Craig G. Bartholomew, Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015). xiv + 623 pp. Hb. $44.99. ISBN: 9780801039775.
Craig Bartholomew has written and edited many works in the field of hermeneutics. His most well-known works include Ecclesiastes in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms series, The Drama of Scripture, and Christian Philosophy. Bartholomew is also the founder of the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar which has since run for 15 years and published many collected works (edited by Bartholomew) in the many areas of study related to hermeneutics.
From the many endorsements that litter the cover of this book, the prestige of the author, and the hype surrounding this book, it is easy to expect that Bartholomew has offered scholarship something fresh and exciting in this dense 600 + page book. However, I regret to inform the reader that Bartholomew has done nothing of the sort. This is not to diminish the importance of the book, or doubt its helpfulness, or contest the accuracy of its information. I simply wish to tell the reader that nearly all of the information that is in this book can be found elsewhere. In fact, for many evangelicals, the overarching argument of the book is one big moot point.
In order to understand these points, it is important to first understand Bartholomew’s audience. Bartholomew’s argument comes across as though it is intended for skeptical academics, who doubt the validity of reading the Bible for theological or religious purposes. If this is true, then the reader that he has in mind is one who sees the Bible as an important historical document rather than the self-revealed word of God. In other words, every chapter (see the book contents below) is meant to work together to lay a comprehensive framework for his defense of reading the Bible for theological purposes.
Once understood in these terms, it is easier to understand both the overall structure of the book as well as its content. Although there is nothing really new in this book, there is nonetheless a great deal of important information related to hermeneutics because Bartholomew is aiming to provide a comprehensive framework. The fact of this book’s wide ranging discussion can be easily seen from the table of contents:
Part 1: Approaching Biblical Interpretation
1. Biblical Interpretation Coram Deo
2. Listening and Biblical Interpretation
Part 2: Biblical Interpretation and Biblical Theology
3. The Story of Our World
4. The Development of Biblical Theology
Part 3: The Story of Biblical Interpretation
5. The Traditions within Which We Read
6. Early and Medieval Jewish Biblical Interpretation
7. Renaissance, Reformation, and Modernity
Part 4: Biblical Interpretation and the Academic Disciplines
9. Philosophy and Hermeneutics
13. Scripture and the University: The Ecology of Christian Scholarship
Part 5: The Goal of Biblical Interpretation
14. The “Epistle” to the Hebrews: But We Do See Jesus
15. Preaching the Bible for All It’s Worth: The Resurrection of the Sermon and the Incarnation of the Christcomprehensive nature can be seen easily from the table of contents
With these chapters, Bartholomew introduces the readers to the variety of topics that are instrumental to biblical interpretation. Indeed, it is very helpful that he includes such topics as philosophy, history, literature, theology, and the role of Scripture in the University. These discussions remind the reader that it is important to know what philosophical presuppositions are influencing the way that they interpret Scripture. However, although academics periodically need to be reminded of the role of theology in interpretation, most non-academic Christians do not need to be told to bring theology into the interpretive task and then use Scripture to evaluate their theology. On the other hand, whereas academics may not need to be told the story of biblical interpretation, these chapters in Part 3 should prove to be helpful for non-academics.
In the final assessment, Bartholomew has provided a helpful, if not fresh, introduction to biblical hermeneutics. Many evangelicals will find Bartholomew’s integration of more critical scholarship to be a problem. Many critical scholars will find his emphasis on reading the bible for theological and religious purposes to be too Christian. Many evangelical academics will find many of his discussions old hat. And many non-academics will find his overall argument uninteresting. On the other hand (he says with some sarcasm), I guess I should like this book more than I do because “all the right people” endorsed it with their many acclamations.