Current Hermeneutical Trends: Toward Explanation Or Obfuscation? -- By: Robert L. Thomas

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 39:2 (Jun 1996)
Article: Current Hermeneutical Trends: Toward Explanation Or Obfuscation?
Author: Robert L. Thomas


Current Hermeneutical Trends:
Toward Explanation Or Obfuscation?

Robert L. Thomas*

The following remarks come from an exegetical practitioner, one who does not consider himself a hermeneutical theoretician and has no aspirations toward becoming one. As a practicing exegete, I know the painstaking difficulty of writing a commentary but have only dabbled in the theoretical aspects of hermeneutics. Yet I feel a compulsion to interact with recent works on hermeneutics whose purpose is to furnish the rules to guide my practice of exegesis. In other words, the discussion herein stems from observing the possible effects of recent theories on the practice of Biblical interpretation.

Writing a work such as those that have appeared recently is a yeoman’s task. I must express admiration for the diligence of my fellow evangelicals who have recently published hermeneutical volumes and my appreciation for the beneficial material they have provided us. Indeed they have amassed a tremendous amount of data for our use.

Their contributions, however, appear to be having a secondary effect of polarizing evangelicals into two camps. Some recent hermeneutical trends have forced evangelical interpreters to choose between two hermeneutical wavelengths that oppose each other in rather dramatic ways. The difference between the two is comparable to an athletic encounter in which one team abides by the rules of Australian football and the other by those of American football. The two teams do not belong on the same playing field because they have no common guidelines to regulate their encounter.

M. Silva hints at the cleavage I am referring to when he observes that

the vast majority of books and articles dealing with the biblical text continue to place priority on its historical meaning. Especially puzzling is the fact that, from time to time, one may hear a scholar at a professional meeting who seems to adopt the newer approach at least theoretically but whose actual interpretive work does not appear substantially different from standard historical exegesis. In other words, the abandonment of authorial and historical interpretation would be difficult to document from the usual articles published in the recognized journals of biblical scholarship. 1

In essence, Silva says that the challenges to the traditional method of interpretation are thus far only theoretical and that the practical approach of evangelicals to interpretation is the same as it has always been.

* Robert Thomas is professor of New Testament at The Master’s Seminary, 13248 Roscoe Blvd., Sun Valley, CA 91352.

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