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How should we read the Bible? Interpret obtuse texts with the clear texts? Should the Scripture interpret me alone? Those are helpful methods, but Starling vouches for an intertextual hermeneutic. Like the snowball which rolls down a hill and picks up more snow along the way, the Biblical authors picked up former themes and ideas when they wrote. Revelation, the last book of the Bible, has more echoes and allusions (~635) than any other NT book. That’s quite the snowball. But more than that, Starling argues that the “interpretation of the Scriptures is like a craft or a trade that must be learned if we are to draw the right connections, make the right intuitive leaps, and bring to bear on the task the right dispositions, affections, and virtues” (17). The work of the interpreter (which is anyone and everyone who reads the Bible) will require sweat, toil, and character.
The rest of his book is made up of fourteen case studies, six from the Old Testament and eight from the New. Each chapter has a specific theme (or “hermeneutic”) that is developed throughout that biblical book. If each theme was a play, Starling gives us tickets to the front row, the side balcony, and the nose bleed section. Each seat is a different angle and allows the ticket-holder the see the play, its actors, their motions, and their faces from different angles (near, far, and to the side). Some examples are Psalms (“delight”), Deuteronomy (“law”), Zechariah (“prophecy”), Luke (“fulfillment”), Galatians (“allegory”), and 1 Peter (“Empire”).
For example, in 1 Peter, how do we read the Bible and live in this world as exiles under an evil empire (no matter where we live)? Peter teaches his readers what the OT says about living as followers of Christ today (yes, even today) by having us sit in the different seats of the play Empire. We are to live with both a reverent fear/respect to those we live and serve under, and a reverent fear of God whom everyone lives under. We live under a God who has show us grace and we should show grace and good works as well to others. When we are alienated from the world we know that there is another greater One who we serve and approves of our lives. Our glorious salvation is incorruptible, greater than all the gold and social approval this world can give us. We were taken out of darkness and into light by the precious blood of Christ through a horrific crucifixion. “What is beautiful in the sight of God can—at least in principle—be found beautiful by all those who have eyes to see” (190).
The Spoiled Milk
There not much I don’t like about this book, but there are times when Starling is making a point, but it either seems to come out of nowhere or it’s very vague. For example, to conclude his chapter on Luke-Acts and to clarify how they explain a true “gospel-centered hermeneutic,” Starling says in his third concluding point that “the gospel preaching of Jesus and his apostles in Luke-Acts does not sit well with one-dimensional propositional accounts of the gospel speech-act, or with overly sharp attempts to pare off the response the gospel calls for and the blessing that it offers from the facts that it announces, as if only the latter were properly part of the gospel” (117). He states just before that the way Luke-Acts uses the OT contrasts with a one-dimensional use of the OT simply as a backdrop for the facts of the gospel that many people today use.
But just what are these “one-dimensional propositional accounts”? What does he mean by “gospel speech-act”? What are the “overly sharp attempts to pare off” the gospel response and its offered blessings from the facts of the gospel, and who is doing the paring? I don’t know, but this is one of final main points. To give (what I thought to be) a vague expression of how we shouldn’t interpret the OT without explaining what that looks like is disappointing. Many may continue on without realizing their own one-dimensional interpretations.
I would assign this book if I taught a hermeneutics class in a Bible college, and at least a few chapters if I taught this in a high school. It’s a good subset of larger Biblical theologies that keeps an eye on what the individual biblical authors are teaching their readers. They each have something specific they want to emphasize (multiple things, really), and it all fits under the heading of God’s Word.
Interpreting Scripture requires sweat, skill, and character. We work and develop the skill of learning how to read and understand it properly, and as God develops our character and shapes us into the image of his Son, we will understand better just who this God is who is working in the world around us. The fear of God which leads to godly wisdom “is a way of living with unanswered questions that still bears true witness, keeps faith with friends, maintains integrity, and hopes in God” (80).
The reading and interpretation of God’s word should continually shape us into the image of Christ. The end goal of the Bible is not that we know every correct interpretation (taking up all of our time), but that we love God and serve others because we are transformed by interpreting what the Bible teaches us. We will never get to the end of the Bible, and we will never have all the answers. But we will eventually have to make decisions in life, and what we have learned from the Bible will inform those decisions. Learn to interpret well.
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Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.