The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles

A method of interpretation–a hermeneutic–is indispensable for understanding Scripture, constructing theology, and living the Christian life, but most contemporary hermeneutical systems fail to acknowledge the principles and practices of the biblical writers themselves.

Christians today cannot employ a truly biblical view of the Bible unless they understand why the prophets and apostles interpreted Scripture the way they did. To this end, Abner Chou proposes a “hermeneutic of obedience,” in which believers learn to interpret Scripture the way the biblical authors did–including understanding the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament.

Chou first unfolds the “prophetic hermeneutic” of the Old Testament authors, and demonstrates the continuity of this approach with the “apostolic hermeneutic” of the New Testament authors.

Chou begins his survey with a ‘quest for authorial logic’ and follows with the set of presuppositions and methods he will employ.  The meat of the volume commences in the third chapter, where Chou investigates the prophet as exegete and theologian.  Then he turns to the critical question of prophetic self understanding; i.e., did the prophets speak beyond what they meant to say?  The fifth chapter explores apostolic exposition of the Hebrew Bible and chapter six the ‘theological fabric of the New Testament’.  The seventh chapter draws the implied conclusion of the entire enterprise: ‘reading as they read and intended’.  The eighth and final chapter attempts to draw readers into the hermeneutical process itself.

The work concludes with a bibliography but it lacks any indices and the bibliography makes no mention of Hans Hübner or Leonhard Goppelt!  This last fact is utterly astonishing because these two scholars have done more to aid us in understanding the hermeneutics utilized by the writers of the New Testament than any other academics yet.  It’s akin to writing a book about the Reformation and not mentioning Luther or Calvin or Zwingli or writing a study of the Gospel of John and ignoring the existence of Rudolf Bultmann or preparing a volume on the Septuagint and refusing to acknowledge the existence of Rahlf-Hanhart’s edition.

Chou is, on the other hand, heavily indebted to G.K. Beale, D.A. Carson, Eugene Merrill and other very conservative scholars.  Accordingly, the proper title of the volume ought really be ‘The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from an Exceedingly Conservative Perspective And Less from the Prophets and the Apostles’.  Or, to put it more simply, this is an ideologically driven monograph.

The author finds what he expects to find concerning hermeneutical method because that’s what he fully expects to find.  His argument is circular.  His reasoning is clear, yet hog tied by a raft of presuppositions which, to be fair, can be held by anyone.  Yet in holding presuppositions, we owe it to ourselves and our readers to make it clear that we have them and that we are supporting them in our arguments without very much interest in contrary facts or evidence.  Chou, and all of us, can be as biased as we want.  But we have to say we are.  Pretending to be objective whilst not honestly being such is misleading.

Finally, the Christological lens through which every part of the Old Testament is seen is simply exegetically wrong.  Further, it is inappropriate.  Isaiah meant what Isaiah meant and he meant it for his day and time.  If we want to make some sort of Christological claim from it we can (and the Church has from the beginning) but it has to be clearly said that such a move is purely interpretive and has nothing to do with what Isaiah meant.  You can see Christ under every stone and behind every tree in the Old Testament that you want to.  But that doesn’t mean he’s really there any more than he’s really there in your cheese toast or your door or your cloud.

Chou’s work would have been better and more rounded had he simply brought in viewpoints with which he didn’t agree.  But the line he took from the very beginning was a staunch Conservatism, and his volume suffers for it.

This volume is great propaganda (for a conservative perspective), but it is sub-par scholarship.  If you hold a conservative view of Scripture, this volume will be wonderful for you.  Because it will reinforce what you already presume.  But it won’t teach you anything, and at the end of the day if a book doesn’t teach us something it really has no reason for being.

One thought on “The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles

  1. John Poirier 24 Apr 2018 at 1:55 pm

    The logic found in the title and subtitle of this book is widespread today, and it drives me *crazy*. Why should we assume that the NT writers are the best interpreters of the OT? Why assume that, if Paul had been exposed to more historical-critical ways of reading (and the justification for it), that he would not have bought into it?

    This is why my head wants to explode when I read a Richard Hays book.

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