Inspired Subjectivity and Hermeneutical Objectivity -- By: John H. Walton
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Inspired Subjectivity and
John H. Walton is professor of Old Testament at the Wheaton College Graduate School. One of his works is the recently released NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).
Objectivity is the goal of hermeneutics so that the text of Scripture may speak for itself. For an interpreter to bring his subjective views to the text jeopardizes the authority of the Word. Two forces at work among evangelicals today tend to increase the subjective element in interpretation. The first is the principle of the analogy of faith or the harmonizing of different texts with one another. Harmonizing is desirable, but if taken too far, it can distort a text by inserting theological motifs into places where they do not belong. Doctrinal considerations should be introduced only to solve complexities of certain passages. The second force is the practices of NT authors. Sometimes the interpreter must choose between using objective methods and following the example of NT authors in their use of the OT. He must maintain objectivity rather than pattern his exegesis after the NT in matters of typology, symbolism, role models, and fulfillments. The difference between contemporary exegetes and NT writers is that the former must abide by principles of hermeneutical objectivity while the former were led to follow the pattern of inspired subjectivity. Inspired subjectivity is not an option in this day and time.
Ever since the Reformation we have prided ourselves in our commitment to the historical-grammatical method. The science of hermeneutics has developed to give shape to that method and to affirm our commitment to the authority of the Scriptures and the importance of objectivity1 in interpretation. Yet pockets of
MSJ 13:1 (Spring 2002) p. 66
subjectivity have not only been retained, but have thrived. Subjective methods are healthy and prosperous in the pews of our churches, firmly entrenched in our pulpits, and are not strangers to the halls of our seminaries. We are eager to display and celebrate the bankruptcy of the disreputable allegorical method, yet continue to promote the same sort of subjectivism in our use of typology, our interpretation of symbols in prophetic literature, the identification of fulfillment, and the pervasive presence of role model interpretation of the OT, to name a few of the more prominent examples. Most of these concern the use of the OT, either by the New Testament authors or by the church. In this essay I will address the relative merits of objective and subjective approaches and the role of hermeneutics with regard to each. I will then consider ...
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