Skip to main content

Book Review: Hermeneutics: An Introduction

Anthony Thiselton is the leading conservative voice in the field of hermeneutics, having written several major books and countess articles on the topic. Additionally, he has written a major commentary on 1 CorinthiansHermeneutics: An Introduction comes to us as his attempt to write an introductory text for the student and general reader.

The book begins in the first two chapters by laying a brief theoretical foundation for further discussion. Hermeneutics, according to Thiselton, is focused on the entire event of communication, encompassing author, text, and reader. Thiselton advocates a philosophical hermeneutics built off of Speech Act Theory and this is clear from the beginning. He also presses home Grant Osborne's notion of a hermeneutical spiral, the need for us to be aware of what we bring to the text both in terms of perspective and pre-understanding.

The third chapter covers Jesus' parables. Thiselton placed it in the book as a case study to try to give readers an idea of how to put hermeneutics into practice. Thiselton marches through the variety of interpretive methods applied to the parables and weighs in on what he sees as strengths and weaknesses. This is done as he examines many of the key interpreters of the 20th century. Thiselton seems to favor a variegated and flexible hermeneutic that cobbles together the best parts of a variety of approaches.

The remainder of the book functions as a history of hermeneutical theory, beginning with Second Temple Judaism all the way to the present. As he did in the chapter on parables, Thiselton works through major figure after major figure (or major document like the LXX). Some figures get very brief treatment (the patristic and medieval period get one combinded chapter). Others, like Gadamer and Riceour get whole chapters to themselves. He begins by providing brief biographical material and then detailing their hermeneutical methods. He concludes by assessing their work. These assessments cover both hermeneutical and theological matters as Thiselton is concerned with the impact hermeneutics has on theology and is concerned to uphold historic orthodoxy.

Thiselton concludes by examining matters that he could not fit into the book in other places (like a brief discussion of inspiration) as well as a look forward at 'politeness theory,'  which he views as a potentially positive development in linguistics.

There is a lot to like and a lot to dislike about this book. It's jammed with great material. It's amazing that Thiselton could boil down so much material into such a short space (relatively speaking) without oversimplifying matters. Additionally, I appreciate his emphasis on historical context, not just of the biblical text, but of the people he writes about. The way Thiselton writes helps convince you of his method.

However, as was my concern with his introduction to Paul, he hasn't completely hit his audience. There is absolutely no way that the general reader could work through this book. One of the ways Thiselton saves space is by frequently not defining terms and concepts, or by only making passing references to sources of influence, like 'Via advances the actants of Propp and Greimas' (199 - emphasis original). After that sentence a new paragraph starts. Prior to that the word actant had appeared once, and was undefined. How many general readers would understand his point? Even how many masters students would?

I also wish that the book was about twenty or so pages longer with more summary, especially when dealing with the earlier history of hermeneutics. I would have rather read an overview and assessment of main trends within patristic hermeneutics than read a collection of brief overviews of different people, overviews that I probably could have gotten out of a good dictionary.

As you can tell, this book is an introduction to hermeneutical theory. It is not the practical book that Osborne's hermeneutical spiral is. So know that before you pick it up. However, if you have some background, this could be a good introduction to philosophical hermeneutics. Additionally, as it does cover a who's who of hermeneutics and key biblical interpreters, it's an invaluable bibliographic resource. For that reason I could see using it as text in an advanced class on hermeneutics in a seminary very profitably. 


Popular posts from this blog

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Aquinas and Conclusion

When we reach Aquinas we come to the pinnacle of orthodoxy when it comes to the Trinity and Christology. Christology was important to Aquinas and he dedicated the first fifty-nine questions of Tertia Pars of his Summa Theologiae[1] to the topic. In many ways it is refreshing because he does not treat solely the more philosophical questions of who Jesus was that preoccupied theologians from the third century on. He also spent extended time on Jesus earthly ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification which was a major innovation.[2] Of course every possible topic of Trinitarian and ontological speculation is also probed. For the sake of space we will only hit some highlights.

Aquinas is clearly in step with the tradition that can be traced from Nicea, through Augustine and the Lombard, to the heart of the Middle Ages. One thing to briefly note is that even in his densest argumentation, Aquinas was not trying to prove elements of his theology via rational argument as that…

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Irenaeus

Starting from Irenaeus, Christology, in some respects, moves on. A big part of this would have been due to the “gnostic” controversies. It became increasingly important to clarify the relationship between Father and Son and to minimize their distinctiveness, while still maintaining Jesus’ full humanity. From this point on, clashes over heresy about the nature of Christ and discussions related to Trinitarian theology dominate Christological discussion to the point that the original emphasis on Jesus’ Messianic identity fades to the background.[1] Maintaining the affirmation that Jesus was both human and divine was critical for Irenaeus and those after him because they saw that as the necessary grounds of salvation.[2]

Of particular interest to Irenaeus was the baptism of Jesus. What happened when he received the Spirit?[3] It was not the means by which the Word entered Jesus. He was not merely human before that point.[4] Rather it was a divinization of the human nature of Jesus, a nat…

End of Summer Review/Update

The school year is now upon us and I'll definitely not be posting the next two months. This summer didn't quite go to plan so I didn't get to do the blogging I was hoping to do. Specifically I was planning on blogging through 2 Thessalonians, but that didn't happen. It may happen late in the fall, but we will see. I may instead decide to pick up a different Pauline letter (perhaps 2 Corinthians). This is my last year of school  and by the fall of next year I should be back on a more regular blogging schedule.

A lack of blogging was not from a lack of productivity (although I'm sure my Pokemon Go playing did cut into my reading time a little bit). I've had a interesting summer learning about Medieval Christianity and specifically focusing on Peter Lombard and Thomas Aqunias. They'll both be featured in my next paper in Exploring the Christian Way which I hope to publish here in late January of 2017. 90% of the reading and 80% of the writing is done for that …