Some Problems In Hermeneutics For Contemporary Evangelicals -- By: J. Julius Scott, Jr.

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 22:1 (Mar 1979)
Article: Some Problems In Hermeneutics For Contemporary Evangelicals
Author: J. Julius Scott, Jr.


Some Problems In Hermeneutics For
Contemporary Evangelicals1

J. Julius Scott, Jr.*

For many evangelical Christians, hermeneutics is an area whose importance is granted but whose nature and content is little understood. Hermeneutics2 has traditionally been defined as that discipline concerned with the identification and explication of rules or principles,3 procedures and techniques for interpreting a body of literature.4 In religious studies it is distinguished on the one hand from exegesis, the application of principles for interpretation to a particular Biblical passage in order to ascertain its meaning, and on the other from Biblical theology, which seeks to organize the teachings of all of the passages in the Scriptures or in a particular part of them into a coherent whole.

The works of Friedrich Schleiermacher5 (d. 1834), Wilhelm Dilthey6 (d. 1911)

*Julius Scott is professor of Bible and theology at Wheaton College Graduate School.

and, more recently, Hans-Georg Gadamer7 introduced the elements of subjectivity and relativism (variously defined) into the discussions of hermeneutical theory in general.8 They opened the gates to a new current in the hermeneutical stream, one well illustrated by the existential interpretative objectives and methods of Rudolf Bultmann,9 the practitioners of the “New Hermeneutic,”10 and others.11 This modern breed of interpreters tends to relegate the quest for the original author’s meaning to a secondary place, at best, in favor of an interpretation directed toward the immediate, contemporary situation and/or to the attainment of authentic personhood by the interpreter.12

The eddies of this current have touched virtually every field concerned with understanding written materials. University of Virginia English professor E. D. Hirsche, Jr., describes the resulting crisis as one centered on the question of validity—the possibility and desirability of obtaining a consensus of the meaning of a given document. He demonstrates the breadth of the crisis:

The problem [of validity] has been negle...

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