Stanley E. Porter and Matthew R. Malcolm, ed. The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2013.
I would like to thank Intervarsity Press for my review copy of this book. See here for information about it on Intervarsity Press’s web site.
This book includes essays from scholarly contributors, all of them pertaining to biblical interpretation. Many of the questions that they address are not particularly new: Is the biblical text’s original meaning, as intended by its original author for its original audience, its only meaning, or can it have different meanings for subsequent people and contexts? (Interestingly, more than one person in the book stated that the issue is more complex than saying that there was an original author.) Can the church adopt a critical methodology and actually be faithful to that methodology, without compromising it for the sake of theology? If so, can the church then be edified when that methodology is accepted, considering that aspects of that critical methodology may lead to conclusions that are uncomfortable for certain Christians (i.e., Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles)?
Overall, the book was rather abstract. If I were to offer a suggestion to people who want to read it, it would be to read the book’s conclusion before tackling the essays. That way, the reader can have a map in his or her mind of where the authors are going with their arguments.
I enjoyed Stanley Porter’s essay on “Biblical Hermeneutics and Theological Responsibility” because it was taking apart some of the ways that Christians have tried to interpret the Bible theologically. I have to admire someone who tackles uncomfortable issues (for a number evangelicals) with honesty! But, if there was one contribution to the book that I really appreciated, it was R. Walter L. Moberly’s “Biblical Hermeneutics and Ecclesial Responsibility.” Overall, the essay was rather abstract, but I liked Moberly’s concrete example of his own struggle to find how the church can be edified by the Pastoral Epistles, considering the claim of many scholars that Paul did not even write them. Moberly shares his conclusion on page 156:
“Finally, how do I think about the Pastorals some thirty-five years later? In terms of authorship, I am agnostic; the distinctiveness of tone and content in relation to the undisputed Pauline letters is not in doubt, but arguments as to how best to account for this in terms of origins are inconclusive. However, the authority of the letters is secured not by their authorship as such, but by their canonical status, historic reception and historic fruitfulness. If Paul in the Pastorals had undergone an interpretive process somewhat analogous to that of Jesus in John’s Gospel, then I take the fruit of that process as a witness to the multifaceted depth of its subject matter. In any event, literary theory makes it possible to take the first-person voice of the letters with full imaginative seriousness, and one can unreservedly inhabit the imaginative world of the text in preaching, while leaving open the relation between literary voice and historical author.”
Christians may disagree about whether Moberly’s approach here is satisfactory, but I do like his openness to historical-criticism as well as his attempts to draw upon scholarly tools and methodology to think of ways to preserve the Pastorals’ homiletical value. Do I think that it matters whether or not Paul wrote the Pastorals? I do believe that something is robbed when we take away Paul’s personal voice from the Pastorals: can we be edified by Paul’s mentoring relationship with Timothy and encouragement of Timothy through hard times, if Paul did not even write those words to Timothy? At the same time, I have been edified by fiction. Moreover, I am open to seeing John’s Gospel as a later interpretation of Jesus, so why not regard the Pastorals as a later interpretation of Paul? In any case, this is a thought-provoking topic.