*Posted by Andrew Hebert. This piece originally appeared at www.lookslikereign.com.
Below is a book review of Invitation to Biblical Interpretation by Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Patterson which will be published in the Spring 2012 edition of the Midwestern Journal of Theology:
Invitation to Biblical Interpretation was written by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson. Köstenberger is Director of Ph.D. Studies and Senior Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Academic Editor for Broadman & Holman Publishers, and the author, editor, or translator for over twenty books, including John (Baker, 2004) in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Series, The Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Zondervan, 2009), and Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue (Crossway, 2011). Richard D. Patterson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Liberty University, where he formerly served as chairman of the Department of Biblical Studies and professor of Semitic Languages and Literatures, and has published several books, including Face to Face With God: Human Images of God in the Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2008). They wrote Invitation to Biblical Interpretation in order to present “a simple method for interpreting the Bible . . . built around the hermeneutical triad, which consists of history, literature, and theology” (p. 23).
The book actually presents a triad within a triad. The authors explain that a full-orbed interpretive process consists of preparation, interpretation, and application. While the lion’s share of the book discusses the “hermeneutical triad” of history, literature, and theology under the category of “Interpretation,” the authors devote the first and last chapters of the book to “Preparation” and “Application and Proclamation,” respectively. In the first chapter, the authors orient the reader to the interpretive process generally, covering introductory topics such as the importance of correct interpretation, character qualities of the biblical interpreter, and historical approaches to interpretation. In the last chapter, the authors explain the process of moving from exegesis to exposition, from Scripture to sermon, focusing a good portion of the chapter on principles of application. In addition to the major sections on preparation, interpretation, and application/proclamation, the authors include a useful appendix on building a personal biblical studies library.
The majority of the book is dedicated to exploring a triadic approach to the text, allowing readers to view the text in multiple dimensions by understanding its historical context, literary features, and theological significance. In part one, the interpreter is encouraged to situate the text within its historical-cultural context by using relevant archaeological and textual sources, such as Ancient Near Eastern literature, rabbinic literature, pseudepigrapha, early histories such as Philo and Josephus, and Greco-Roman sources. In part two, the interpreter learns the importance of understanding literary features of the text, telescopically zooming into the details of the text by approaching it first at a canonical level (so as not to “miss the forest for the trees”) then moving to issues of genre and language at the discourse level. In addition to noting important interpretive guidelines for each scriptural genre, the authors explain linguistic issues such as grammar, syntax, discourse analysis, and semantics. The authors also include a helpful discussion on common exegetical fallacies, as well as principles for interpreting figurative language. Part three of the book details how to discover the theological significance of the text. With a renewed interest in Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS), Köstenberger and Patterson make a unique contribution to the field by explaining how TIS works at an interpretive level.
Invitation to Biblical Interpretation has much to commend it. First, while the rubric of the triad is simple enough to be memorable, it has the necessary breadth and depth to cover each step in the interpretive process thoroughly. Beyond this, though the authors have treated the subject comprehensively, the material is accessible enough to be useful as an introductory or intermediate text in hermeneutics. It makes for convenient classroom use with study questions and assignments at the end of each chapter (and additional teaching materials such as PowerPoint slides on the publisher’s website). Second, the book includes some unique features such as the sections on canon, discourse analysis, and theological analysis that exceed the expectations of a typical hermeneutics textbook. Third, though Köstenberger and Patterson give readers the tools to approach the text with a serious exegetical methodology, they do not lose sight of the practical concerns of readers who are interpreting the Bible with an eye toward teaching and preaching. The last chapter provides practical advice on Bible teaching – including warnings against common mistakes made while moving from text to sermon through the various genres of Scripture.
Köstenberger and Patterson have left little to be desired with this text. Even so, criticism might be leveled in a couple of areas. First, it was surprising that there was not a substantive discussion on whether the meaning of the text is controlled by the author, text, or reader, a question considered foundational to the discipline by most scholars. Though they believe that “authorial intention is the locus of meaning” (p. 118), it would have been helpful to see a more thorough justification for this approach, especially in light of current postmodern hermeneutical methodologies which advocate reader-controlled meaning. Second, it could be argued that approaching the scriptural text at a canonical level in the early stages of the interpretive process – going from canon to book instead of book to canon – could do harm to the concerns of each individual book and author, causing the interpreter to read the message, language, or concerns of one biblical author onto another without giving proper treatment to each text individually. However, the authors have done a very adequate job of defending their approach, noting that a canonical approach is an appropriate response to the fact that separate texts are often bound together in various ways and it is helpful to interpret one text in light of another since they are all part of the over-arching storyline of Scripture (p. 151-162).
Criticism notwithstanding, Köstenberger and Patterson have done pastors, students, and professors a tremendous service in writing this book. Among other commendable works on hermeneutics, such as Grant Osborne’s The Hermeneutical Spiral, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by William W. Klein, Craig L Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., and Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. and Moisés Silva, this work should be prioritized as a gold-standard textbook for colleges and seminaries. It brings the most recent scholarship to the task of interpretation and presents the material in a cogent and cohesive manner. While the book is extensive enough for graduate-level students, it is still accessible for college students or pastors and laypeople with little theological training. If the reader is looking for a robust guidebook for competent exegesis from two expert practitioners, look no further.
Andrew C. Hebert
Criswell College, Dallas, TX