Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Grant R. Osborne, 499 pages.

This book is aptly subtitled, for comprehensive it is! Osborne goes the length in this book from explaining how to study the Biblical text in its original languages to advice on delivery of sermons.

A basic thesis he mentions a number of times throughout the book is that the goal of hermeneutics is not the commentary but the sermon. This textbook is very detailed and yet practical: almost everything he writes is aimed at how to write a relevant sermon for a congregation today.

Part one deals with General Hermeneutics. Here he addresses matters of context, grammar, semantics, syntax, and historical and cultural backgrounds.

In part two Osborne discusses extensively the different genre of the Bible which he divides as narrative, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, apocalyptic, parable, and epistle. A preacher will do well to consult the different chapters when preaching on a text of a particular genre.
(Having read several books on hermeneutics lately, I have begun to wonder why the divisions of the Bible itself are not more closely followed when discussing genre (this question is more pertinent as it relates to the Old Testament [OT]). Our English Bibles follow the order of the Greek translation of the OT whereas the Hebrew Bible follows a different order and divides the OT into three sections: the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. This makes for interesting observations; e.g., the Kings is found among the Prophets while the Chronicles is found with the Writings (Psalms, etc.). Why, according to the thought of the ancient Hebrews was Kings considered prophetic and Chronicles a writing? This is not addressed by modern texts on Hermeneutics which reclassifies both as historical narrative. Perhaps further reflection on this would be fruitful.

As for the New Testament (NT), it would seem better to see two divisions: Gospels (Matthew to Acts) and Epistles. The book of Revelation is, first of all, an epistle. Calling it Apocalyptic tends to make one lose sight of the fact that it is a letter from Christ to the churches.)
In Part 3, the author deals with Applied Hermeneutics. He writes about the place of Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology in the interpretation of Scripture. The second to last chapter is about contextualization—showing a congregation today how the text is relevant for them. The book comes together in the last chapter, "The Sermon," in which Osborne gives both theoretical and practical instruction in preparing the sermon and preaching.

Osborne promotes what is often called the textual-thematic (also known as textual- reconstructive or expository) sermon. He does not, however, totally reject the topical sermon.

This is a very good book. It would serve well as a textbook for a seminary course on hermeneutics. Considering its size (500 pages of dense type), a minister in a busy pastorate might be a bit intimidated to take it on. But then, that's what sabbaticals are for!