Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Patterson. Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2011. 896 pp. $46.99.
Biblical hermeneutics (the science of interpreting the Bible) is one of the most important topics for the Christian – not just for seminary students, pastors, and those in vocational ministry, but for lay Christians as well. Because hermeneutics is taught in Bible college and seminary, perhaps I can say that it’s even more important for laypeople to pursue. Bad hermeneutics and false teachings are rampant, and lay Christians need to be equipped to rightly handle the word of truth. All believers should be encouraged to read a book on hermeneutics and/or be trained in the discipline early in their Christian life to set up good habits for lifelong study of the word, whether through a church Sunday School course, campus ministry training, or even in individual discipleship if formal training groups are not available/possible. Long-time professors Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Patterson have written a comprehensive introduction to hermeneutics that would serve well in the classroom, in lay training courses, and for individuals looking for an in-depth guide to the interpretive process.
Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology is designed to teach “a simple method” for interpreting the Bible (23) that involves preparation, interpretation, and application. The introductory chapter is devoted to preparation and sets the stage for the book by addressing issues such as the need for skilled interpretation and the cost of failed interpretation. Chapter 1 also provides a brief survey of the history of biblical interpretation and an introduction to the hermeneutical triad. The concluding chapter is devoted to application and helps the student bridge the principles learned in this book to the real world of teaching, preaching, and applying the Word. Here the authors offer tips and resources for study, as well as a guide to sermon preparation for each biblical genre (including major mistakes often made, advice for how to preach from that genre, and a sample lesson/sermon from a text in that specific genre).
Everything in between (14 chapters) is dedicated to the hermeneutical triad of interpretation, which proposes that in interpreting any passage of Scripture, one should study the historical background, literary context, and theological message. This practice of studying Scripture is not new, but the terminology is used in this book for the first time. Part 1 opens with one chapter addressing the first element of history, moving from the primeval period of the Old Testament through the end of the New Testament period, covering the Second Temple period in between. Relevant extrabiblical primary sources are also covered, such as apocryphal and pseudepigraphal literature as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Part 3 in one chapter addresses the third element in the triad, that of theology, and covers biblical theology, New Testament theology, and the use of the Old Testament in the New. In between these two chapters lies not just the bulk of this section, but the bulk of the entire book – twelve chapters on the second element of the hermeneutical triad, literature.
Unlike many hermeneutics books which move from general to special hermeneutics, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation moves from special to general. Accordingly, Part 2 on literature moves from canon to genre, then finally to language. Because of the importance of the overarching storyline of Scripture on the interpretation of individual sections, Part 2 begins with a chapter on the OT canon and a chapter on the NT canon. Then a chapter is devoted to each of the different types of biblical genre (OT narrative, poetry and wisdom, prophecy, NT narrative, parables, epistles, and finally, a chapter specifically devoted to the book of Revelation), providing nature and characteristics of the genre, sample exegesis of a passage, and guidelines for interpreting the genre. Finally, the chapters on language cover topics such as the basics of biblical Greek and Hebrew, the basics of Greek syntax, discourse analysis, exegetical fallacies, and interpreting figurative language.
Invitation to Biblical Interpretation is the most comprehensive introduction to hermeneutics that I’ve seen. It is the ideal text for a layperson looking for an in-depth, comprehensive introduction to hermeneutics (background knowledge isn’t required, but you’d need to like or at least be undaunted by big books). This would also be a good text for a church adult Sunday School series in hermeneutics, or any other serious lay training course whether in a church or parachurch context. Finally, I think this book would also make a great textbook for introductory hermeneutics courses in Bible college and seminary. Each chapter begins with chapter objectives and a chapter outline and ends with key words, study questions, assignments, and chapter bibliography, facilitating classroom use as well as self-learning.
Thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!