One's approach to the OT largely determines what he or she gets out of it. The "method" of interpretation is the central issue of hermeneutics and of interpretational strategies. The issue of method presents a real challenge in that there is little unanimity on how to do exegesis, let alone biblical theology. In this first section of the dictionary, one will discover ten methodological essays that bring together insights from areas that appear at first to be far afield, but which have a direct bearing on the exegetical and theological exercise: hermeneutics, textual criticism, biblical history, the OT as literature, linguistics, and biblical theology (see Guide to Old Testament Theology and Exegesis [= Guide]).
These articles summarize methodological concerns. This is important, because interpreters of the OT differ in their approach to interpretation and because advances in hermeneutical orientation, textual criticism, biblical history, linguistics, and biblical theology have created a paradigm shift in interpretation. The approach is in line with the customary historical-grammatical method, but includes refinements in its nuanced concern for linguistics, literary analysis, and a historical-theological synthesis of the text. It advances the issue of method by a fourfold thrust.
1. The interpretation of the whole Bible involves the text and the interpreter. Vanhoozer (1. LANGUAGE, LITERATURE, HERMENEUTICS..., E. Sacra Littera...: From Dictionary to Theology, 3. Reference...) reminds us that interpretation involves both the text and the reader. On the one hand, the language of the Bible is God's means of communicating in order to discover what is real. It is the source of truth because it refers to God as the ultimate source of reality. However, as a means of communication it requires interpretation of the genres (story, law, genealogy, poetry, etc.) and of the literary forms (simile, metaphor). The student of the text must involve himself or herself with the acts of "hearing" the Word, of relating the Word to the world, and of experiencing a personal transformation.
2. Interpretation is perspectival. The reader-interpreter aims at the search for truth, but realizes that his apprehension of that truth requires a bringing together of several perspectives. The historical-grammatical approach supposes the reader's competence with matters of history and grammar. History is more than the study of acts and facts. It has a theological dimension and thus requires interpretation (see Eugene H. Merrill's essay, 3. OLD TESTAMENT HISTORY: A THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE, B. The Structure of the OT...) as well as a method of working with the exegetical evidence (see V. Philips Long's essay, 4. OLD TESTAMENT HISTORY: A HERMENEUTICAL PERSPECTIVE, C. Historical Interpretation of the OT: Four Steps...). History is also a story (narrative). God communicates truth through stories, narrative techniques, and literary genres. The biblical stories permit the reader to view God's activity in human affairs by the narrative approach and by application of the literary technique. While history calls for active engagement by reconstructing God's ways in human affairs, the literary approach calls forth an engagement of the imaginative faculties. The biblical text assumes familiarity with such literary conventions or writings strategies and richly rewards all who familiarize themselves with the categories of Hebrew prose and poetry (see Tremper Longman III, 5. LITERARY APPROACHES AND INTERPRETATION, G. Literary Conventions; and Philip E. Satterthwaite, 6. NARRATIVE CRITICISM: THE THEOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF NARRATIVE TECHNIQUES).
3. Interpretation provides a detailed and nuanced assessment of the exegetical possibilities of the text. The exegetical data are many. As interpreters study the text, they need to concern themselves with the reliability of the text (see Bruce K. Waltke, 2. TEXTUAL CRITICISM OF THE OLD TESTAMENT AND ITS RELATION TO EXEGESIS AND THEOLOGY), issues of grammar and syntax (see IBHS, and also commentaries based on the Hebrew text), the meaning of the words (semantics), and the context of communication. The science of linguistics makes a significant contribution as it links grammar and syntax (syntactics) with the meaning of words (semantics) and the context of communication (pragmatics). The article by Peter Cotterell (7. LINGUISTICS, MEANING, SEMANTICS, AND DISCOURSE ANALYSIS) provides the reader with a carefully argued defense for a larger place for linguistics than is usually allocated (see 7. LINGUISTICS, MEANING, SEMANTICS, AND DISCOURSE ANALYSIS, A. Linguistics...). Linguistics locates the meaning of words in the triad of Author-Text-Reader, and while penetrating the text for meaning, it reminds the reader of one's subjectivity in all of his or her questions, deliberation, searching, analysis, and synthesis (see 7. LINGUISTICS, MEANING, SEMANTICS, AND DISCOURSE ANALYSIS, B. The Source of Meaning).
Semantics or the discovery of meaning (see 7. LINGUISTICS, MEANING, SEMANTICS, AND DISCOURSE ANALYSIS, C. Lexical Semantics) sets the stage of interpretation at the broader levels of linguistics and of textual interpretation. While the common concern in traditional interpretation has been with grammar and syntax, linguistics sets forth rules of interpreting human communication that also incorporates semantics and pragmatics. To this end, the meaning of a word as a symbol of communication is to be determined in its relation to other words (lexical semantics; see further John H. Walton, 8. PRINCIPLES FOR PRODUCTIVE WORD STUDY), in its place within the sentence or verse, and at the level of a literary unit or discourse (see Cotterell, 7. LINGUISTICS, MEANING, SEMANTICS, AND DISCOURSE ANALYSIS, D. Discourse Analysis). The goal of interpretation is to understand the more precise meaning of a word at the level of the discourse, i.e., a literary unit (in contrast to the level of word or sentence).
The discourse is held together at three levels: syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics. Grammar and syntax help in seeing "grammatical and syntactical cohesion" of a text, but the study of the meaning of words enhances the study by two additional dimensions: semantic coherence and intentionality. The lexical entries in NIDOTTE may enhance the reader's sense of the potential meanings of a Hebrew word, but the text (discourse unit) as well as the intention of the text should lead the reader to limit the possibilities and to engage with the text as a coherent whole. Pragmatics as the third dimension of linguistics helps the reader of the text to connect the author with his intended audience, by raising several questions: (a) How does the author communicate and move his audience? (b) What does he communicate and in what manner is this message unique? (c) When and where does the communication take place?
4. The text has theological meaning and significance. Changes have taken place in scholarly positions with regard to biblical theology. The somewhat axiomatic position as reiterated by Krister Stendahl separates the text from the reader. He argued that there is a difference between what the ancient text meant (the job of biblical theology) and what the text means (the job of systematic theology). He argued further that the connection between what the text meant and what the text means is the job of hermeneutics and not that of exegesis or interpretation (see Elmer A. Martens, 9. THE FLOWERING AND FLOUNDERING OF OLD TESTAMENT THEOLOGY, A. Divergent Objectives). The historical model (what is meant) has undergone a shift. The paradigm shift from occupation with historical issues has brought about a renewed awareness of other vantage points, such as the sociological, literary, and linguistic approaches (see 9. THE FLOWERING AND FLOUNDERING OF OLD TESTAMENT THEOLOGY, B. Shifting Orientations).
Another impetus for a theological interpretation of the text has come from the canonical approach inaugurated by Brevard S. Childs (see Richard Schultz, 10. INTEGRATING OLD TESTAMENT THEOLOGY AND EXEGESIS: LITERARY...ISSUES). The interpretation of the text is not an issue merely of origins—attempting to go back to the original form, analyzing the process of redaction, and/or tracing of the sources. For Childs, theological reflection was an inherent part of the canonical shaping of each OT book as the community of God's people received that book and accepted it as authoritative for their faith and life. The book's authority extends beyond that generation to subsequent generations, as each generation interacts with the book's teaching, exhortation, and rebuke.
In conclusion, each generation can and must interact with the Bible. On the one hand, it has received the legacy of past interpreters. On the other hand, it can make a contribution by interacting honestly with the cultural challenges. To this end, we affirm that while the traditional interpretations of the Bible are important and appropriate, the Bible itself opens up perspectives that may challenge past interpretations and invites the traveler to journey into exciting, but not always known, landscapes of literary and linguistic possibilities. This journey requires interpretation—a detailed and nuanced assessment of the exegetical possibilities of the text, and an openness to the text as well as to one's self. In between these two horizons (text and self), the text presents a message of God afresh to a new generation. The ancient text is the bearer of theological meaning and significance.
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