This blog is the third in a series of posts on questions that I get asked all the time in my role as a New Testament professor. This series will run through the summer of 2017. The first post on “Judgment, Paul, and Jesus” can be read HERE. The second post on “Doubtful Practices and the Christian Faith” can be found HERE.
At Charleston Southern University I am blessed and humbled to be able to teach New Testament Survey every semester. I am teaching a survey during our “Maymester” right now, and we are having a blast. As you know by now, we get students here from a wide variety of backgrounds and every possible relationship to Christianity. Needless to say, with our diverse mix of students, I get a constant stream of questions about the gospel, the Bible, and Christian practice. I am excited to get to share some of those questions and answers with you.
FAQ #3: What are some of the best books you look to, to answer some of these tough questions you’ve been talking about?
Okay, you caught me. That isn’t really a question that students ask me all the time. But it is a question they should be asking me all the time. Many of the questions I get simply boil down to this: “How am I supposed to read and apply this passage of Scripture?” I get asked that question about the narratives in the New Testament, about the parables, and about the letters. So my next three blogs in this series are going to be dealing with interpreting these three genres of Scripture: parable, narratives, and letters. But before I do that, I want to give you all the bibliography I’m working from, because in my later blogs, you can easily see how my thinking on these issues has been heavily influenced by these books. The following works have been instrumental in helping me answer the question, “How am I supposed to read and apply this passage of Scripture?”
Accessible Works for Everyone:
Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible by Hendricks and Hendricks (Moody, Revised 2007).
This is a great first book for Christians to use to get their feet wet in the field of hermeneutics (the science of interpreting the Bible). It has chapters on strategies for reading the Bible, strategies for finding meaning in the texts that you are reading, and strategies for dealing with how to apply the text you are reading to your own life and to the lives of others. It even has a workbook!
40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer (in a series edited by Ben Merkle, Kregel, 2010).
This is another “must have” for any student of the Bible. Plummer begins by answering questions related to the nature of the Scripture (canon, inerrancy, and translation) but then quickly moves into the meat of the history of interpretation and the tools for interpretation. Plummer is especially helpful—and has been especially influential on me—in the area of genre interpretation. How should we interpret a parable? How should we read a letter that Paul wrote 2,000 years ago to a group of people that didn’t include us directly? How should we read an historical narrative about meat offered to idols and reach conclusions about how we should handle different but related issues? They are great questions, and he tackles them all very well.
Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation by Henry Virkler and Karelynne Ayayo (Baker, 2007).
Every serious student of the Bible should have and have read a “textbook” on hermeneutics. This text, and the two that follow, are some of the best in my opinion. Virkler and Ayayo use a four-fold “analysis” approach to interpreting the Scripture that is extremely helpful: historical-cultural and contextual analysis, lexical-syntactical analysis, theological analysis, and the analysis of special literary forms. It sounds more daunting than it is, and this is a great book to have on hand to answer the question, “How should I interpret this Bible passage?”
The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Grant Osbourne (IVP, 1991).
This is the hermeneutics text that I cut my teeth on in school, but it is easily accessible for any serious student of the Bible. Osbourne takes a balanced and thorough approach (his text clocks in at almost 500 pages) to interpreting the Bible, and is at his best when walking the reader through the issues and challenges in reading the various genres found in Scripture (the letter, the parable, apocalyptic literature, narratives, poetry, etc.).
Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology by Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson (Kregel, 2011).
Köstenberger and Patterson are convinced and want to convince you that in order to answer the question “What does this text mean?” you have to read the Bible historically, literarily, and theologically. They even spend a good amount of time discussing other approaches to understanding the Scripture and their weaknesses. Invitation is a great successor to Osbourne’s influential work.
Encyclopedic and Historical Works:
New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Bible Reading by Anthony Thiselton (Zondervan, 20 Anniversary Edition, 1997).
I would be entirely remiss if I didn’t mention Thiselton’s encyclopedic work on Bible interpretation. In this massive tome the author works, beginning to end, through various approaches to reading and interpreting the Bible. He goes all the way back to the Bible reading methods of the early church and works his way forward from there right into the modern day. The dust jacket calls New Horizons “exhaustive and rigorous,” and that is quite an understatement.
So now you know the works that have had their biggest impact on how I answer questions about what the Bible says. In my next blog post, we’ll jump right in with a question I always get about Paul’s letters and talk about how we should go about reading them.