text with the inside Reader being key to providing clues to the external Reader trying to make sense of the text. One common premise growing out of modern Literary Criticism is that once a text is produced in written form it takes on a life of its own, quite independent of the author's. Authorial intention becomes much less significant than with the historical approaches to interpretation. The written text itself is capable of generating meanings that go beyond those of the outside Narrator responsible for the initial composition. These meanings are generated through interaction of the text with the Readers, primarily the outside Reader. The quality of these meanings is conditioned by how well the text is read, that is, the implementation of specific reading principles developed by literary critical technique.
        Another direction literary studies have taken is seen in the emergence of Rhetorical Criticism and a closely related discipline usually labeled Discourse Analysis. The emphasis here is upon the implementation of principles of ancient Greco-Roman rhetoric in the writing strategies of the New Testament writers. Most of this attention has focused on the letters of Paul. The Hermeneia Commentary volume on Galatians by Hans Dieter Betz in the 1970s opened the door for this approach to gain popularity especially among American scholars. George Kennedy at UNC Chapel Hill has been a pioneer of this approach in the second half of the twentieth century. Techniques of discourse analysis have been developed mostly by scholars related to the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Texas, which is connected to the Wycliff Bible Translators group.

        The trend at the beginning of the twenty-first century is toward the blending of both the historical and the literary aspects. Numerous publications and paper presentations in professional society meetings of New Testament scholars will be labeled a Socio-Rhetorical study of ______.  Increasingly biblical scholarship is coming to the consensus that the issues of interpretative method are not an either-or choice between the historical and the literary. Rather, the better approach is a both-and approach that blends relevant aspects of both into a method that produces a better reading of scripture text. The Hermeneutical Circle:

        The dynamics setting the stage for the often times tension between a historical method and a literary method were put in place in the early 1800s by Frederich Schleiermacher in his views of hermeneutics.

        "Hegel's colleague in Berlin, Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher, lectured on hermeneutics, elevating that topic to renewed theological importance. He held that an interpreter must enter into the subjectivity of the author, not only through grammatical study of the text but through an act of intuition or divination -- in order to understand the biblical authors better than they understood themselves. Here pietism has its echo.
        "Schleiermacher's influence on biblical interpretation was mediated by Wilhelm Dilthey, who viewed texts as expressions of life fixed in writing. This view as joined with Martin Heidegger's hermeneutic phenomenology in Rudolf Bultmann's program of 'demythologizing' the NT. Bultmann wanted to understand the mythological expressions of the NT's theology in order again to hear the kerygma or proclamation about Jesus (and decisively the cross) as the advent of God's reign, which calls for faith -- for a decision, yes or no. Faith is Bultmann's analogue to Heidegger's 'authentic existence.' More importantly for Bultmann, he considered his radical historical criticism and demythologizing to be consistent with Luther's (and, he believed, Paul's) doctrine of justification by faith alone.
        "Bultmann's work, which took shape between the two world wars, began in conversation with Karl Barth, whose Romans commentary (1918) marked a radical departure from the prevailing historical-critical interpretation of the Bible. Biblical scholarship in the 19th and early 20th centuries had been invigorated by the availability of materials from Palestine and the ancient world generally, and refinements in historical and literary analysis (form criticism, tradition history). These helped to fuel interest in the history of religion, and especially in the development of the 'Israelite' and early Christian religions, each in their respective and quite different contexts. In Barth's judgment, this historicism and the liberal theology it comported with failed to engage the subject, God, and subject matter (Sache) of the biblical text. Bultmann accused Barth of failing critically to assess the text and its expressions in terms of its subject matter. . . .
        "Another of Bultmann's students, Hans-Georg Gadamer, returned to the project of a universal hermeneutics or theory of understanding that Schleiermacher initiated. However, Gadamer moved, through Heidegger, beyond Schleiermacher's subjectivism and considered understanding to be an event in which the horizon of the text and that of the interpreter are 'fused.' This event thus occurs within a tradition, as part of the effective history of the text. Appealing in part to theological hermeneutics, Gadamer rehabilitated such concepts as tradition, authority, and prejudice (pre-judgment). While Gadamer did not employ these concepts naively, Jürgen Habermas criticized him for attending insufficiently to the distorting effects of tradition, which covers over varieties of injustice; Habermas proposed a counterfactual ideal-speech situation as a critical principle. Paul Ricoeur has drawn on the German tradition of philosophical and theological hermeneutics, but also on French work in structuralism and semiotics. His theory of interpretation includes a necessary step of distanciation or explanation in moving from a first to a second naiveté -- the appropriation of the world projected by the text.
        "These developments in hermeneutics have helped biblical scholars to consider the role and character, and the aims, of their historical-critical approaches, and to pursue alternatives. In recent years, various kinds of narrative approaches have appeared, influenced both by the study of literature and theory in fields outside biblical studies and by theological concerns. Simultaneously, archaeological research and the availability of new materials -- especially the Ugaritic texts, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi texts -- have again invigorated historical studies. These now routinely include theories and methods drawn from the human sciences, especially anthropology and sociology."

Ben C. Ollenburger, "Interpretation, Biblical," Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible, edited by David Noel Freedman
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 643-645.
        "In pursuit of the meaning of any expression or text -- a poem, narrative, parable, etc. -- we must begin with sufficient prior understanding of what the text is about in order to enter into a dialogue with it in which our understanding is subsequently enlarged. We put questions to the text which are, in turn, reshaped by the text itself. This process has come to be called the 'hermeneutical circle'. The term is also used of the related process by which we interpret parts of a text on the basis of a grasp of the whole work while our grasp of the whole requires that we have at least some understanding of the parts. In theological usage the 'circle' appears in the dialectic of faith and understanding. To understand, it is necessary to have faith; to have faith, it is necessary to understand. Differing forms and applications of the notion of the circle appear in the works of Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer and others.
        "The prior understanding with which we enter the circle may take many forms. It may consist simply in our being at home in the language in which the text is written. Or it may lie in a certain existential experience or disposition. Or it may be the knowledge of a certain history of events, or certain cultural and literary tradition, which the text at hand presupposes: e.g. the NT presupposes the Israelite and Jewish tradition, which we need to understand to grasp the basic NT terminology.
        "It is sometimes claimed that acknowledgment of the function of prior understanding and of the resulting dialogue between interpreter and text 'enforces an anthropocentric perspective on all interpretation because it makes human experience the measure of truth' (A. C. Thiselton, The Two Horizons, 1980, p. 197). Yet Gadamer stresses that the text must 'break the spell' of the presupposition which have given us a point of entry into its meaning. The subject-matter of the text effects the correction, revision, even the effacement, of our preliminary understanding. Acknowledgment of the circle is thus compatible with acknowledgment of the priority of the message. 'To understand the text, it is necessary to believe in what the text announces to me; but what the text announces to me is given nowhere but in the text' (Paul Ricoeur)."
Lewis S. Mudge, "Hermeneutical Circle," The Westminister Dictionary of Christian Theology,
edited by Alan Richardson and John Bowden. (Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1983), 249-250.
        All of this emphasizes several dynamics involved in the interpretative process, that is, the reading of sacred texts. For one thing, none of us ever comes to a scripture text with a 'clean slate'. We have pre-understandings of the text every time we open the Bible to read a text. These vary with individual readers, and they vary at different times with the individual reader. The early assumption that the interpreter through historical methods could achieve an objective neutrality as he stood over the text in the quest for its historical meaning has been proven far too optimistic. Also dispelled by Schleiermacher and others is that the goal of a religiously neutral approach to the text is the ideal scholarly approach. The composition of the sacred texts were for the explicit purpose of involving the reader in an interaction of understanding that was to produce religious faith. Gradually, recognition of this began to take shape among biblical scholars. His pietism and debt to Schleiermacher led Adolf von Schlatter early on to insist that scholarly inquiry into the sacred texts must be ultimately couched in a faith commitment to Jesus as Lord. Rudolf Bultmann also sought to engage the text in the setting of a decisive faith response to the living Lord, the Christ of faith. Others moved this direction as well in the early 1900s, most notably Karl Barth. In this, modern biblical scholarship built on the proposal of Gabler for a reine biblische Theologie, but achieved it in a more dynamical and less wooden manner than Gabler had envisioned. In many ways these twentieth century biblical scholars reached back past Gabler to the Reformers in order to develop strategies for interpreting the New Testament that involved not just mere historical understanding and description but also deep religious impact of the text on the modern reader.
        The realization of this interactive circle of encounter between text and reader opened the door for a better appreciation of the literary aspects of the text, which play an important role in facilitating this encounter. With significant advances in the fields of linguistics, epistemology, sociology, psychology etc. the understanding of this hermeneutical circle and its dynamics has increased as insights from these unrelated disciplines have been incorporated into strategies for interpreting the New Testament.
        One of the insights gleaned from this perspective of the hermeneutical circle is the powerful role our pre-understandings (or prejudices as Ricoeur called them) play in shaping what we uncover in the text. Thus it becomes important for us to be increasingly aware of and sensitive to these pre-understandings. Our cultural heritage, our religious heritage, our economic status at the moment, our language orientation, our knowledge of ancient history and culture, the current level of spiritual commitment -- all these and a thousand more constitute our pre-understandings. We will read the sacred text through the mental filter that these pre-understandings create. These comprise the 'world' that each of us brings to the text.
        But the text has its own world that it brings to the table of interactive reading as well. The task is to allow that world to challenge us and then the text to speak not only to our intellectual comprehension of its ideas, but to also speak to our faith in ways that pressure us to grow and develop spiritually. The moment of interactive reading then becomes the opportunity for the voice of God to flow through the texts into our lives with both an enlarged understanding and a deepened spiritual commitment.
        The issue of subjectivity quickly surfaces in such a discussion as this. Is this encounter with the sacred text such a personal issue that its impact pertains only to the individual reader? Is there the possibility of a group interaction with the above described impact where common enlarged understandings and spiritual commitment can take place? Also, is there the possibility of mistaken or inaccurate enlarged understandings of the text? Certainly, we can misinterpret the signals the text is sending. To use a phrase from modern literary circles, there are good readings and there are bad readings of texts. What role should a community of faith exercise over the individual in this determination? How does the Holy Spirit play a role here in the work of illumination of the believer? Finally, how do the exegetical methods used in the reading of the text help prevent misinterpretation of the signals being sent by the text?

Questions for Discussion in light of the above:
1.  Reflect on which of the methods of interpretation appeal to you and why.
2.  Begin defining a hermeneutics that incorporates insights from the above.
3.  Once more, reflect on the 'world' that you bring to the reading of the text.

Supplementary Bibliography

Collins, Raymond F. "Exegesis." The Westminister Dictionary of Christian Theology.  Edited by Alan Richardson and John Bowden, 197-201. Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1983.

Cranford, Lorin L. "Modern New Testament Interpretation." Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scripture. Second Edition, 147-162. Edited by Bruce Corley, Steve W. Lemke, and Grant I. Lovejoy. Nashville: Broadman Press, 2002.

Cranford, Lorin L. Exegeting the New Testament: vol 1, A Seminar Working Model, Revised Edition. Fort Worth: Scripta Publishing, Inc., 1991

Lyke, Larry L. "Exegesis." Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 438-439. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000.

Marshall, I. Howard, editor. New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.

Mudge, Lewis S. "Hermeneutics." The Westminister Dictionary of Christian Theology.  Edited by Alan Richardson and John Bowden, 250-253. Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1983.

Mudge, Lewis S. "Hermeneutical Circle." The Westminister Dictionary of Christian Theology.  Edited by Alan Richardson and John Bowden, 249-250. Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1983.

Ollenburger, Ben C. "Interpretation, Biblical." Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 641-645. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000.

Quasten, Johannes. Patrology. 4 volumes. Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, Inc., 1984-1986.

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