Introduction to Biblical Interpretation

By William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard
Dallas : Word (1993). xiii + 518 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Robert Thomas
5.2 (Fall 1994) : 219-222

Three professors at Denver Seminary have collaborated to produce this major work on biblical hermeneutics and interpretation. Klein and Blomberg serve in NT and Hubbard in OT. The book reflects a good sensitivity to most hermeneutical issues currently being discussed among evangelicals and others, and this is gratifying. Examples are the issues of cultural distance (14-15), feminist interpretation (363, 453 ff.), and interaction with missiological concerns (403-4, 417, 451 ff.).

These men have presented many fine emphases, some of which are lacking in other texts of this kind. One of them is their focus on the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation (4, 84-85). Their view of interpretation as both a science and art is also commendable (5). They realize too that OT prophecy ceased after Ezra, Nehemiah, and the latest of the minor prophets (54-55, 58). They recognize the pitfalls of canon criticism when it dwells on its theory of contradictions (66). This reviewer also approves what they at one point present as the goal of hermeneutics: "the meaning of the biblical writers `meant' to communicate at the time of the communication, at least to the extent that those intentions are recoverable in the texts they produced" (98; cf. 133). The point that normally biblical writers intended single, not multiple, meanings is also well-taken (123). They appropriately emphasize the importance of considering context, historical-cultural background, word meanings, and grammatical relationships in exegesis (156). Their discussion of English Bible translations rightly concludes that literal translations are superior to less literal ones for purposes of Bible study (205). These illustrate the many valuable features in the book.

Their definitions of biblical and systematic theology are helpful (384), though their view of the relative nature of the categories in systematic theology is open to challenge (384-86). The Appendix -" Modern Approaches to Interpretation"- also has valuable information (427 ff.).

The deficiencies of Introduction to Biblical Interpretation are also multiple. The discussion surrounding preunderstanding is one weakness. In the first place, the authors do not advocate excluding it from the interpretive process as has the traditional grammaticohistorical approach (115). Then they create confusion regarding the precise definition of preunderstanding. They endorse Ferguson's definition of preunderstanding: "a body of assumptions and attitudes which a person brings to the perception and interpretation of reality or any aspect of it" (99). Insisting that it is desirable and essential, they distinguish it from prejudice and make prejudice one element of preunderstanding (99 with n. 39). Yet they see presuppositions as differing from preunderstanding (xxii). Presuppositions include such things as the Bible being an inspired revelation, an authoritative and true document with unparalleled spiritual worth, characterized by unity and diversity, understandable, and composed of sixty-six books (88-92). It is difficult to explain why these are not a part of`if not identical with -preunderstanding as defined by the authors. In fact, an illustration of preunderstanding at one point (100) is identical with that of presuppositions at another (94) -a willingness or unwillingness to accept the supernatural.

Another illustration of apparent inconsistency relates to the book's argument for a hermeneutical approach that will eliminate variable and subjective human factors (8). Yet at a later stage, they make a case for "creative" meanings of passages that the original writers never intended (145). The four proposed controls for creative interpretations notwithstanding (149-50), this approach to hermeneutics "smacks" of subjectivity to its very core.

This Denver trio says the gospels do not have the actual words spoken by Jesus and that the gospel writers do not attribute words to Jesus that He never said (11) -two properties hard to reconcile with one another. At the same time they cite as balanced studies of the gospels some works by scholars who say the gospels do attribute to Jesus words He never spoke (330 n. 22). This associates with their endorsement of redaction critical methodology (330). One wonders why they fail to notice a 1986 JETS article, "The Hermeneutics of Evangelical Redaction Criticism," which points out the incompatibility of redaction criticism with grammatico-historical hermeneutics (JETS 29/4 [December 1986]:447-59).

The work will be quite a disappointment to those of a dispensational orientation because of its handling of relevant hermeneutical principles. The foregone conclusion is that the church fulfills OT prophecies about Israel (309, 310, 328, 420, 421). Why then do they not deny that Israel still exists, but rather assign Israel a place of some sort in God's future program (310)?

They deny that the prophecy of the seventy weeks in Dan 9:24- 27 has fixed chronological fulfillment, instead referring the weeks to undefined long and short periods of time (312). They eschew literal interpretation of the book of Revelation, largely because of the apocalyptic genre of the book (372). They cannot see 144,000 as a literal number or the millennium as 1,000 years (373). Their advice is to look for the major theological principles in the Apocalypse and avoid getting bogged down in details (374). Once again, one can but speculate on their reasons for not mentioning the article "Literary Genre and Hermeneutics of the Apocalypse" (The Master's Seminary Journal 2/1 [Spring 1991]:79-97) which defends a literal method of interpretation in Revelation.

The position regarding predictive prophecy is novel. The men contend that God in His sovereignty has the right to fulfill or not to fulfill prophecy, so readers must interpret such predictions tentatively (306). This unusual stance accompanies their insistence that one cannot depend on a literal fulfillment of prophecy (306-8). They see God as a God of surprises who may still have some left (309). Their view of prophecy is quite out-of-step with a view of Scripture that provides for an ongoing program for national Israel based on a literal fulfillment of her prophecies.

One of the most surprising features of this book from a seminary faculty allied with a noncharismatic denomination (Conservative Baptists of America) is their openness to the "signs and wonders" phenomena associated most often with churches of Pentecostal orientation. They indicate that Christians today can repeat the miracles performed by Christ and described in the gospel accounts (341-42). A believer may risk quenching the Spirit by not praying for such to happen, they say (342).

One other inexplicable peculiarity lies in their "Annotated Bibliography" at the back of the volume. Among the English concordances they list the ones for the NASB, NIV, and NRSV as examples of exhaustive or unabridged concordances, including in their listing the editors for the NIV and NRSV concordances but omitting the editor of the NASB concordance. Perhaps this was an oversight.

In light of the weaknesses of this book and in spite of its points of value, the balance of judgment must favor not recommending it as a "rule book" for "playing the game" of hermeneutics. When someone looks for a statement of standards to follow in interpretation, that person wants a more dependable source than Introduction to Biblical Interpretation provides. It contains too many quirks that could lead interpreters astray if they have no criteria for recognizing what is irregular and what is not. The volume will be helpful, however, for occasional reference and comparison.