Foundations for Biblical Interpretation: A Complete Library of Tools and Resources

By David S. Dockery, Kenneth A. Matthews, and Robert B. Sloan, eds.
Nashville, TN : Broadman & Holman (1994). 614 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
6.2 (Fall 1995) : 244-247

Twenty-seven evangelical scholars writing about their own specialties contributed essays. The book provides a comprehensive summary and an immense reservoir of learning in each area related to the Bible. It offers guidelines on principles of interpretation and interacts with key issues in contemporary scholarship. Dockery is Vice President for Academic Administration and Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. Mathews is Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama. Sloan is Dean of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Essays focus on the Bible as literature (Leland Ryken), geography of the Bible (Keith Schoville), NT use of the OT (Darrell Bock), archaeology (J. A. Thompson), OT textual criticism (Bruce Waltke), OT historical criticism (Duane Garrett), OT history and chronology (Donald Fowler), OT political background (Edwin Yamauchi), OT biblical theology (Walt Kaiser, Jr.), NT textual criticism (David A. Black), NT historical criticism (Craig Blomberg), NT history and chronology (Harold Hoehner), and others. The book supplies a Scripture index and a name index. Each chapter closes with a list for further reading, usually five to twenty books, the brevity of which justifies a questioning of the validity of the sub-title's claim, A Complete Library. . . . Yet many of the best sources do appear, with much potential benefit.

James E. White wrote the chapter on biblical inerrancy. His stand is for full inerrancy, i.e. "where the Bible speaks, it speaks without error" (27). Dockery's chapter has a general statement on uses of the Bible, the history of interpreting since the early church, nine guidelines for interpretation, seven steps to bridge the gap between biblical author and interpreter, and applying the Bible. The last section, only about one page, is disappointingly cursory.

 Waltke's chapter on OT textual criticism attests a high degree of textual soundness. Only ten percent of the text is affected by problems of variant readings. Of these, "only a few percent are significant and warrant scrutiny; 95 percent of the OT is therefore textually sound" (158). He sees many differences as inconsequential (157), citing Douglas Stuart:

It is fair to say that the verses, chapters, and books of the Bible would read largely the same, and would leave the same impression with the reader, even if one adopted virtually every possible alternative reading to those now serving as the basis for current English translations ("Inerrancy and Textual Criticism," in Inerrancy and Common Sense, ed. by Roger Nicole and J. R. Michaels [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980] 98, cited by Waltke, 157-58).

 Garrett's chapter on historical criticism is well-done. He reviews arguments for both an early and a late date for the exodus, favoring evidence for the early date (203). Hoehner's study on history and chronology surveys Persian rule by various leaders relevant to scriptural background (539—331 B.C.), Hellenistic control (331—143 B.C.), Hasmonean rule (143—63 B.C.), and Roman dominance (63 BC—A.D. 100). He dates the birth of Jesus between the spring of 5 B.C. and the winter of 5/4 B.C. (476). He places Jesus's ministry in A.D. 29/30—33, during a span of 3½ to 3¾ years (477). He argues for an A.D. 33 crucifixion, on a Friday, and offers a chart covering ten days (Saturday to the second Monday) for events including the triumphal entry, Olivet Discourse, Last Supper, betrayal/arrest, trial, death, and resurrection. Another chart shows years and dates from Jesus's birth to the Day of Pentecost. Paul's ministry, Hoehner believes, was in A.D. 35-68. Another chart lists events from the crucifixion to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Black, who has served on the part-time faculty at Talbot School of Theology, deals with NT textual criticism. He says that in preaching it is good to realize that "most variants are insignificant and no doctrine of Scripture rests on a disputed passage" (412). He deals with kinds of textual errors, sources of evidence for textual criticism, history and methods of textual criticism, principles for discerning the original reading, modern approaches to NT textual criticism, how to read the textual apparatus, examples of NT criticism (e.g., Eph 1:1), and how to deal with textual problems while preaching.

Overall the work is a very competent summary of evangelical perspectives. It is helpful for serious beginners, theological students, and pastoral staffers. Its many special areas also make it a fine tool for review by advanced students and mature scholars.