Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: Preface

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Preface to the First Edition

Just as Bernard Ramm’s Protestant Biblical Interpretation was written in 1956 for a broad spectrum of Bible readers, so An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics has sought to engage that same breath of lay and professional readers by assisting them in understanding the biblical texts. However, the changes in the way texts are understood have been nothing less than earthshaking in the short time since Ramm wrote his volume. Almost every assumption that Ramm made has been challenged and tested by the winds of modernity and postmodernity. So severely have the currents of thought changed previous patterns of thinking that one might even wonder (though, to our minds, just for a moment) if the reader of this preface is able to understand what we have said so far! The fact is that our day is characterized, as our subtitle notes, by The Search for Meaning.

The distinctiveness of this volume, in a field that has suddenly become somewhat crowded with recent entries after an extended period of little publication, can be found in (1) the uniqueness of our approach, (2) the way we state the urgency of the hour and the need for such a work as we have presented here, and (3) the attention we have given to making this volume useful to both the lay reader and, especially in part 4, for the more advanced student.

Our approach is so startling that some may even have looked twice when they saw the names Kaiser and Silva together as joint authors, feeling that the hermeneutical views of these two do not seem to fit together easily. But that is why this volume is unique. It is not a case in which two or three authors, having identical or fairly similar viewpoints on issues of interpretation, decided to write a volume that presents a single point of view. Instead, we have dared to write a single textbook on biblical hermeneutics, knowing that we each understand the process of interpretation differently in some key areas that represent the most critical points of discussion in interpretation today. In this way, the readers of our text do not get a party line, as it were, but are called upon to come to their own conclusion after eavesdropping on a vibrant conversation between two writers who dare agree to disagree (at most, at a few critical points) agreeably. Scholarship – yes, even evangelical scholarship – would be much better off if we had more examples of scholars engaging in such experiments. Let the readers be advised, however: there are more areas that we agree than disagree about, including such fundamental matters as the authority of Scripture and the primacy of authorial meaning. But some of our disagreements focus on the issues that are severe and critical for the future. The distinctive views of each author are especially evident in chapters 12, 15, 18, and 19. It is in this spirit that we invite the readers’ participation with us in a warm but caring conversation.

While our tone is convivial, our readers must not mistake how great the stakes in their conclusion are. Whereas Ramm wrestled with questions such as the way in which naturalistic assumptions affect hermeneutics, our generation has so prized the valued of the individual, a person’s freedom and initiative, that the primary question is no longer “Is it true?" but rather, “Does it matter?" Hence, the question of relevancy has taken precedence over the question of “What does the text mean?" indeed, the very meaning of meanings itself is extremely complex and is debated vigorously by evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike. Whether any or all of the suggested meanings can be validated and what the criteria for such a validation might be are questions with which we modern readers of the Bible are feeling an increased discomfort. Meanwhile, a generation waits to hear a word from God. It is almost like the old philosophical conundrum: Did the tree that fell in the forest make any noise if no one heard it fall? In our case, the conundrum goes thus: Did God actually disclose and reveal anything to his prophets and apostles if they did not adequately understand (without it being a comprehensive understanding) the things they wrote and if we, their readers, have so many differences of opinion about what was communicated? That is why this conversation is so urgent and critical. The results of this debate will so shape the next generation of believers that it may easily qualify as the top mega-trend in evangelical theology.

But this volume does more than focus on the critical issues. It takes seriously that aspect of the modern clamor for relevancy that we think is legitimate and that was part of the divine intention all along. We are concerned to help readers answer the question “What does it matter?" We believe that the interpretive process is not completed when we have stated what the author was trying to say; instead, we believe that interpretation must also decide what is the current relevancy, application, and contemporary significance of this text. Whether all of this is part of the meaning process is the point at which we differ among ourselves as authors – but that issue surely is dwarfed by the greater need to finds ways to accomplish the same result in the end. Therefore, instead of writing a book that merely analyzes the problem, we have decided that we should also offer the best help we are capable of by showing both laypersons and scholars how to derive contemporary usefulness from the interpretation of various types of biblical texts. Surprisingly enough, the scholar may be at more of a disadvantage when it comes to this step of the meaning process than the layperson who has been asking for this “bottom – line" type of mentality all along!

Finally, we trust that this volume will not detract from your primary focus on the Scriptures themselves. Our desire has been to give you as brief and as straightforward a discussion of the issues and methods as possible and then to leave you alone with the text of Scripture and in the presence of the Holy Spirit. May this pleasure and joy in the Word and the Sovereign God of the Word by yours in the days ahead.

A special word of thanks is due to Leonard G. Goss, imprint editor, for his enthusiasm during the early days of this project; James E. Ruark, managing senior editor, for his patience and assistance in the final production of this volume; and Stanley N. Gundry, editor-in-chief, for proposing this project in the first place.

Preface to the Second Edition

The warm and widespread reception given to the first edition has encouraged both authors and Zondervan Publishers to issue a second edition. This has also given us the opportunity to fine tune (and in some cases to enlarge) some of the matters previously discussed in the first edition as well as to add four new chapters.

Note that the new chapters cover the key issue of the employment of biblical theology in the interpreter’s toolbox. It is most important that as exegetes we show how the parts are related to the whole message of the Bible. While many are somewhat doubtful if Scriptures do evidence a single plan that communicates the mind and continuous purpose of God, the authors of this book cannot see how it could be viewed otherwise. If God is the revelatory source of all sixty-six books, and these books disclose his purpose and plan, then emphasizing the diversity of the Scriptures at the expense of their unity would be contrary to both the internal claims of the Bible and the nature of God himself. This chapter on biblical theology should bring relief to the interpreter who vacillates between continuity and discontinuity in the Bible. Indeed, even the very definition of biblical theology has suffered at the hands of many of its promoters. An altogether new direction (yet one that we had from the beginning) is set both in terms of the definition of this discipline and in the way it is presented for the interpreter’s usage.

Another new chapter asks how it is possible to get answers to contemporary questions that are not directly considered in the Bible, such as the abolition of slavery, artificial means of fertilization, gender roles, worship styles, and the like. Must we go “beyond the Bible" in order to bring help to Christ’s church? And if we do, then where will our authority rest if it is no longer squarely rooted in Scripture?

In the last quarter of the twentieth century, another serious area of concern has developed for interpreters: the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament. The challenge this area presented was this: Did the New Testament writers exhibit a looser method of handling the Old Testament’s text than has heretofore been taught in textbooks such as this one? And if it did approach the text with more freedom than present hermeneutical theory allows, could contemporary readers and interpreters of the Bible use the same freer methods in our exegesis, or did these methods only exist for Jesus and the apostles? Much rides on the answer given to this issue.

The final new chapter raises the postmodern question of the role that history should play in our understanding of the Bible. Some scholars, having reacted so strongly to the meager results that have accrued from historical – critical methods of Bible study, have suggested that we skip almost all historical markers in the text and stick with the theological and canonical message itself. One can understand their frustration, but a case must be made for working on the historical setting of the text, as long as it does not comprise the full interpretive process.

Since 1994, when the first edition appeared, those issues have not gone away, but rather have intensified. But the literature and the helps available have also increased. We remain optimistic that meaning can be communicated from God by means of his word and that mortals can have an adequate understanding of that meaning despite many naysayers. Surely, only God knows comprehensively, but that is not a reason to say that every meaning is a subjective, personal, and private meaning and that the meaning shared in teaching and preaching situations can have no force for anyone else. To the contrary, God intended his meaning to be communicated widely and correctly, as judged by what he has said in the Bible.

So enter the exciting world of hermeneutics with us as you read this book. This has to be one of the most fascinating yet most crucial areas of study in the whole area of theology, Bible, and the curriculum of divinity.

It is also a joy to recognize a number of people at Zondervan who have given enormous encouragement and professional assistance to this project. These include Dr. Stan Gundry, Katya Covrett, Jim Ruark, and Elizabeth Yoder.

February 2007

Taken from INTRODUCTION TO BIBLICAL HERMENUETICS by WALTER KAISER JR. and MOISÉS SILVA. Copyright ©1994, 2007 by the Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House (

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