Sean Adams and I have recently edited two major volumes in the history of biblical interpretation. They are entitled Pillars in the History of Biblical Interpretation, and they have been published by the McMaster Divinity College Press in conjunction with Pickwick Publications (Wipf & Stock), both in 2016.
The first volume is on prevailing methods in biblical interpretation before 1980 (403 pp.) and the second volume on those after 1980 (499 pp.)—although we use these dates as rough indicators to differentiate traditional and more recent forms of interpretation.
These volumes began with papers by MA/PhD students in a course I teach on the History of Biblical Interpretation, but have been expanded to include the contributions of many other scholars as well. I realize that some will be disappointed that other biblical interpreters are not included, but those included certainly merit their inclusion. For those interested, we are planning a third volume (and possibly others) to include those figures in the history of biblical interpretation that have not made it into the first two volumes, so stay tuned.
The rationale for these volumes is very simple—ideas do not exist as free-floating wisps in the air, but exist only as they are embodied in the thought and writings of those who hold to the positions. Therefore, there is no point in talking about, for example, form criticism as an abstract notion, but one should describe the work of someone like Martin Dibelius or Rudolf Bultmann, who themselves argued for and practiced various versions of form criticism. Both volumes are based around this notion of embodiment, especially as this is focused upon the individuals’ methods and theoretical approaches, such as social-scientific, theological interpretation, and the like.
This orientation makes these volumes different from many traditional discussions of types of biblical interpretation—most of which are not about people but about disembodied idealizations of these various criticisms, forms not held by any particular interpreter.
Both of the volumes are introduced by an essay that I wrote, entitled “The History of Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Conspectus.” This 70-page chapter is designed to weave a narrative about how many, if not most, of the types of biblical criticism practiced today are in some way related to many of the other criticisms, and all stem from a few early approaches to criticism. I identify historical criticism, literary criticism, philosophy, language studies, and the human sciences as five originating ideas that have given rise to virtually all of the types of criticism that are currently practiced in biblical studies. This chapter began as an introductory lecture that I give in my interpretation course, in which I create an elaborate web of interwoven concepts (all connected by a network of lines) to illustrate the developments and cross-overs that have resulted in the interpretive plurality of today. All criticisms have a history and a set of genetic and fraternal relationships worth exploring.
Here is a summary of the contents of the first volume by scholar treated, with the author of each in parentheses:
- J. Griesbach and Karl Lachmann (Brandon D. Crowe)
- Friedrich Schleiermacher (Jan H. Nylund)
- Ferdinand Christian Baur (Hughson T. Ong)
- Brooke Foss Westcott, Fenton John Anthony Hort, and Joseph Barber Lightfoot (Ronald Dean Peters)
- Theodor Zahn, Adolf Harnack, and Adolf Schlatter (Andreas J. Köstenberger)
- William Wrede and Julius Wellhausen (Dieter T. Roth)
- Albert Schweitzer (Andrew W. Pitts)
- Adolf Deissmann (Philip D. Burggraff)
- Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann (James D. Dvorak)
- H. Streeter (Paul Foster)
- William Ramsay and Ernst Haenchen (Daniel So)
- Günther Bornkamm (Jae Hyun Lee)
- H. Dodd (Beth M. Stovell)
- Walther Eichrodt (William K.K. Kapahu)
The second volume includes:
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Jonathan D. Numada)
- Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Paul Ricoeur (Edward Ho)
- Edmund Leach (Lois K. Fuller Dow)
- Martin Hengel (Andrew W. Pitts)
- Peter Stuhlmacher (Michael P. Naylor)
- Edwin Judge and Wayne Meeks (James D. Dvorak)
- Mary Douglas (Dustin J. Boreland)
- Philip F. Esler (Lois K. Fuller Dow)
- Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Phyllis Trible (Sherri Guenther Trautwein)
- Hans Dieter Betz and George A. Kennedy (Daniel So)
- Eugene A. Nida and Johannes P. Louw (Stanley E. Porter and Hughson T. Ong)
- James Barr (Sean A. Adams)
- Daniel Patte (Andrew W. Pitts)
- Brevard S. Childs (Joel Barker)
- James A. Sanders (William K.K. Kapahu)
- Anthony C. Thiselton (Philip D. Burggraff)
- Richard B. Hays (Jae Hyun Lee)
- Loveday Alexander and David Rhoads (Sean A. Adams)
- Francis Watson and Steven E. Fowl (Patrick S. Franklin)
These are substantive and diverse essays on an area of growing interest in biblical studies, the history of interpretation. A noteworthy theme that emerged from these figures in biblical interpretation is that those who make a significant contribution are those who seek to advance biblical scholarship in innovative ways. My hope is that the current generation of biblical scholars can make similar creative contributions to the field in the present and into the future, rather than just trying to force old wine into new wineskins.
— Stanley E. Porter
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