Avoiding Fallacies In Interpretation -- By: Andreas J. Köstenberger
Avoiding Fallacies In Interpretation
How Fallacies Distort Understanding Of The New Testament Gender Passages
The last few decades have witnessed an increasing awareness of the importance of hermeneutical procedure in interpreting the gender passages in the NT. Grant Osborne contends that “the determining factor in the discussion [of gender passages in the NT] is hermeneutical.”1 Robert Johnston attributes the differences in approach regarding the role of women in the church taken by evangelicals to “different hermeneutics,” calling the study of women’s roles a “test case” of evangelical interpretation.2
If Johnston is correct, evangelical hermeneutics seem to have failed the test, since the existing exegetical conclusions on the NT gender texts vary widely. What is perhaps even more disturbing is the apparent lack of consensus regarding a proper methodology.
The present essay therefore seeks to readdress some of the issues taken up in earlier treatments, taking into account developments since these studies appeared. It also attempts to sharpen further the discernment of improper methodology. It is hoped that the critique of fallacious methodologies will contribute to better hermeneutical procedures. This, in turn, might lead to a greater convergence of exegetical conclusions.
In this article, my usual procedure will be to identify the hermeneutical fallacy, illustrate it by giving concrete examples, and then make a few comments pointing toward a better approach.
Underestimating The Power Of Presuppositions
In the case of the interpretation of biblical gender texts, every writer has preconceived notions of how male-female relationships are properly conducted. An illusory notion of hermeneutical objectivity will render genuine dialogue with both the text and other interpreters and interpretive communities much more difficult.
Of course, the existence of presuppositions does not mean that all presuppositions are equally valid or that an interpreter’s prior convictions in approaching the text cannot become more and more consistent with biblical teaching.3 Nevertheless, it is helpful to be aware of the way in which one’s experience, interpretive and denominational traditions, cultural and social backgrounds, vocation, gender, education, and other factors influence one’s interpretation of Scripture.
An example of presuppositions that remain largely unacknowledged is the recent article, “Why God is Not Mother,” by Elizabeth Achtemeier. In an essay that purportedly critiques the radica...
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