In This Article Interpretation and Hermeneutics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Essay Collections
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Reader-Centered Approaches, Deconstruction, and Postmodernism
  • Diversity-Centered, Feminist, and Postcolonial Interpretive Lenses
  • Postcritical Exegesis and Theological Interpretation of Scripture
  • Canonical (Holistic/“Scripture”-Oriented) Approaches to Theological Interpretation
  • Constructive Theology
  • Biblical Criticism, Biblical Authority, and Religious Faith
  • Biological Evolution, Homosexual Relationships, the Conquest of Canaan
  • Inner-Biblical and Intra-Canonical Interpretation

Biblical Studies Interpretation and Hermeneutics
by
Stephen L. Cook
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0057

Introduction

The Bible is an all-time best-seller, but readers have always struggled to understand it, interpret it, and apply its teachings. Thus, there has been no end to the production of books on Bible study. Amid the overwhelming amount of resources available, this annotated bibliography limits itself to the modest goal of mapping out the area of biblical interpretation and hermeneutics, citing some of the most important aids and providing sample entries representing the best thinking currently available. Hermeneutics (from the Greek verb hermeneuein, “to explain, interpret, or translate”) is the technical term for the study of how one explains a text. It seems to have been first used in Strasbourg in 1654. The science of hermeneutics really applies to all literature, even to all human communication, since no texts (or communications) have one fixed, transparent meaning with a pristine link to an intended referent. This bibliography will cite some works of general hermeneutics, which of course are relevant to reading the Bible, but will concentrate on the literature pertaining more directly to biblical research. In a broad sense, biblical hermeneutics can mean the general principles and interpretive methods of biblical study. A whole “science” (or “art”) of biblical interpretation has arisen due to the complexity and richness of the biblical literature, and there is now a bewildering array biblical methods (stretching from philology to form-criticism to postmodern reading strategies). But more specifically, as biblical interpreters have studied hermeneutics they have basically focused their attention on two broad kinds of questions. The first area of questioning wrestles with the reader’s historical, conceptual, and, perhaps, “moral” distance from the Bible’s writings. Interpreters recognize a need for discipline in moving from investigations about what a Scripture meant early in its production to what it means now, when it lies in the hands of contemporary people. The “hermeneutical gap,” as it is called, is sometimes very challenging to span. Second, the more recent area of questioning seeks to unpack and clarify the broader philosophical underpinnings of interpretation. One must ask about such matters as: “How is understanding possible?” “How does meaning arise as a reader confronts a biblical text?” “Must we accept the possibility of a multiplicity of meanings?” In our self-conscious and methodologically reflective age this second area of inquiry has made itself very strongly felt. This annotated bibliography begins with a survey of introductory essays, guides to interpretation, and handbooks on biblical exegesis. It then moves to areas of key interest in late modern hermeneutics, such as “reader-centered approaches, deconstruction, and postmodernism,” “global and cross-cultural interpretive lenses,” and the “theological interpretation of Scripture.” Next, there are sections on criticism and faith in tension, on interpretation and constructive theology, and on hermeneutical approaches to controversial texts. The bibliography concludes with sections on inner-biblical interpretation and on the history of biblical interpretation and hermeneutics.

Introductory Works

Brettler 2007 and Sternberg 1987, representing two rather different Jewish perspectives, provide great entrées into an informed reading of the Bible. Barton 1996 and Walsh 1998 are mainstream, modern introductions to biblical interpretation, both emphasizing the use of literary approaches. Tiffany and Ringe 1996 aims to help students develop an intuitive feel for interpretation. Rather than relying immediately on scholarly aids, readers are asked to “read, feel, question, react,” to “compare similar material,” “refine questions,” and “enter in dialogue with other readers and our communities.” Fee and Stuart 2003, a broadly evangelical guide, presents two basic tasks of interpretation: “exegesis,” understood as discovering the text’s “original meaning,” the “then and there” of the text, and “hermeneutics,” understood as learning to hear that meaning in the present day, in the “here and now.” The volume provides a helpful discussion of Bible translations and an annotated bibliography. McCartney and Clayton 2002 and Klein, et al. 2004 are two other evangelical introductions to conservative biblical interpretation. Ferguson 1986 provides a good general introduction to biblical hermeneutics.

  • Barton, John. Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996.

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    An authoritative, modernist introduction to both established methods of critical exegesis and to newer trends. There is a fine presentation of structuralism, but the volume is less helpful on deconstruction, canonical approaches, and theological interpretation.

  • Brettler, Marc Zvi. How to Read the Jewish Bible. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    A comprehensive and accessible guide to reading the Hebrew Bible as first understood in its ancient setting where Israelite culture gave rise to it. Advocating historical criticism, Brettler emphasizes gaining familiarity with the texts’ literary conventions and ideological assumptions and he orients the reader to the historical and archaeological data that offer significant illumination.

  • Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 3d ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

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    An accessible and popular volume (over half a million copies sold) written for a general audience by two leading conservative exegetes, one a scholar of the Old Testament and one of the New Testament. It focuses on offering the reader general guidelines in interpretation and on explaining the variety of genres present in the biblical corpus.

  • Ferguson, Duncan S. Biblical Hermeneutics: An Introduction. Atlanta: John Knox, 1986.

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    Still in print after two decades, this volume introduces the history, method, and implementation of biblical hermeneutics. Though dated, the work presents a useful discussion of the role of preunderstanding and of the complexities of interpreting biblical literature in all its diversity.

  • Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.

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    A comprehensive, if wordy, evangelical introduction to the practice of conservative biblical interpretation. A notable strength of the book is its survey of conflicting positions, including interaction with mainline critical stances toward the text. There is focused attention on the various literary genres within the Scriptures. The volume does not engage the philosophy of understanding, that is, philosophical hermeneutics.

  • McCartney, Dan, and Charles Clayton. Let the Reader Understand: A Guide to Interpreting and Applying the Bible. 2d ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002.

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    An accessible, unabashedly evangelical guide to biblical interpretation. The authors pay special attention to being conscious of assumptions and hermeneutical presuppositions. They also provide a good critique of “word study” methods.

  • Sternberg, Meir. The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

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    Sternberg shows how serious a literary work the Bible is and helps the reader begin to understand the strategies biblical narratives use in conveying meaning. One comes away from this work with a good grasp of the theoretical basis and artistry of Scripture’s narrative texts.

  • Tiffany, Frederick, and Sharon H. Ringe. Biblical Interpretation: A Roadmap. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996.

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    The authors emphasize the use of close reading in interpretation, while also encouraging the reader to take the context of the text and the context of reading seriously. Part 2 undertakes sample treatments of the following texts: Numbers 10:11–12:16; Jeremiah 22:24–23:8; Psalm 77; Mark 3:1–6; and 1 Corinthians 11:17–34. Part 3 engages issues and resources in interpretation.

  • Walsh, Richard G. Reading the Bible: An introduction. Notre Dame, IN: Cross Cultural Publications, 1998.

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    A mainstream college textbook introducing students to biblical literature, emphasizing a modern literary approach. Walsh introduces the reading of the biblical books with attention to plot, character, style, and implied reader. He makes connections to ancient, modern, and late-modern cultures, with many references to movies, literature, and historical figures. The format is easy to read, and includes numerous charts and insets.

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