Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 10, Number 7, February 10 to February 16, 2008

The Story of Interpretation:

From the First Century to the Twenty First
Part II

By Rev. Ilya Lizorkin

Stellenbosch University
M. Phil. in Bible Interpretation

To Avi Snider
who first taught me to interpret the Bible

The Christian theologian is one who has learned his or her craft through apprenticeship to biblical literature.
Kevin Vanhooser


  • 1) Introduction
    • i. Hermeneutics and the Garden
    • ii. Goals and structure
    • iii. Definitions and major issues
    • iv. Challenges
  • 2) Apostolic Age
    • i. Jewishness
    • ii. Newness
    • iii. Eschatology
    • iv. Use of Jeremiah
  • 3) Early Church
    • i. The perceived evil of allegory
    • ii. Alexandrian and Antiochian Schools
    • iii. Use of Jeremiah
  • 4) Middle Ages
    • i. Period distinctives and key figures
    • ii. Jewish, Islamic and Christian interaction
    • iii. Use of Jeremiah
  • 5) Reformation
    • i. Period distinctives and key figures
    • ii. Jeremiah in Calvin
    • iii. Jeremiah in Henry
  • 6) Classics and Modernity
    • i. Period distinctives and key figures
    • ii. Use of Jeremiah
  • 7) Modernity and Post-Modernity
    • i. Introduction
    • ii. Author centered criticisms and the use of Jeremiah
    • iii. Text centered criticisms and the use of Jeremiah
    • iv. Audience centered criticisms and the use of Jeremiah
  • 8) Conclusion


Period distinctives and key figures

The philological advances of the Renaissance and the theological as well as ecclesiological developments of the Reformation is what at the core distinguishes the hermeneutics of 16th and 17th centuries from its medieval predecessor. The closer we move towards the Golden Age of Hermeneutics the more difficult it becomes to make a choice of which great exegetes and representatives of various schools should be covered in our study and which we are justified in overlooking.

The major players in Bible Interpretation are of course the Reformers 1 and the Christian humanists 2 of the time, Theodore Beza, Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, John Calvin, Miles Coverdale, Desiderius Erasmus, Matthias Flacius Illiricus, Matthew Henry, Richard Hooker, Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples, John Lightfoot, Martin Luther, Pilgram Marpeck, Philip Melanchthon, William Perkins, William Tyndale, Peter Martye Vermingli, Jerome Zanchi and Ulrich Zwingli. 3

The first key distinctive characteristic of this period was this: the trend towards the appreciation of the literal-simple meaning of the text became a strong current in the sea of Bible Interpretation. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Reformed Hermeneutic at this time was the contention that any text of the Bible has but one meaning. The suspicion and gentle suggestions of preceding generations that maybe, just maybe, the historical sense has some importance, was replaced by the full subscription to its supremacy and exclusivity. Melanchthon, Luther's successor and popularizer of many of Luther's teachings, proceeded on the sound principles that (a) the Scriptures must be understood grammatically before they can be understood theologically; and (b) the Scriptures have but one certain and simple sense. As was the case with early Antiochian interpreters, reformers did not abandon the use of allegory all together, but rather they gave it its proper place. Alistair McGrath comments on Melanchthon's hermeneutic: "His biblical exegesis stressed the importance of the literal sense of Scripture. Although he used allegory at points (e.g. in his exposition of John's Gospel), he clearly subordinated the allegorical to the literal or historical sense of Scripture… His most important contribution to 16th centaury biblical interpretation is the rhetorical foundation for the analysis of biblical texts put forward in his De Rhetorica libri tres (1519) and applied particularly well in the 1522 Romans Commentary - published by Luther without Melanchthon's permission." 4

The second key characteristic of the protestant hermeneutic of the time was the return to the early apostolic way of thinking about Christ being the hermeneutical grid through which all of the Scriptures should be studied. 5 The two most influential leaders of the Reformation (Luther and Calvin) held different views when it came to hermeneutical practice. For Luther the chief interpretive concern in reading the Scriptures was to find Christ and His Gospel, for Calvin the chief interpretive concern was the glory of God and His sovereignty. This broader perspective enables Calvin to be satisfied with biblical messages about God, God's redemptive history, and God's covenant without the necessity focusing these messages on Jesus Christ. 6 It would be unfair to say that Calvin was not Christo-centric in his reading of the Bible, however his Christo-centricity was freed by the sense of God's sovereignty. With regards to his high view of Christo-centricity, Calvin wrote: "We ought to read the Scripture with an expressed design of finding Christ in them. Whoever shall turn aside from this object, though he may weary himself through his whole life in learning, will never attain the knowledge of the truth; for what wisdom can we have without the wisdom of God." 7

Jeremiah in Calvin

The reformers seemed to take more interest in the book of Jeremiah and especially in the life of the prophet than their medieval predecessors. As we read Calvin it would serve us well to recall that he was writing in the midst of fierce persecution in many parts of Europe. Often times news of his disciples being tried for heresy and executed would reach Geneva. Those were the people into whom Calvin poured his heart and life. They were his sons who were slain in the battle. Calvin…compared the Catholic threat against his own Geneva during the Reformation to the life of Jeremiah, noting that both he and the prophet were struggling for the glory of God against the enemies of the faith. 8

Calvin in his views on the Sabbath is somewhat different from many of his Reformation counterparts. On July 27, 1549 Calvin preached a sermon on Jeremiah 17:19: "It is true that this symbol was abolished with the coming of Christ, as St. Paul declares to the Colossians and to the Romans. If we are locked into this custom it is by lack of intelligence… St. Paul states that we must abandon these symbols, for we are no longer children and these symbols were our ABCs." 9

Jeremiah by Henry

Matthew Henry writing on the heels, as it were of Luther's "Magisterial Reformation" does not hesitate to call our attention to the fact that the leaders of Jerusalem were admonished first and separately from the common people as indicated in the phrase "the gate…whereby the Kings of Judah come in": "Let them be told their duty first; for, if the Sabbaths be not sanctified the rulers of Judah are to be contended with, for they are certainly wanting in their duty." Today the Christian church has largely given up the idea of Christian government, so the scholars of today do not normally concentrate their interpretive attention on this matter at all, rather they are more concerned with the precise name of the gate as will be seen later in the paper. Once again it is clear that the context of the text is crucial for its meaning and perception by the reader.

Matthew Henry then continues: "The church shall flourish: Meat-offerings, and incense, and sacrifices of praise, shall be brought to the house of the Lord. A people truly flourish when religion flourishes among them… The streams of all religion run either deep or shallow according as the banks of the Sabbath are kept up or neglected." 10 The commentator under discussion does not hesitate to apply what was said of Ancient Israel to the church in his day. This is due not only to his covenant theology, but also to also to the highly pastoral and applicatory nature of this commentary that in a sense typifies the concerns of the time. 11

Classics and Modernity

Period distinctives and key figures

The 18th and 19th century came to be known in many disciplines as the age of Classics and the age of Modernity respectively. Rapid changes or rather paradigm shifts were taking place in Western Europe, more particularly in German institutions of higher learning. The Bible did not escape the impact of these changes. Scholar sought to approach the Bible through scientific means similar to those used in other areas of study. Thus was born the approach known as the historical-critical method, an interpretive method guided by several crucial philosophical presuppositions. It inherited the rationalistic assumption from its seventeenth-century intellectual ancestors, that the use of human reason, free from theological limitations, is the best tool with which to study the Bible. 12 John Rogerson argues that even though the 18th and 19th centuries could be lumped together into one period, there was a clear difference between them: "… by the close of the eighteenth century, critical German scholarship had already achieved much. It had gained freedom to investigate questions of authorships of books, unity of books, sources of underlying books, without the restraints imposed by traditional opinions on these matters deriving from the narrow views of the nature of inspiration. In had began to look at prophetic literature in its original and historic setting… Yet, arguably, it did not achieve the breakthrough… That breakthrough was, however, only a few years away as the eighteenth century came to an end." 13

As in any period there were many key interpreters that played important roles during this time. Some of the key representatives that I will seek to make reference to are Ernesti, Charles Hodge, Baur, Schleiermacher, De Wette, Strauss, Von Hofmann and Wellhausen.

Frederick Baur held professorship positions in several prestigious universities in Germany. He was "a mover and a shaker" of hermeneutics pushing the envelope and opposing orthodoxy in any shape or form. He was opposed to orthodoxy to such a degree that he attacked Frederick Schleiermacher with a charge of duplicity, since Schleiermacher did not categorically deny the historicity of the events in the Bible, he was simply saying that historicity is irrelevant and unimportant. S. J. Hofeman states emphatically that "…with the rise of Baur, a purely historical and critical investigation of the Bible established itself as orthodoxy in the world of Biblical Scholarship." 14

At this time there was an effort to begin formulating actual rules of biblical hermeneutics. Johann August Ernesti perhaps deserves recognition as the foremost contributor to the reformulation of classical hermeneutical rules for the clarification of texts, setting explicative practices of interpretation apart from efforts to apply biblical texts to contemporary life. 15

Charles Hodge was a Presbyterian theologian who like many others did not escape all of the traps of logical positivism that developed some time before. Vanhoozer states: "With regard to theology and interpretation of Scripture, then, Princetonians resembled the logical positivists, though their primary source of data was not empirical experience but biblical propositions. As Hodge stated: ‘The Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science.'" 16

David Friedrich Strauss continued the school of thought, which propagated that the things taught in the Scripture are eternal truths regardless of their actual historicity. In this, one sees a clear Kantian connection. H. Boers quotes Strauss: "The author is aware that the essence of the Christian faith is perfectly independent of his criticism. The supernatural birth of Christ, his miracles, his resurrection and ascension, remain eternal truths, whatever doubts may be cast to their reality as historical facts." 17

There were people who criticized the current critical approach to the Scriptures and argued that the Bible is God's Word and, therefore, its reading-hermeneutic needs to be proceeded by faith in its Author. Johann Christian Konrad von Hofmann…calls for "trust" in its (Biblical) message. Interpretation must begin "with trust, not with doubt and criticism). It is as if Hofmann glimpsed in advance the next 125 years of theological and hermeneutical developments. 18

No doubt one of the most important interpreters of this period was F. Schleiermacher. He is frequently credited with having founded modern Biblical hermeneutics. Prior to Schleiermacher, however, several other scholars wrote normative and technical theories of interpretation, including J. Dannahauer, J. Chladenius, and G. Meier.

For Schleiermacher the hermeneutics was the art of translating the intentions of the original author into terms familiar to the present day reader. 18 Schleiermacher 19 although routinely disliked by the conservatives must nevertheless be credited for his accomplishments in raising the importance of literary and historical criticism to a level that is accepted and appreciated by them. Ferguson makes that clear in his Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: "It was Schleiermacher particularly who objected that more was needed to understand the contents of the Bible, than the methods of this scientific kind of exegesis. He believed that in order to understand the biblical texts fully the interpreter must join literary and historical analysis with intuition and imagination." 20

Louis Jonker of Stellenbosch University does not doubt for a moment that Wellhausen was the greatest scholar of the period discussed here. He puts it the following way: "The greatest scholar of the nineteenth century was Julius Wellhausen (born 1844). He portrayed the religious development of Israel in His masterpiece "Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels" (published for the first time in 1878). According to Wellhausen, this development can be described as three epochs reflected in the Pentateuchal sources JE, 21 D and P. In every epoch the religion and cult of Israel were in different developmental levels. He therefore commenced his monumental work by presenting description of certain cult elements after the analogy of three epochs." 22

Even though Wellhausen had several evangelical followers such as Robertson Smith, who sought to combine his evangelical beliefs with many profound critical insights, it is hard to see how Wellhausen could be widely accepted by conservative evangelicals as an ally. For Wellhausen the subjective experience of faith was decisive, not the historical fact: "Jesus was dead. Christ lived." Jesus' preaching involved the highest ethical conceptuality." This cannot be destroyed through historical criticism. We have basis for faith beyond the realm of history: "In the core of my soul I lay hold of eternity." 23

Use of Jeremiah

Bishop Robert Lowth is credited with identifying the literary structures of Jeremiah. He discovered that the mix between poetry and prose in Jeremiah was roughly half and half. He introduced this academic news in his Oxford lectures in commencing in 1741. He wrote: "As an example, I need only refer to that remarkable vision, in which the impending slaughter and destruction of Judea is exhibited with wonderful force and enthusiasm: ‘Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent. For I have heard the sound of the trumpet; I have heard the battle cry.'" 24 Yet in another place Bishop Lowth remarks: "On the same principle the sublimity of those passages is founded, in which the image is taken from the roaring of a lion, the clamour of rustic laborers, and the rage of the wild beasts: 'The LORD will roar from on high; he will thunder from his holy dwelling and roar mightily against his land. He will shout like those who tread the grapes, shout against all who live on the earth.'" 25 It was Kittle, however, that…was the first one to print major portions of MT as poetry, including much of the prophets… Kittle himself edited Jeremiah for HB and is largely responsible for the way (Biblical) poetry is read today. 26

A great German biblical scholar Giesebrecht found three sources in the book of Jeremiah: 1) the Jeremiah source, primarily in the early chapters; 2) a Baruch source, which is a narrative referring to Jeremiah in the third person; and 3) an editor (Bearbeiter) source supplementing Jeremiah and Baruch. 27

C.J.Ball in his commentary on Jeremiah 17:19-27 writes: "The origin of the Sabbath festival is lost in obscurity. When the unknown writer of Genesis 1, so beautifully connects it with the creation of the world, he betrays not only the belief of his contemporaries in its immemorial antiquity, but also a true perception of the utility of the institution, its perfect adaptation to the wants of humanity… the prominence given by Jeremiah to the law of the Sabbath will be sufficient evidence of the importance of that law to the welfare of his contemporaries, if not of all subsequent generations. 28



In this final yet most important section, my aim will be to show how within the modern period various movements within the general umbrella of Biblical Criticism developed.

As will be seen in the next diagram, there are two major types of Biblical criticism: Higher and Lower. Even though those terms are somewhat archaic, they are still used in discussions on hermeneutics and I think are helpful for a better understanding of various criticisms and how they relate to each other, even though it may run a danger of making the old mistake ‘that only particular types of criticisms are acceptable for Christian use'. The diagram is of course illustrative and therefore has its own limitations, but it does show the multiple webs of reciprocity that exist in hermeneutics.

In short higher criticism deals with questions of the truthfulness and authenticity of Biblical accounts that is with their correspondence or lack thereof to actual history. Lower criticism asks a totally different question: "Which of the texts available to us are more authentic and best reflect the original?"

There is a wide spectrum of conservative, liberal and otherwise centrist biblical scholars who make use of many types of criticisms mentioned above. What makes a liberal or conservative scholar is not the use or rejection of the criticisms, but presuppositions on the basis of which the criticisms are employed. The use of any type of higher critical could have presupposition that, in a manner of speaking, the text is innocent until proven guilty, on the other hand, there could be and often is presupposition that the text is guilty until proven innocent. 29 In other words the proper application of the various criticisms is not a hermeneutic of suspicion, but a hermeneutic that has the freedom to challenge the long-standing dogmas of the religious establishment without viewing the texts as inauthentic or unreliable by default.

Author centered Criticisms

Literary 30 Criticism

A study of the literary characteristics of a text, especially its structure, style, vocabulary, point of view, repetition of words, and plot. 31

The Literary Criticism in the field of Biblical Studies has three major definitions: 1) Source Criticism, 2) investigation of a text that seeks to explicate the intention and achievements of the author through detailed analysis of components and structure of the of the text, 3) any understanding of biblical literature as literature. 32

One very useful way to employ literary criticism is to isolate the role that a passage plays within the greater setting of the text itself. The logic here is that we can understand more fully the meaning of the part if we understand more fully the meaning of the whole. Literary criticism recognizes that passages within texts have unique meanings. Understanding how the greater meaning is achieved by means of the literary components will allow the reader to gain insight into the over-arching structure of the text. Note that the meaning of the part is not predicated of the whole; nor is the meaning of the whole predicated of the part. Such reasoning is fallacious. The argument here is that we can understand the individual pieces more fully and by so doing we then increase our understanding of the whole.

Roman Catholic web resource Tolle Lege dedicated to various biblical criticisms comments on the one of the functions of Literary Criticism by saying: What sort of questions can we ask in order to "see the trees for the forest?"… 1) How does the particular passage function with respect to its immediate and larger context? 2) Is it transitional, that is, does it serve as a literary bridge from one section to another? 3) Is it climatic, that is, does it serve as the culmination of material preceding it? 4) Is it illustrative, that is, does it function to illustrate an earlier assertion? 5) Is it extrinsic to the larger literary unit, that is, does it not fit at all into the literary context? 33

Source Criticism

Source Criticism is an important offshoot of literary criticism. It is an analytical methodology used in the study of biblical books to discover individual documents (or sources) that we use in the construction of particular literary unit as we now have it. 34 Julius Wellhausen pioneered this approach, which is closely connected with tradition and redaction criticisms.

A source theory formulated by S. Mowinckel in 1914 was subsequently adopted by Rudolph and others and has gained wide acceptance. The three sources are specified as A, B and C, with the extant of the B source indicated above. B is ascribed to Baruch, Jeremiah's scribe; it is biographical in character and is narrated in the third person. Source A, according to Rudolph, consists of sayings of Jeremiah largely made up of oracles to Judah… The C source is mostly identified with the prose interspersed with poetry… 35

Robert Carroll, author one of the most significant commentaries on Jeremiah, referred to earlier in the paper, and maybe identified as reductionist in his methodology, writes as follows: "The Sabbath motive may be unique in the tradition here…but the format of the sermon belongs to the typically Deuteronomistic alternative sermons, which appear in 7:1-15 and 22:1-5. …The anti-sacrifice polemic of other strands of interpretation is absent from here and the acceptability of sacrifice is grounded in keeping the Sabbath. 36 The probability is, therefore, that although this discourse develops Jeremiah's thought in a one-sided way, it is nevertheless based upon his expressed sentiments. 37

Form Criticism

Form Criticism is the analysis of a text according to typical, identifiable literary forms by which people of a given cultural context express themselves linguistically. 38 Scholars who were at the forefront of this movement are Martin Dibelius, Rudolf Bultmann, David Strauss and Hermann Gunkel. The term Form Criticism is a translation of the German word Formgeschichte, which literally means the "history of form." 39 Gunkel himself noted two broad literary classifications, prose and poetry, the former including myths, folk-tales, sagas, romances, legends, and historical narrative; the latter, wisdom and prophetic oracles, secular lyric poetry, hymns, thanksgiving, eschatological psalms, etc. 40

From ancient times students of literature, linguistics & folklore have been trained to distinguish the different patterns of speech used to make a point: poetry & prose, proverb & parable, commandment & oracle, miracle story & myth, lament & joke, etc. Some of these are clearly identified in the Bible: the OT book of Proverbs & the NT parables of Jesus, for example. …Yet it took a work by the OT scholar Hermann Gunkel, The Legends of Genesis: The Biblical Saga and History (1901), to prompt research on the oral formation of the gospel tradition. 41 Gunkel… also …challenged Smend's research conclusion with regards to Jeremiah's use of "I" as referring to himself, not to the community of Israel. 43

A form critic Jack R. Lundbom whose commentary on Jeremiah cannot be avoided in any serious study of this book especially underscores the importance of genre: "In Jeremiah interspersed prose and poetry give an added bonus delimitation. Sometimes one can delimit on the basis of content and genre, but both are tricky, especially in the poetry, and corroborating criteria are a must. The form-critical search for genres, such as "lawsuit" (rib), "prophetic call," "judgment oracle on the individual," "judgment oracle on the nation," "summons to repentance," and so on, has been largely unsuccessful, the reason being that Jeremianic discourse is structured not according to form-critical models but according to canons of ancient Hebrew rhetoric." 44

Tradition Criticism

Tradition (or traditio-historical) Criticism is a study of a tradition from its oral to its written stage. 45 Four major players Martin Noth and Gerhard Von Rad in Germany, Sigmund Mowinckel and Ivan Engnell in Scandinavia had led the scholarly community in this endeavor. The fundamental presupposition of this criticism is that a considerable time passed between the time of the event and the time of its description or inscripturation. The later tradition builds on the earlier one, reflecting the needs of each editing community of faith. 46

What constitutes the focus of Tradition Criticism is defined in an equally varied manner. In the main, however, it is the history of oral traditions that is in view. Sometimes this excludes compositional stages, but more often it includes the reconstruction of the whole history of a literary unit from its hypothetical origin and development in its oral stage to its composition and final redaction in literary form. So called "streams of tradition" also come under investigation… 47

Redaction Criticism

Redaction Criticism is a study of how the Scripture reached the final form from their earlier oral form, through the process of editing and composition to their written form. 48

There seems to be a large overlap between redaction and tradition criticisms. However, in spite of the fact that they are very close in their primary concerns they differ in a manner of emphasis. Tradition criticism emphasizes the process of change and dogma accumulation as various interpretive communities took part in creating the final version of the text, while redaction criticism emphasizes the methods, the times and the reasons by which any redaction activity took place. Gunther Bornkamm, Hans Conzelmann and Willi Marxsen and Martin Noth were the key leaders, pioneering the redaction criticism.

Martin Noth underlines the complexity of Biblical interpretation, when it comes to the process of redaction of the Biblical text: "Therefore, whoever, wishes to investigate the individual elements of this historical tradition, and further, to examine historical sources critically, and finally, to work towards the account of Israelite history based on the source material, must first construct for himself an exact picture of the extent and nature of these collections and of the degree to which they have re-worked the older, traditional material, or, at least, have colored it in some special way by insertions into a particular passage. Only then can the development of the historical tradition be clarified." 49

John Hill in his book "Friend or Foe? The Figure of Babylon in the book of Jeremiah MT" compares approaches of various commentators. He writes: "…Carroll is the reductionist. Where the former can reconstruct the precise setting and dates for the ministry of the prophet, the latter sees little if any connection between the book and a historical Jeremiah: To the question ‘what is the relation of the book of Jeremiah to the historical Jeremiah?' no answer can be given. The figure of the prophet is firstly the construct of the text. Without the reductional framework, there is no Jeremiah." 50 The above quote is characteristic of much of the latest research on Jeremiah, that concentrated in large part on identifying the precise connection between the Jeremiah of the text and the Jeremiah of history.

William McKane, one of the leading critical scholars of today writes that "…the hypothesis that the passage is exilic is, however, uneconomical. The only piece of first-class evidence bearing on the age of Jer.17:19-27 is Neh.13:15ff., where a similar conflict on Sabbath observance and commercial interests is indicated… If the passage is exilic or postexilic, and is not merely antiquarian in its interest, the point of the composition is the future of the community from which it issues." 51

Text centered criticisms

It is unfortunate that textual criticism is used alongside of the term lower criticism. In many ways there is nothing "low" about textual criticism. In spite of this terminology, textual criticism stands very much at center stage next to the inquiry into the nature of the biblical canon and its history. 52 It is as complex and critical as all other approaches, perhaps even more so. There are two goals of textual criticism: 1) to reconstruct the original wording of the Biblical Text, and 2) to establish the history of transmission of the text through the centuries… TC's task, therefore is to compare existing MSS, no two of which are alike, in order to develop a "critical text" which lists variant readings in the footnotes, called "critical apparatus" 53

Textual criticism has no application except in regard to a work whose original does not exist; for, if extant, it could easily be reproduced in photogravure, or published, once it had been correctly deciphered. But no autograph of the inspired writings has been transmitted to us, any more than have the originals of profane works of the same era. The ancients had not that superstitious veneration for original manuscripts, which we have today. 54

In some way it is improper to only talk about textual criticism in the 20th century. Theologians of the Christian Churches dating all the way to Origen in some way employed Textual Criticism. Textual concerns were discussed by many scholars through practically all the periods of hermeneutical history presented in this paper.

Bruce Waltke notes: "As a result of their literary achievements the line between literary criticism and textual criticism has become attenuated. The texts of some portions of the OT have come down to us in two forms, attested in both DSS and LXX. There is, for instance, a short form of Jeremiah preserved in 4QJer (B) and in the LZZ, and a long form preserved in 4Qjer (A) and MT. …About 5 percent of the DSS are Septuagintal in character. Some DSS scrolls, most notably Jeremiah (4Qjer (B and D), bear a strong resemblance to the LXX's Vorlage." 55

Canonical Criticism

Canonical criticism is a study of biblical texts in their present form in the canon and of the process by which they were composed and transmitted. 56 James A. Sanders was mainly interpreted in the process of creating of the current canon) and Brevard Childs are primarily interested in the present form of the text. How it was composed and transmitted is of a great interest, but only in relation to uncovering the theology/teaching of the final text. This is another example of a criticism that shows interrelation with other criticisms. One criticism is building upon another, borrows and overlaps and yet it goes beyond what other criticisms has been able to accomplish due to their peculiar concerns.

Norman K. Gottwald, Professor of Biblical Studies at New York Theological Seminary and a leading figure in the social scientific criticism of the Old Testament, writes as follows: "Canonical criticism has set for itself the task of showing how the biblical text was shaped and interpreted as scripture and what that means for properly understanding it in its own setting and in properly appropriating it in our settings… Canonical criticism draws mainly on aspects of literary theory and hermeneutics in order to push beyond redaction criticism's interest in single books and series of books to an examination of the final form of the text as a totality, as well as the process leading to it, and to raise issues of theological authority and hermeneutics in a manner that grows organically out of the historical literary description of the canonizing of scripture." 57

Even though Von Rad is not traditionally associated with canonical criticism, the following quote demonstrates that he shared concerns and presuppositions that are relevant to this method: OT theology…has the task of interpreting Israel's history as Israel presented it, not as critical scholars are able to reconstruct it, because in this confessed and narrated history is to be found "what Israel herself regarded as the proper subject-matter of her faith, namely, the revelation in word and deed of Yahweh in history." 58

A commentary on Jeremiah by Walter Brueggemann, which in its approach represents both canonical and reader-response criticisms: "Sabbath observance is understood as a deep rejection of the imperial patterns of exploitation. It is the dramatic act whereby this people asserts to itself and announces to the watching world that this is Israel, a different people with a different way in the World…" 59

Rhetorical Criticism

A Study of structural patterns of a literary unit with attention given to various devices (such as parallelism, chiasm, etc) use in its composition. 60 George Kennedy, Hans Dieter Betz and James Muilenburg were three leaders of the critical study in the area of rhetorical criticism.

In Protestant circles great value is assigned to reading the Bible for oneself. However, with all due respect to personal Bible study, it is important to remember that this was not at all the experience of the vast majority of either OT or NT believers. The scrolls and manuscripts were not readily available. They were used in communal reading sessions much more than in personal meditation. Groups of people met together for the reading and hearing of Scripture.

With Muilenburg's work came a decisive shift. The biblical scholar impacted by Muilenburg switched his attention from the author to the text. James Muilenburg wanted to go beyond form criticism… he said, arguing for the importance of rhetorical consideration: "The passage must be read and heard precisely as it is spoken." 61 For the study of the book under consideration… a student of Jeremiah would do well to read aloud and notice the daring and powerful images in the service of this decree of devastation. 62

William Holladay echoes Muilenburg's concerns when commenting on Jer.17:19-24. He writes: "This is a covenant speech… In it Jeremiah is perceived to function as covenant mediator (vv19-20), reminding the hearers of their covenant obligations. The parenetic appeal is found in vs. 20-23; imperatives (vs.20-21) and prohibitions (vs.22), followed by the citation of negative example of the "fathers" (v.23), analogous to 11:7-8. The reminder of the passage is taken up by the covenant conditions, both a positive one (vs.24-26), repeating the stipulations about the Sabbath from vs. 21-22 and offering an apodosis of promise (vs.25-26)… 63

Narrative Criticism

Narrative Criticism is a study of linguistics and structures apart from present function, historical rootage and social use. It is a form of literary criticism where special attention is given to the distinction between the historical author and the implied author.

"The story of narrative-critical theory in OT studies begins, for practical purposes, with Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative…according to Alter, this generic shift afforded the ancient Hebrew writers more flexibility and freedom in presenting their sacred traditions than their neighbors enjoyed, and it moved biblical narrative away from the stability and closure of mythology toward the ambiguities of life as humans experience it." 64

Adele Berlin somewhat overstates the case when she says, "Abraham in Genesis is not a real person any more than a painting of an apple is a real fruit. This is not a judgment of the existence of a historical Abraham any more than it is a statement about the existence of apples. It is just that we should not confuse a historical individual with narrative representation." Yet, there is a great deal of truth in this, for we are studying a text and not recreating the event. Berlin is not judging the existence of historical Abraham but is concentrating upon a biblical text about Abraham. 65 Berlin is persuaded that authorship assigned to many books of the Bible is unwarranted by the textual evidence. "…this trend grows stronger in post-biblical times. The rabbis assigned authors to all biblical books, whether or not such authorship was explicitly stated in the biblical text (they said that Jeremiah was the author of Kings, Jeremiah and Lamentations.)" 66

J. H. le Roux in Texts with a prophetic perspective in "Words from Afar: The Literature of the Old Testament" says that: In order to emphasize Israel's approaching doom, the prophets also made use of the stereotyped form of a song of lament for the dead. Such a song was sung when a person had died; sometimes it was recited by official mourners. When Jeremiah announced the fall of Jerusalem, he called upon the women to sing such a song of lament… (Jr.9:20-21). 67

Audience centered criticisms

Reader-Response Criticism

Reader-Response Criticism 68 is the study of meaning in a biblical text as perceived by a particular interpreter. It is not that the text lacks meaning, but that it is overabundant with it. Until this time people doing hermeneutics were largely working under the assumption that the meaning/message of the text remained the same as it passed from its author to its audience. Whether the message of the Bible was considered fully or partially inspired by God, or considered purely man-made inspirational religious writing, there was a general understanding that what the author(s) meant was what the text means today. With the advance of the 20th century hermeneutical theories this traditional picture began to slowly give way to the more contemporary view that the audience as an interpretive community had something to contribute to the meaning of the text it was reading. In other words its job was no longer to slice and dice the text until the bone and marrow of original meaning surfaces, on the contrary what began to be emphasized is the conditionality or contextually of the interpretive act. … for Derrida there is no immediate access to extra-textual reality. For him, everything is (in) text. Deconstruction, however, does not lead to an indeterminacy of meaning. On the contrary, Derrida suggests that texts always mean too much: "I would say that a text is complicated, there are many meanings struggling with one another, there are tensions, there are over determinations, there equivocations; but this does not mean that there is indeterminacy. On the contrary, there is too much determinacy. That is the problem (Derrida, 1999: 79). 69

Late professor at Stellenbosch University Ferdinand Deists has this understanding: "Both the writer of the text and its reader come from specific background; they belong to a specific culture… to put the point more technically: every text has at least a sender (the writer), a medium (the letters), a code (the language), a message, a receiver (the reader) and a context (the background). Schematically the process of textual communication may be represented as follows":


As we trace the history of interpretation we can clearly see that in general three big areas of emphasis emerge. Everything is in some way connected to Author, Text or Audience. At times the hermeneutic is more author-oriented, at times it makes the text its center of attention.

Feminist Criticism

Feminist Criticism is a form of reader-response that seeks to offer an interpretation of the Bible from a non-sexist point of view, where the woman is presupposed to have an equal role with the man in the schema of biblical significance.

It must be acknowledged that most of theology through history was done by males. If one thinks that a person is capable of presenting unbiased reading of scripture that is not tainted by interpreter's already existing theological views, ecclesiastical commitments, scholarly friendships, age, sex, educational background, nationality and many other context related factors, then by all means all theology that was done by men could not have possibly missed those aspects that would have been noticed, if at least half of the interpreters were women. In my opinion the church has lost much by not encouraging female Bible research and the freedom to read the Scripture with female lenses on. God after all is neither a male or female, but rather a Spirit in the nature and essence of which the masculine and feminine qualities of human beings derive themselves. Elizabeth Achtemeir quoting Rita Gross writes "…female God language compels us to overcome the adulterous equation of God with andocentric notions of humanity in a way that no other linguistic device can." 71

Gadamer contends that no method can guarantee an absolutely objective interpretation of an author's work because, as readers, we are conditioned by biases of our own historical existence. These biases, however, are not simply a matter of time and place; rather, beyond that, they are embedded in language. They are the changing biases of various traditions that are not past and bygone but continue to operate and live in every reader and every text. 72

Louis C. Jonker in his doctoral dissertation at Stellenbosch University points out that "Historical-critical exegesis developed from a western industrialized scientific and philosophical background. He then quotes Rogerson who, states: "Liberation and feminist writers pointed to the concealed power implications of received historical criticism. It was a method developed by males in affluent and secure positions in the developed North of the world, and of such knew nothing or nor could address feminist interests or those of the poor and oppressed in Latin America or Black South Africa." 73


The history of hermeneutics is long and complex. However the complexity intensified drastically in the last two hundred years. Throughout the history discussed in this paper the church's hermeneutic seemed to rise from the needs of the Church, as community of faith.

At various times various hermeneutical grids and emphases were presented as definitive, as if they were the key to unlocking the ultimate knowledge of the scriptural treasury. Presuppositions always played an important role in determining overall methods of interpretation. The worst presuppositions are the unknown ones. They underlie interpreter's thinking, but often times manage to escape the scrutiny of the mind. There is no story here of linier progress, but rather a spiral of methods, presuppositions and conclusions that oftentimes seem to repeat the mistakes and the discoveries of its predecessors, if taking it to the new heights.

The results and the methods were interrelated with each other. Even though a representative of a particular school of interpretation may be tempted to say that his or her view is the most important, I conclude that many views discussed above, sometimes even those which are at odds with each other, can be of a great help to the interpreter. The methods displayed in exegesis show that there are really three main periods: 1) Pre-critical, 2) Critical and 3) Post-critical those correspond to pre-scientific and scientific ages. Attention at times was given more to the Author, at times more to the Text, and more recently to the Audience.

The book of Jeremiah was treated with various degrees of attention as various concerns and circumstances were brought to its reading, reflecting various outlooks and presuppositions. One conclusion that I derived from my studies is that biblical research has by no means arrived at its final stage. More commentaries ought to be written, more contemporary issues explored in the light of the book's message; more data needs to be assessed by the scholarly and pastoral communities of the world. A great danger exists, however, in that in this holy enterprise the academia will be divorced from the church, university from seminary, theoretical from practical. It is important that those two scholarly communities with different emphases would seek the merger for the benefit of God's Kingdom.

My belief, that the ‘Spirit of God will guide His Church into all truth' as well as that there will be an ‘increase of the Spirit as Church's inheritance', allows me to look with hope on the future of biblical and theological studies in the area of hermeneutics. I believe that we might yet discover incredible treasures of the Bible largely unknown until today. 74


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Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatic. Vol.III: The Doctrine of Creation. Part. IV .Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1961.

Barrera, Julio Trebolle. The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible: An introduction to the history of the Bible. Leiden: Brill. 1998.

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Berlin, Adele. Lamentations: A Commentary. London: Westminster John Knox Press. 2002.

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1. Galileo Galilei's views on the Bible and science were formulated between 1613 and 1616. His friend B. Castelli informed him that the scriptural orthodoxy of his scientific views had been questioned at the court of the grand duke. G.'s reply took the form of his Letter to Castelli (Dec.21, 1613), later expanded to the Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615, not published until 1636), in which he argued that, since God is the author of both nature and revelation, science and the Bible cannot be in contradiction, provided that each is properly understood. (R. J. Blackwell, "Galileo Galilei," in: J.H. Hayes, Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation A-J (Nashville: Abington Press, 1999), 429).

2. Classical influence is particularly powerfully displayed in these representatives.

3. Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters (Leicester, InterVarsity, 1998), v-vi.

4. A. E. McGrath, "Philip Melanchthon," in: J.H. Hayes, Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation K-Z (Nashville: Abington Press, 1999), 144.

5. Some may see the first and second key distinctive characteristic of this period as contradictory.

6. Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 127.

7. John Calvin, Comm. John 5:39 in Sidney Greidanus' Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 227.

8. A. Siedlecki, "Book of Jeremiah: Interpretation through the 19th century," in: J.H. Hayes, Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation A-J (Nashville: Abington Press, 1999), 567.

9. Jean Calvin, Sermons on Jeremiah. Translated by Blair Reynolds. Texts and Studies in Religion. Val.46. (Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), 218-222.

10. Mathew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1960), 971.

11. This model is deeply Puritan in its pastoral, sermonic concerns.

12. William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), 44.

13. John Rogerson, Old Testament Criticism in 19th century: England and Germany (London: Society of promotion of Christian knowledge, 1984), 27.

14. S. J. Hafeman, "F. C. Baur" in: Historical handbook of major Biblical interpreters. (Leicester, InterVarsity, 1998), 289.

15. Sheppard, "Biblical Interpretation in the 18th and 19th centuries" in: Historical handbook of major Biblical interpreters. (Leicester, InterVarsity, 1998), 269.

16. Kevin Vanhoozer, "Language, Literature, Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology" in: New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Vol.I. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 23.

17. H. Boers, "New Testament Theology," in J.H. Hayes, Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation K-Z (Nashville: Abington Press, 1999), 557.

18. Gerhard Maier, Biblical Hermeneutics, translated from German by Robert W. Yarbrough (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 357-358.

19. H. L. Bosman, "The Growth and the Interpretation of the Old Testament" in Words from Afar: The Literature of the Old Testament, Vol. I, edited by Ferdinand Deist and Willem Vorster (South Africa: Tafelberg Publishers, 1986), 13.

20. Schleiermacher did not publish a major work on hermeneutics; he left behind only his hand-written lecture notes on the subject (amply supplemented by students notes) and two addresses to the Berlin Academy of the Sciences from 1829. Nonetheless, the quantity of material and quality of thought in these manuscripts, coupled with Schleiermacher enormous influence on subsequent theories, secure his central place in the history of hermeneutics. (D. E. Klemm, "Hermeneutics," in: J.H. Hayes, Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation A-J (Nashville: Abington Press, 1999), 498).

21. Duncan Ferguson, Biblical Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1986), 167.

22. From the start of critical scholarship there was a fair amount of uncertainty whether E could be called a separate and an independent "source". Some scholars are of the opinion that the J source was at a certain stage revised by Elohistic editors. According to this view E was then rather a editing of the J source - thus calling it JE. Wellhausen associated both J and E (he still treated them separately) as belonging to the same epoch in the religious history of Ancient Israel. Thus my indication of JE. (From e-correspondence with the author).

23. Louis C. Jonker, Exclusivity and Variety: Perspective on Multidimensional Exegesis (Kok Pharos Publishing House: Netherlands, 1997), 86.

24. Gerhard Maier, Biblical Hermeneutics, translated from German by Robert W. Yarbrough (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 270.

25. Robert Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews (Boston: Codman Press, 1829), 144.

26. Ibid., 136.

27. Ibid., 65.

28. JR Lundbom, Jeremiah (1-20) [AB]. (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 64.

29. C. J. Ball, The Prophesies of Jeremiah: With the sketch of his life and times (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1900), 373-4.

30. Norman Geisler, "Biblical Criticism Part I" in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker, 1999).

31. Historically, "literary" meant "textual" criticism.

32. Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, Grant Lovejoy, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scriptures (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), 370.

33. Richard Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1971), 113.


35. Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, Grant Lovejoy, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scriptures (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), 380.

36. W.McKane, "Book of Jeremiah: Twentieth- Century Interpretation," in: J.H. Hayes, Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation A-J (Nashville: Abington Press, 1999), 570.

37. Robert P. Carroll, Jeremiah: A Commentary (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press,1986), 367.

38. The Anchor Bible, Jeremiah: Introduction, Translation, and Notes by John Bright (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1965), 120.

39. Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, Grant Lovejoy, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scriptures (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), 365.

40. Richard Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1971), 71.

41. Ibid., 72.

42. Mahlon H. Smith, A Synoptic Gospel Primer. Available at ttp://

43. Jack R. Lundbom, Jeremiah (1-20) [AB]. (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 68.

44. Jack R. Lundbom, Jeremiah: A Study in Ancient Hebrew Rhetoric (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1997), xxxv.

45. Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, Grant Lovejoy, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scriptures (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), 382.

46. A hymn to the sun god might become par of the biblical Torah psalm (Ps.19), while an ancient normative document (perhaps even early edition of Q) may in itself attain no scriptural status at all. "Biblical Interpretation in Europe in the 20th century" in: Historical handbook of major Biblical interpreters. (Leicester, InterVarsity, 1998), 419.

47. Richard Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1971), 201.

48. Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, Grant Lovejoy, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scriptures (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), 377.

49. Martin Noth in Journal for the study of the Old Testament Supplement Series XV (Sheffield: The University of Sheffield, 1981), 1.

50. John Hill, Friend or Foe? The Figure of Babylon in the book of Jeremiah MT (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 5.

51. William McKane, International Critical Commentary: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Limited, 1986).

52. M. Goshen-Gottstein, "Textual Criticis: Hebrew Bible," in: J.H. Hayes, Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation K-Z (Nashville: Abington Press, 1999), 545.

53. Richard Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1971), 192.

54. Biblical Criticism. Catholic Encyclopedia On-Line. Available at

55. Bruce Waltke, "The reliability of the OT text: Textual Criticism of the OT and its relation to Exegesis and theology" in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Vol.I. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 57-59.

56. Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, Grant Lovejoy, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scriptures (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), 358.

57. Norman K. Gottwald, Social Matrix and Canonical Shape. Available at .

58. Ollenburger, "Old Testament Theology," in: J.H. Hayes, Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation K-Z (Nashville: Abington Press, 1999), 565.

59. Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming (Cambridge: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 166.

60. Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, Grant Lovejoy, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scriptures (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), 378.

61. Jack R. Lundbom, Jeremiah: A Study in Ancient Hebrew Rhetoric (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1997), xxvi.

62. Bruce C. Birch, Walter Brueggemann, Terence E. Fretheim, David L. Petersen, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville: Abington Press, 1999), 329.

63. William L. Holladay, Jeremiah I: A Commentary on the Book of Prophet Jeremiah Chapters 1-25 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 509.

64. R. Christofer Heard, "Narrative Criticism and the Hebrew Scriptures: A Review and Assessment" in Restoration Quarterly online Vol.38/Number 1 (

65. Grant Osborn, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 154

66. Adele Berlin, Lamentations: A Commentary (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 30-31.

67. J. H. le Roux, "Texts with a prophetic perspective" in Words from Afar: The Literature of the Old Testament, Vol.I, edited by Ferdinand Deist and Willem Vorster (South Africa: Tafelberg Publishers, 1986), 153

68. An intriguing example of Reader-Response Criticism can be seen in how various groups of people interpreted Tolken's trilogy "The Lord of the Rings." Tolken was a committed Christian who was immersed in the world of Scripture and Literature. His heart and mind was drenched with Bible. However, what he wrote was by no means, as many Christians interpreted it, Tolken's interpretation of the Bible, hidden in fantasy world of the Middle Earth. Nor was it simply the World War II displayed as a magical tale of the great evil Adolf Hitler rising to power against the people of the Earth, as many people that dismiss Tolken's deeply held Christian convictions, reason. Tolken dismisses both extreme views of his work in his Introduction to the Lord of the Rings. But the Christian interpretive community contributed to the meaning of Trilogy from the perspective of its own needs and worldview.

69. Frank M. Yamada, "Ethics" in A.K.M Adam's Handbook of Postmodern Biblical Interpretation (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2000), 76.

70. F.E. Deist, "The Writer, his text and his audience" in Words from Afar: The Literature of the Old Testament, Vol.I, edited by Ferdinand Deist and Willem Vorster (South Africa: Tafelberg Publishers, 1986), 17.

71. Elizabeth Achtemeir, "Female Language for God: Should the Church Adopt it?" in The Hermeneutical Quest: Essays in Honor of James Luther Mays on his Sixty-fifth Birthday, ed. Donald G. Miller (Pickwick Publications: Allison Park, 1986), 99.

72. .

73. Louis C. Jonker, Exclusivity and Variety: Perspective on Multidimensional Exegesis (Kok Pharos Publishing House: Netherlands, 1997), 276.

74. As we see the beginning of the shift from North America and Europe back to Africa and Asia, we ought to be filled with hope, joy and confidence that much more would be discovered, implemented and believed.

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