Why Biblical Interpreters Should Understand Philosophy


Craig G. Bartholomew’s new book Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture (Baker 2015) continues to yield wonderful insights as I proceed along through its pages. Tonight’s quote concerns the philosophical underpinnings of biblical criticism. I will never forget a conversation during grad school wherein a classmate, firmly committed to higher critical methods and conclusions, admitted that he had not once considered the philosophical and theological commitments necessary for his views to exist. He simply adopted the methodology and allowed it to rewrite his faith as necessary. Bartholomew’s quote below reminded me of that conversation:

Despite the ravaging of modernity by so-called postmodernity, the narrative of modernity as one of progress remains deeply rooted in Western culture, and it is still far too easy to accept such a narrative uncritically in biblical studies today. The way we tell the story of the emergence of modern biblical criticism is, however, never neutral. For example, in volume 4 of his History of Biblical Interpretation, when [H.G.] Reventlow comes to deal with Wilhelm de Wette, the father of modern biblical criticism, the chapter is headed “Biblical Studies as a Science.” Implicit in such a heading is that it was not a science or truly critical before this era! Our narrative thus far reveals that this is quite incorrect, but so deeply is the modern narrative embedded in our consciousness that we need to become sensitized as to what baggage we are accepting when we periodize biblical studies with terms like precritical and critical, premodern and modern. This is not for a moment to deny the genuine progress made by modern biblical criticism or to propose a return to patristic exegesis, for example, but it is to insist that modern (and post modern) biblical criticism operates within philosophical paradigm/s and that these require close inspection before being adopted as the “objective” way forward. Scholder and Reventlow have stressed the importance of examining the development of the historical-critical method in its historical and cultural context. The main figures of the development are well known, but “up until now it has not been described in context.” Exploring this context will involve examining its philosophical-hermeneutical elements closely, as Scholder recognizes in his assertion that investigation of this area will result in the theologian finding himself or herself “transported into the largely uncharted area which lies between philosophy and theology.”

Pgs. 207-208. Bold emphasis added.

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA