An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning, by Walter C. Kaiser and Moises Silva. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1994. 298 pp. $24.99 (hard cover). [Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.]
As the title suggests, this book is intended to be a textbook on hermeneutics. From many points of view, it is an excellent textbook which can be used with great profit in seminary courses on hermeneutics; but it is also sufficiently worthwhile for ministers who have all their hermeneutics under their belts, to read and study.
But the book is not without its difficulties, most of which arise because of its dual authorship. Early in the book we are warned that the authors do not always agree on all matters, and Silva especially takes the time to call attention to his disagreements with Kaiser. If these disagreements were on relatively minor points, this would not be so bad, but they seem oftentimes to be disagreements over a very fundamental point: the doctrine of Scripture itself. One gets the impression that Moises Silva is much more ready to accept the findings of higher critical studies than Walter Kaiser.
The book pretty well covers the field and devotes separate chapters to various aspects of hermeneutics: interpreting historical narratives, prophecy, gospels, parables, epistles, wisdom writings, etc. In some of these traditional areas of hermeneutical studies the book has fresh and helpful material.
The writings of Kaiser especially are well worth the price of the book. He has an excellent chapter on the interpretation of prophecy and even argues strongly for a unilateral and unconditional covenant. In treating the problem of how to bridge cultural disparity (the view that differences in culture between the writer of a book and the reader make the writings difficult to understand), Kaiser has extremely helpful ideas on how to distinguish the enduring in Scripture, which is rooted in principle, from the cultural. He addresses the question of I Corinthians 11:2ff. in this connection. While Kaiser does castigate modern critics for destroying the perspicuity of Scripture by an appeal to cultural disparity, he, in the judgment of this reviewer, makes far too much of it and does not sufficiently emphasize that the same Holy Spirit who wrote the Scriptures is also the Interpreter. I do not mean to imply that Kaiser ignores this point, for he more than Silva emphasizes its importance in hermeneutics. Cultural disparity, after all, is a relatively insignificant matter if one takes into account the work of the Spirit. All one needs is a good Bible dictionary to help him with various cultural problems. And, even then, an understanding of the text is not absolutely dependent on full cultural awareness of biblical times. I do not need to know, e.g., with certainty what hyssop is to understand what the Holy Spirit means when through the psalmist He wrote: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Ps. 51:7). Knowing gives somewhat more understanding, but is not decisive.
Kaiser also has an excellent chapter on the theological use of Scripture in which he talks about the analogy of faith. Here more than elsewhere his emphasis on the unity of divine authorship comes out.
While Silva also has many good things to contribute to the on-going discussions of biblical interpretation, he is not as strong on certain key matters as Kaiser. Silva (and I have mentioned this in other reviews of his books) concedes much too much to higher criticism. And interestingly enough, he appeals to common grace to justify his adoption of some higher critical methods. He does this in a chapter on “Calvinistic Hermeneutics,” because in a chapter under this title, he finds a justification in the writings of Calvin for his appeal to common grace. He leaves the impression that Calvin himself could very well have been eager to adopt the assured results of modern critical studies, if he had only known them.
The willingness to accept something of what one finds in higher criticism rests on a faulty view of Scripture. The book, while covering the field of hermeneutics, does not devote a separate section to a doctrine of Scripture—although such a doctrine comes out in many different ways. But the faulty doctrine of Scripture to which I allude is a major and fundamental concession to higher critical studies. Scripture is said to be authored by men and, therefore has a human dimension. It is this human side to Scripture which opens the door to higher criticism. If only conservative scholars could see that the doctrine of Scripture which Scripture teaches excludes the human and insists only on the divine, the battle for the defense of the Bible would not go the way of victory for the infidel. Nor does this insistence on Scripture as being divine negate the fact that God used men to write the Scriptures—not, at least, if one believes in predestination and providence.
The grammatical and historical method of interpretation is sound; but let it be understood that the spiritual aspect of interpretation (the search in every part of Scripture for the meaning of the Holy Spirit) is fundamental and crucial. It is not an aspect alongside of the grammatical and historical—as Silva so often seems to make it; it is the one great aspect in the light of which all the grammatical and historical aspects have to be considered.
The book is an important book. It will bring one up-to-date on what modern and recent critical studies are doing and how conservatives are buying into higher criticism; but it will have the positive fruit of enriching one’s own ability to work with God’s holy Word.
I Will Maintain, by Marjorie Bowen (William and Mary Trilogy, Volume 1). Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 1993. 383 pages. $15.90 (US); $17.95 (Can.) (paper). [Reviewed by the Editor.]
This is great reading for all ages, high school and older.
I Will Maintain is well-written historical fiction with a solid, significant, exciting historical base. Volume one of the trilogy tells the story of William III, prince of Orange in the Netherlands and king of England, in the days of his coming to power in the Netherlands. Mary, daughter of English king James II and William’s future wife, does not yet appear in volume one. No doubt, she will receive her due in the following volumes.
The title is taken from the motto of the house of Orange.
William is known in history for his heroic defense of the Netherlands against the aggression of Louis XIV of France and Charles II of England (William’s uncle) and for his deliverance of England from Stuart tyranny and Roman Catholicism by the “Glorious” Revolution of 1688. Protestants in Northern Ireland honor his memory because of a similar delivery associated with the battle of the Boyne in 1690.
At the heart of volume one is the struggle between William and another noble Hollander, the powerful “pensionary” (comparable to a prime minister), John de Witt. It was not merely a struggle for power. Both men had lofty ideals. Each was convinced that what he stood for was necessary for the good of the Netherlands. de Witt saw the Netherlands as a republic, and the representative of the house of Orange as a royal threat. William saw the house of Orange (and himself in particular) as savior of the fatherland. At best, the de Witts had weakened the nation and were themselves too weak to defend it against its foes.
There is fascinating character study both of the prince and of the pensionary; gripping dialogue; the excitement of war on sea and land; and the tragedy of the murder of the de Witts by the mob. Romance will come in the following two volumes.
No small part of the appeal and worth of the book is the lively account of the important history of one of the world’s great nations, the Dutch. This history was bound up with the Reformed faith and had implications for the exercise of Protestantism throughout Europe.
Christian high schools could profitably assign the book, indeed, the whole trilogy, for history or literature classes.
It is delightful reading, especially for those who have held out against the pressure to “burn their wooden shoes” and are quite unashamed of their Dutch ancestry.