An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning

By Porter, Stanley E. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 1998 | Go to article overview

An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning


Porter, Stanley E., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning. By Walter C. Kaiser and Moises Silva. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994, 298 pp., $24.99. This jointly-authored book by two authors well known to this Journal constitutes another in a growing list of volumes dedicated to the topic of hermeneutics. It is divided into four parts with 15 chapters and a glossary. Part 1 concerns the search for meaning. The first chapter, by Silva on the necessity of hermeneutics, does not actually critically address the major issues in hermeneutics but offers an assuaging treatment about how easy interpretation really is, as one moves from the Greek text tc personal application. In the light of this chapter, it is perhaps surprising that the rest of the book is even needed. Nevertheless, further chapters there are. Kaiser attempts to define the meaning of meaning and comes up with some truly astounding ideas. Whereas Silva in the previous chapter has endorsed the grammatico-historical method of exegesis, here Kaiser argues for the syntacticaltheological method (what they are and how they differ remain unclear to me). After transmogrifying the concepts of reference and sense, he apparently opts for meaning as intention, a concept left unnecessarily vague (on p. 40 I think "Divine Intervention" should read "Divine Intention," perhaps a revealing slip). In a chapter on the use of language, Silva establishes the importance of the Biblical languages in the course of affirming that English translations are adequate (for what?). He does, however, dispel romanticizing notions of language, etymologizing and illegitimate totality transfer but pulls up short of actually establishing the importance of serious grammatical study. Unfortunately, this seems to be an opportunity missed. In part 2, on understanding the text, Kaiser begins with a chapter on narrative, in which he draws a surprising contrast between prose and narrative as literary genres, which does nothing to inspire confidence in the rest of his exposition of narrative technique. Leav:ing aside the unfortunate invocation of chiasm, I find it difficult to accept Kaiser's attempt to invoke historical referentiality as a part of narrative meaning. Kaiser's treatment of poetry and wisdom literature is a whirlwind tour of various literary devices. Silva tackles the problem of the gospels and the parables. Although he does a commendable job in treating the issue of history and theology, he finds it unnecessary to define the parable, except to say that most readers will have a "satisfactory working definition of the term as referring to the well-known stories told by Jesus" (p. 110 n. 1). In his chapter on the reading of the letters, Silva discusses reading the letters theologically, as wholes and as historical documents. …

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