The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers, Abner Chou. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018.
Summary: An argument for interpreting the Bible in the way the prophetic and apostolic writers interpreted prior texts, using careful exegesis to understand authorial intent, working intertextually, discerning the theological meaning, and its significance for the current day.
Readers of the Bible encounter a puzzling phenomenon when they observe how the biblical writers use and interpret prior biblical texts. It often seems they do not quote and use scripture in the ways we do. They sometimes conflate two or more passages, and we find ourselves wondering how they could apply a passage in the way they do. It seems to defy grammatico-historical exegesis. Some commentators observe a discontinuity between our own reading and interpretive practice, and those of biblical writers, particular apostolic writers. They cite the influence of midrashic interpretation and pesher exegesis, following first century rabbinic practice.
Abner Chou argues for a continuity of hermeneutic practice extending from the prophets to the apostles that ought in turn shape our own hermeneutic practice. He traces how prophets paid careful attention to the words of prior scripture, the Pentateuch, seeking through careful exegesis to grasp the authorial intent, and moved from this theological meaning under inspiration to draw out the theological significance of this truth for their own readers and those to follow. Chou contends, not that they wrote better than they knew but that they knew better than we credit. In turn, the apostolic writers followed a similar practice, as they reflected on the scriptures, and the work of Christ, and their use of these scriptures represents similar careful exegesis, attention to theological meaning, and drawing out further theological significance. Chou considers each of the New Testament writers in turn. What makes for continuity and agreement among these interpreters in their intertextual work is their common approach to interpreting the biblical text within a redemptive historical perspective.
Chou supports his case by dealing with difficult instances such as the use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 (“Out of Egypt I called my son”). He also traces the use of various words and themes like”seed” through various biblical uses and allusions to show a continuity of interpretation with progressive understanding. The extensive use of this material, though the author apologized for not offering an exhaustive treatment, was a rich study of biblical themes. Like other writers, he argues for “redemptive trajectories” but for him, the trajectory stops at the terminus of the New Testament and further projections, for example, with regard to roles of women in marriage and the church, are not warranted.
While some will object to this, there is much material for fruitful reflection with regard to the unfolding of redemptive history and the continuity between the testaments. His conclusions for our own interpretive and applicative practice offer sound insights in careful exegesis that understands the centrality of Christ. His fourfold framework of application that leads to worship for God’s works, learning of theology, moral responses, and a worldview shaped by redemptive history is a helpful rubric for our uses of scripture in the obedience of faith.
I had two criticisms of this work. One is that the author does not address hermeneutical scholarship that does not agree with his proposal. It would seem in an academic text that this would be a given to establish the superiority of his method. There is no discussion of first century rabbinic practice, only the assumption that the apostolic hermeneutic was the prophetic hermeneutic.
Second, I felt the work was excessively repetitious in trying to drum into the reader his thesis. Some skillful editing would have made this a far more readable text. Also, Chou repeatedly misused the phrase “hone in” for “home in” (cf. this Writer’s Digest article).
I do hope Chou will address these shortcomings in his future scholarly work. Showing how biblical writers read, interpreted, and responded to scripture, and how the many writers under God the Spirit’s inspiration wrote one book with theological continuity is a vital project to answer the skepticism about scripture in many quarters. This will enhance the warm love he evidences for the scriptures in his writing, and I presume, with his students.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.