The History of Pre-Critical Biblical Interpretation -- By: David S. Dockery

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 10:1 (Fall 1992)
Article: The History of Pre-Critical Biblical Interpretation
Author: David S. Dockery

The History of Pre-Critical Biblical Interpretationa

David S. Dockery

Dean, School of Theology
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky

The contemporary world of biblical scholarship is facing a hermeneutical impasse. One of the reasons for this quagmire is the preoccupation solely with contemporary issues. Much contemporary scholarship seemingly has forgotten that valuable biblical interpretation existed before F.D.E. Schleiermaucher, the “father of modem hermeneutics.” The purpose of this article is not necessarily to argue for the superiority of the pre-critical exegesis, but to remind us of the value and insights provided by select influential interpreters in the early church, the medieval period, and among the reformers.

The First Century: The Beginning of Christian Hermeneutics

From the beginning of the Christian movement, the early believers shared the Holy Scriptures of the Jews. Following the example of Jesus, these believers held that Scripture was first and foremost the authoritative, inspired Word of God. Indeed, not only did the earliest church inherit its Scriptures from the Jews, it also inherited various methods of interpretation and interpretations themselves. The interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures by the earliest church, however, included an additional factor that stamped a new meaning upon Scripture: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In this opening section, we shall lay the foundation for our survey by examining briefly how Jesus and the apostles interpreted the Old Testament.

Jesus and Christological Hermeneutics

The New Testament account of the ministry of Jesus maintains that Jesus himself instructed his followers to show that his life and ministry fulfilled Scriptures.1 Although Jesus interpreted the Scriptures in a manner similar to his contemporary Jewish exegetes, there also was novelty in his method and message. This new method was a christological reading, meaning that Jesus read the Old Testament in light of himself. For example, in John 5:39–40, it is recorded that Jesus said: “You diligently study the scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the scriptures that testify about me” (italics added). And in John 5:46: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (italics added). On the Emmaus road Jesus said, “How slow of heart [you are] to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Christ have to suffer these

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