Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: Scripture as Communication

Jeannine K. Brown Baker Academic, Grand Rapids March 1, 2007
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The author, associate professor of New Testament and associate academic dean at Bethel Seminary, defends a “communication model” for the interpretation of the Bible. “Scripture’s meaning can be understood as the communicative act of the author that has been inscribed in the text and addressed to the intended audience for purposes of engagement” (p. 14; italics hers). In this model the text is “at the forefront of the communicative act” and also incorporates the contemporary readers “in a significant way by connecting them with the audience envisioned within the text” (ibid.). Even though the original audience is separated from the contemporary readers by time, culture, and geography, the text addresses all of God’s people. “Scripture readily addresses contemporary readers precisely as they stand in continuity with the people of God, who comprised the original audience” (ibid.).

       In the book’s first part, “Theoretical Perspectives on Scripture as Communication,” Brown sets her approach within the history of hermeneutics. She begins with a chapter about terminology, in which she provides definitions of key terms. In reading her discussion the reader is made aware of the diversity of uses of several of these terms and of the need for clear definitions. Her survey of hermeneutical approaches, particularly related to the roles of the author, text, and readers in the process, is informative and clear. Particularly helpful is her reminder that there are a number of ways to read the Bible, not all of which are Christian (as examples, she mentions “as a historian, a skeptic, a seeker, or for purposes of literary appreciation” [p. 126]). “Christians,” she writes, “need not apologize for our particularly Christian appropriation of the Bible. . . . As Christians, we read the Bible, Old and New Testaments together, as the word of the one creator God who has been fully revealed in Jesus the Messiah and who indwells the church, God’s covenant people, by the Holy Spirit” (ibid.). This confessional approach “appropriates the Bible on its own terms, for the Bible itself claims to be a testimony to the Triune God’s activity and discourse in the world” (ibid.).

In part two, “Practical Guidance for Interpreting Scripture as Communication,” Brown discusses the varieties of genre in Scripture and the peculiarities for the interpretation of each, and she concludes with the reminder that all genres are “storied.” “Poetry, epistle, narrative, and all other biblical genres show their narrativity by assuming stories, affirming stories, and often subverting stories” (pp. 163–64). In short, “the biblical authors affirm a theological story in their communication—the story of who God is and what God is doing in this world” (p. 164). Her treatment of language reminds the reader of the truthfulness of Scripture and that the “richness of Scripture is not found for the most part on the level of individual words. . . . It is at the level of discourses (sentences and beyond) that we hear the message of Scripture” (p. 188). Other chapters deal with the social world of the Bible, the importance of understanding the canonical context of the text, and contextualization or application of the Scriptures to cultures other than those in which it was written. The goal of biblical hermeneutics, Brown correctly explains, is for the text to change its readers. “We are called to respond to the Scripture with our whole person, so that our lives, both individually and communally, are fully shaped by the God who speaks to us through the Bible” (p. 273).

The book concludes with several appendixes, the most helpful of which is a brief step-by-step outline of the method explained in the second part of the book. The nine guidelines walk the reader through the approach and provide a helpful summary of the Bible study method explained in the book.

The writer has an engaging style, making complex ideas and concepts understandable for a wide audience. Her method is made clear through the use of many excellent illustrations. Anyone who desires to improve in the ability to read the Bible in a distinctively Christian manner and to be shaped by the Scriptures will find this book helpful. For “to read the Bible on its own terms will mean reading to be shaped in our thinking, being, and doing. No part of who we are individually or as church communities ought to be left untouched by Scripture” (p. 272). Any book that contributes to that end is worthwhile.

—Glenn R. Kreider

October 1, 2009
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2009 vol. 166 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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