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Rationale: Need for Biblical Realism and Balanced Biblical Interpretation

The Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative by Yale scholar and theologian Hans Frei in 1974 was one of the first attempts to systematically document the major limitation of historical criticism, the dominant method of investigating the biblical texts for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.1 What Frei found is that an interpretative model based heavily on historical criticism (see chart at right) failed to appreciate the narrative (story) character of the biblical texts. The effect of this evolutionary model has been a loss of realism2 when reading the biblical story due to a shift of meaning outside the biblical texts. This negative outcome results from an emphasis on determining the texts’ origins and reconstructing their historical situation (“world behind the text”).3


More recently numerous scholars, such as author and blogger Ben Witherington, have been outspoken in their criticism of the various postmodern methods of biblical interpretation. The essential effect of these methods, such as radical reader-response approaches, again has been a shift of emphasis away from the biblical texts to the reader, who is presumed in these approaches to give them their ultimate meaning ("world in front of the text"). In many cases, this process has led to a deconstruction of the biblical texts and their meaning.4   


It is evident that there exists a need for a balanced, holistic approach to biblical interpretation, one that utilizes the best of the various biblical disciplines and hermeneutical methods. No particular field or discipline of biblical studies can truly answer all the questions uncovered in reading the texts. Rather the various fields conceptually build upon each other and have a role to play in the process of biblical study. The chart at right summarizes that process, including the role of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics and exegesis).

Process of Biblical Studies *

Theology: Biblical, Systematic, Historical, and Practical

(fields that deal with the development, organization, and application of text's theology)

Hermeneutics (exegesis)

(field that pertains to the theory and process of interpreting the text)

Historical Criticism

(field that determines what is the framework of the text: author, date, circumstance, etc.)

Textual Criticism

(field that determines the original wording of the texts)


(field that determines which texts exhibit divine authority)

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To that end, Sowers of the Seed attempts to assemble a non-denominational team of specialists and teachers representing

the best of biblical scholarship to offer a balanced critique and a positive step forward in the current discussions pertaining to biblical interpretation (hermeneutics and exegesis). The hope is that the hermeneutical principles advanced will help students arrive at their own conclusions once they are applied to the biblical texts.

* For a fuller discussion of this process, see Henry A. Virkler and Karelynne Gerber Ayayo, Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007).

1 Hans W. Frei, The Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative: A Study of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974). The same comments could generally apply to a biblical interpretative model based on the sub-disciplines of source, form, tradition, and redaction criticisms.


2 Realism occurs on both literary and philosophical levels. On a literary level, realism is the degree to which a text truthfully portrays or represents real life and applies to the reader. On a philosophical level, realism is the notion that universal principles exist outside of the mind and represent independent realities. In biblical interpretation, realism involves both levels: Do the biblical texts truthfully represent the story of God's dealings with humanity and do they exist as common communicative acts between people, in which their authors' intended meanings can be sufficiently decoded (understood). 


3 In addition, those who would insist on the absolute historicity of the story without consideration of the theological intent of the historical author also relocate the meaning outside the text by finding it in the historical events themselves.


4 Deconstructionism is a philosophy and a theory of literary criticism that attempts to show the contradictions in the text, an outcome that ultimately leads to its loss of meaning. See Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), for a serious response to modern deconstructionism and a view of the biblical text as a common communicative act that involves the author, text, and reader.

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