Ground Rules Of New Testament Interpretation -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 41:1 (Fall 1978)
Article: Ground Rules Of New Testament Interpretation
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


Ground Rules Of New Testament Interpretation*

Vern Sheridan Poythress

A Review Article

Over the last few years, evangelical scholarly discussion of the nature of biblical trustworthiness and inerrancy has taken on more and more a hermeneutical cast. More people are aware of the insufficiency of a bare subscription to biblical infallibility. Apart from hermeneutical guidelines, “infallibility” can mean too many things. On the right wing of evangelicalism, the blinders of traditionalism, dogmatism, and allegorism sometimes vitiate the apparent power of a firm formal adherence to inerrancy. On the left wing, an elaborate hermeneutical apparatus can so qualify the text in terms of a supposed first-century context, that its ability to criticize modern assumptions is vitiated.

The volume New Testament Interpretation (hereafter NTI), edited by I. Howard Marshall, represents a mature scholarly approach to this issue. NTI consists in a series of eighteen essays, almost all by British conservative evangelical New ‘testament scholars, covering the major current topics in hermeneutics: presuppositions, critical methods, the practice of exegesis, and the bearing of the text on the modern reader. In the part on critical methods one finds an outstanding summary by Anthony Thiselton of the use of semantics in New Testament interpretation. There are also discussions of historical criticism (asking “what happened?”), source criticism, form criticism, tradition history, and redaction criticism. The part of NTI dealing with the modern reader includes discussions of demythologizing, the new hermeneutic, the authority of the New Testament, and a sample exposition. The contributors exhibit a sustained concern to sho

*(Ed.) 1. Howard Marshall: New Testament Interpretation; Essays On Principles and Methods. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Exeter: Paternoster, 1977. 406. $12.95.

both strengths and weaknesses, advantages and dangers of existing hermeneutical approaches and techniques. There is a happy balance between principle and example.

In my opinion, Marshall’s volume contributes in an outstanding way to evangelical hermeneutical discussion. Here is the most sophisticated scholarly treatment I know of, from an evangelical point of view, discussing cutting edges of modern biblical interpretation. The essays do not, of course, break ground in fundamentally new directions. But some essays do introduce one important factor into the evangelical world: a flexibility of questioning in their attitudes toward biblical infallibility. This is nearly always stimulating, sometimes liberating—and sometimes unsound.

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