Apologetics Criticism and the Loss of Narrative Interpretation

Hans Frei

Biblical hermeneutics was theory of exegesis, Gottlob Wilhelm Meyer said. In the second half of the eighteenth century when general (non-theological) biblical hermeneutics developed rapidly in Germany, its principles of exegesis were pivoted between historical criticism and religious apologetics. The explicative meaning of the narrative texts came to be their ostensive or ideal reference. Their applicative meaning or religious meaningfulness was either a truth of revelation embodied in an indispensable historical event or a universal spiritual truth known independently of the texts but exemplified by them, or, finally, a compromise between the two positions amounting to the claim that while the historical fact is indispensable to revelation, the meaningfulness of revelation depends on its being set in some broader religious or moral context. No nonrefcrential explication existed until the mythical thesis was hesitantly applied to the biblical literature, but even "myth" as a critical-analytical category was not a complete change from meaning as ostensive reference. Almost everyone, a few of the Deists and Reimarus excepted, affirmed that explication harmonized with application. From left to right everybody thought that the Bible was religiously meaningful.

Hans Frei, "Apologetics, Criticism, and the Loss of Narrative Interpretation," in his Tne Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), pp. 124-142.

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