Theology, History, and Biblical Interpretation – book recommendation

Earlier this year Carly Crouch (University of Nottingham) wrote an interesting op.ed. piece, Biblical Studies and Theology: A Rapprochement, in which she described the apparent disconnect between biblical studies and theology. I could identify with much of what she wrote. Moreover, for a number of years, I have been aware that theology students taking some of my courses (particularly those focusing on historical-critical approaches) can often feel a little disoriented when trying to connect these two areas of their studies. When biblical studies and theology meet, rather than one seamlessly augmenting the other, it can appear to be more like a car crash! It is not a new problem, but it is a very real problem nonetheless.

Theology, History, and Biblical Interpretation
Theology. History, and Biblical Interpretation by Darren Serisky: Bloomsbury

Bloomsbury have just published an extremely useful anthology of readings that examines precisely this subject: Theology, History, and Biblical Interpretation: Modern Readings by Darren Sarisky.

In it, Sarisky has collected twenty seminal readings from key authorities that addresses the relationship between historical and theological readings of the Bible. Beginning with Spinoza’s ‘On the Interpretation of Scripture’, we are guided through the past four hundred years encountering influential and landmark texts. The extracts chart the debate concerning the placement of emphasis upon historical and theological readings, as well as examining issues of faith versus methodology and the text as expression of the human or divine. The result is finding oneself drawn into a fascinating conversation that spans centuries and theological borders.

“This reader brings together 20 of the most penetrating and influential statements made from the Enlightenment to the present day regarding the relationship between theological and historical factors in structuring an approach to interpreting the Bible.”

Darren Sarisky, Introduction

Each reading is succinctly introduced by Sarisky, placing it within its historical and theological context. This is followed by a summary of the argument posed in the extract. This will be particularly useful in guiding readers who are new to this area of study, as some of the selections are fairly substantial. Furthermore, Sarisky then poses some important questions that the reader should consider whilst reading the text.

Sarisky also points out that, although the reader focuses upon the central question of “how theological and historical factors enter into the account of reading,” other underlying themes also emerge. These, he notes, include:

  • Method and purpose in interpretation
  • The status of modernity
  • Bible as past and present
  • Judaism in relation to Christianity

I expect everyone will have their own favourites from such a wide and eclectic range of texts, but for me Levenson’s “The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism” is worth the price of the book alone – not so much for his conclusions (he offers very few), but for the clarity in which he summarises the theological impetus and importantly its legacy underpinning OT Historical Criticism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

TH&BI was intended to be used as a classroom text, but it also lends itself to independent study. This is an essential reader for anyone studying theology and/or biblical studies at undergraduate level and I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to explore further the relationship between historical and theological readings of the Bible.

Table Of Contents

1. Benedict de Spinoza.  “On the Interpretation of Scripture.” from Theological-Political Treatise.
2. David F. Strauss.  “Development of the Mythical Point of View in Relation to the Gospel Histories.” from The Life of Jesus Critically Examined
3. Søren Kierkegaard. “The Historical Point of View.” from  Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. Vol. 1.
4. Ernst Troeltsch. “On the Historical and Dogmatic Methods in
Theology.” from Religion in History.
5. Barth, Karl. The Epistle to the Romans: Prefaces 1–6.
6. Rudolf Bultmann. “The New Testament and Mythology.” from The New
Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings (ed. by Schubert
7. Pope Pius XII. Divino Afflante Spiritu: On Promoting Biblical Studies.
8. Gerhard Ebeling. Selections from “The Significance of the Critical
Historical Method for Church and Theology in Protestantism.” In Word
and Faith.
9. Henri de Lubac. Selections from the conclusion of History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen.
10. Krister Stendahl. Selections from “Biblical Theology, Contemporary.”
In The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, (ed. George A. Buttrick).
11. Brevard S. Childs. “Canon and Criticism” from Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture.
12. David C. Steinmet. “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis.”
Theology Today 37 (1978): 27–38.
13. Ulrich Luz. “Reflections on the Appropriate Interpretation of New
Testament Texts.” from Studies in Matthew.
14. Jean-Luc Marion“Of the Eucharistic Site of Theology.” from God without Being: Hors-Texte.
15. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. “The Ethics of Biblical Interpretation:
Decentering Biblical Scholarship.” Journal of Biblical Literature (1988): 3–17.
16. Jon D. Levenson. “The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and
Historical Criticism.” from The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and
Historical Criticism: Jews and Christians in Biblical Studies.
17. Alvin Plantinga. “Two (or More) Kinds of Scripture Scholarship.”
Modern Theology 14 (1998): 243–278.
18. Paul Ricœur. “The Nuptial Metaphor.” from Thinking Biblically: Exegetical and Hermeneutical Studies, (ed. André LaCocque and Paul
19. James Barr. “Evaluation, Commitment, Objectivity.” from The Concept of Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective.
20. John Webster. “Revelation, Sanctification, and Inspiration.” from Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch.  


“These extensive readings provide a wonderful resource for engaging biblical hermeneutics. Darren Sarisky’s introductions are clear and concise, gently helping the reader to keep central questions in mind. Whatever one’s inevitable quibbles over a text getting left out, these selections represent important moments of the modern conversation about theology and interpretation. Sarisky is one of the young scholars who can advance that conversation to a new stage, and here he does so by helping us attend to its historical context.” –  Daniel J. Treier, Wheaton College, USA

Theology, History and Biblical Interpretation is a collection of twenty seminal essays that, taken together, reflect the ebb and flow of historical vs. theological interests over the past two hundred years of biblical interpretation. Darren Sarisky provides a helpful editorial introduction and offers a broader perspective from which to see present-day controversies for what they are, namely, the latest chapter in the long story of the Bible, history, and theology in the modern world. This is a helpful collection of essays that convincingly demonstrates the importance of coming to grips with the meaning and relationship of historical and theological biblical interpretation.” –  Kevin Vanhoozer, Trinity Evangelical Divinty School, USA

“Darren Sarisky’s well-chosen and diverse collection of readings in the modern history of biblical interpretation shows that this is not the case. Biblical interpreters have engaged intensively with the history/theology problem for over three centuries, and Sarisky has done students and their teachers a great service by making such a broad range of major contributions to this debate available within a single volume” –  Francis Watson, University of Durham, UK

“Since the Enlightenment, thoughtful readers of the Jewish and Christian Bibles have asked whether and how ancient scriptural texts, for all their historical particularity, might be or become the divine word. In this judicious selection of key voices in this debate, Darren Sarisky ushers the reader into this lively and ongoing conversation. The masters are all here, from Spinoza and Kierkegaard to Troeltsch and Ricoeur. Careful attention to these readings might save historical criticism from its thoughtless historicism, and theological interpretation from its ahistorical weightlessness, and resource a sophisticated dialogue between history and theology in the reading of the Bible today.” –  David Lincicum, University of Oxford, UK

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