Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson
If Andreas Kostenberger writes something, I’m going to read it, his books are just that good. Throw in a seasoned OT Scholar with a spate of published commentaries and you have a great team. The great advantage to this book, as Vanhoozer has noted, is its use of the three-fold paradigm of history, literature, and theology. Divorcing one of these triadic members is part of the struggle in biblical studies, and for Kostenberger and Patterson to use these concepts together is a lofty goal. Yet, you find in this book a real sense of how both history, literature and theology drive each other in the biblical text, and to amplify one is to bring into the discussion the other two.
In the Welcome to the Hermeneutical Triad chapter, the authors seek to analyze the flow of biblical interpretation in history. One particularly helpful part was their emphasis on what happened after the eclipse of historical-critical analysis of the bible. They write, “In the wake of Frei’s work, however, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. Increasingly, historical skepticism regarding the historicity of events depicted in the Bible led to a mere literary study of Scripture as any other book….Biblical scholarship was reduced to narrative criticism, and while interesting literary insights were gained, Scripture’s historical dimension was unduly neglected, resulting in an imbalanced interpretation once again (76-77).” Bracketing out of the language of Scripture to produce a mere literary document circumvents the interpretation process by failing to witness the historical factors that led to the writing. A mere literary study of Scripture is of great value but is much knowing everything we can about Picasso’s artwork but failing to read about what motivated him to paint in such a Cubist manner or what was influencing his subjects in his painting.
The proof is always in the pudding. Patterson and Kostenberger put their work to the test in their sample exegesis portions of the book. Kostenberger writes,
“The well-known account of Jesus’ birth in Luke’s Gospel provides an excellent example of the importance of studying the historical and cultural setting of Scripture. The passage begins with reference to a decree issued by Caesar Augustus. Luke deliberately places the birth of Christ during the reign of the Roman Emperor. Historical research reveals that Augustus (31 B.C. –A.D. 14) was the first and (many believe) the greatest Roman emperor. He presided over what is commonly called the “Golden Age” of Rome and prided himself on having inaugurated an era of peace….Augustus was deified subsequent to his death, and coins refer to him as Divi Filius (“Son of divinity” or “divine Son”) (133-134).”
Kostenberger wants us to recognize that Luke is carefully weaving together a story of two rival kings, Caesar and Jesus. The historical dimension of Luke’s gospel helps the reader see that the coming of Jesus into the world is not a nice story for the masses, but a revolutionary culture changing event that has political, theological, and moral implications. A mere literary interpretation would not catch the rich political rivalry that is Luke is creating in his narrative about the coming King Jesus.
Another very helpful chapter is the one on prophecy. Patterson helps us understand the subgenres of prophecy. In the apocalyptic prophetic form, Patterson notes that, “This present world is evil and without hope and can be remedied only by sovereign divine intervention (329).” The present world is corrupt and needs saving from a Divine intervention, none other than that God can do. I was glad to see that Zechariah was included in the section on apocalyptic
Overall, this is an excellent book on Biblical interpretation.
Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.