History of Interpretation

Stephen Neill, Tom Wright
The Interpretations of the New Testament: 1861-1986
Oxford, 1988. 450p., index.

Neill and Wright review various movements and trends in the understanding of the NT over the last 100 years.

It is written in the nuanced and elevated British style with a nice dose of droll wit ("[he] has, of course, his own eccentricity, such as must be allowed to learned men.") and so is a pleasure to read. You have to be able to handle sentences with more than one clause, and the authors resist easy bullet-point conclusions, but the reward is a fair survey of the various movements.

To be sure, the work gives British scholars perhaps more than their fair share of space, but that is a useful counterweight to the Germanic-centric style of other works.
Roy Harrisville, Walter Sundberg
The Bible in Modern Culture: Theology and Historical-Critical Method from Spinoza to Kasemann
Eerdmans, 1995.

This is both a German-centered, and a Lutheran-centered tour of the field. It also differs in its perspective from the above work in that it is more focused on those who wrote about the nature of interpretation, rather than those who produced commentaries on books of the Bible.

"Can the church live with Historical Criticism?" That question, posed at the beginning is one that the book explores, but not in any shrill or light fashion. "We believe that what is needed is a confessionally critical history of modern biblical criticism" meaning an analysis that is "seeking to be responsible to the church and its dogmatic tradition." In the hands of those with less integrity this could lead to fundamentalism or to appeals to authority. Here it leads to a balanced, careful work.


David Jasper
A Short Introduction to Hermeneutics
John Knox, 2004. 148 pages

This tails off in the latter chapters and becomes pretty weak. However, there is some good insight into the earlier states of Christian hermeneutics.


Robert M. Grant with David Tracy
A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible
Fortress, 2nd edition, 1984.

A brief and lively tour of the subject from Patristics to the modern era.

Last updated 11/3/06; first posted 5/1/00; © 2006 John P. Nordin