Sunday, 12 February 2017

Understanding Scripture



Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins and Thomas Schreiner (editors), Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible's Origin, Reliability and Meaning, 2012 Inter-Varsity Press


This Evangelical publication is a basic introduction to the Biblical texts. The first part of the book deals with reading and interpreting Scripture, while the second part deals with the Biblical documents, the canon, their textual reliability, their archaeological support, the languages they are written in, though one of the last two chapters makes an odd return to the field of interpretation by talking about salvation history. I was a little surprised that there were no chapters on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.

The material in this book will not be very new to those with a graduate level Biblical education or who are well read in Biblical studies, but it is a good introduction to the Biblical text for Evangelicals who are less well informed. There is a chapter defending the Protestant omission of the Deuterocanonical books. I think it is flawed in understating the Patristic support for the Deuterocanonicals. Catholic readers would need to be cautitious with this book, though most of it is profitable.

In chapter two, John Hannah uses a number of terms, allegorical, literal, typological and literal-historical. I don't think he clearly defines and distinguishes these terms from each other very well. On page 23, he accuses Medieval theologians of using allegorical (how are they different from typological?) methods of interpretation to support un-Scriptural teaching. It might be argued that rather than departing from Scripture, Catholics have simply been willing to follow typology through to it's natural conclusions. There is a permanent tension within Evangelical exegesis as to how far to go with typological interpretation. On page 25, Hannah points out the rise of individual interpretation as the root of Enlightenment doctrinal departures, without acknowledging the role of Protestantism in taking interpretation in that direction. He suggests the importance of following previous generations of Evangelical interpretation. Yet what are we to do if those interpretations are mistaken? Without an authoritative magisterium, Evangelical appeals to traditional interpretation ring somewhat hollow.

I like the comments of David Powlinson on reading Psalm 21, recognizing the corporate participation of our worship:

Third, your participation arises not as a solo individual but in company with countless brothers and sisters. You most directly apply this psalm by joining with fellow believers in a chorus of heartfelt gladness: "Oh Lord... we will sing and praise your power" (Psalm 21:13). The king's opening joy in God's power has become his people's closing joys.

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