Thiselton On Hermeneutics Collected Works With New Essays

Thiselton On Hermeneutics  Collected Works With New Essays

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Book Reviews / Pneuma 31 (2009) 105-160


Anthony C. Thiselton, Thiselton on Hermeneutics: Collected Works with New Essays (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, and Aldershot, Great Britain: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), xi + 843 pp. $85.00/ £24.99, hardback.

Anthony T iselton is a highly respected British theologian. He has established himself as one of the more prominent authoritative voices on the interdisciplinary nature of philo- sophical hermeneutics, especially in relationship to biblical interpretation. The current col- lection of works, spanning some 35 years, attests to the signifi cant contribution he has made to these disciplines.

T iselton on Hermeneutics is a compilation of T iselton’s noteworthy publications, research articles, and excerpts from monographs. The volume also includes seven new essays, which reappraise signifi cant topics, and three unpublished essays written in 2004. The purpose of the Collected Works is to “off er a structured and consistent account of herme- neutics as a developing and multidisciplinary subject area and of my [T iselton’s] attempt to contribute to it” (p. xv).

The collection is organized by subject matter and consists of seven sections with a total of 42 chapters. Each section has a heading which alerts the reader to the primary topics to be addressed. The seven sections are Part I: Situating the Subject; Part II: Hermeneutics and Speech-Act T eory , Part III: Hermeneutics, Semantics and Conceptual Grammar; Part IV: Lexicocraphy (sic), Exegesis and Reception History ; Part V: Parables, Narrative-Worlds and Reader-Response T eories ; Part VI: Philosophy, Language, T eology and Postmodernity ; and Part VII: Hermeneutics, History and T eology. The book concludes with a valuable index on subjects and names. It has something of interest for practitioners of hermeneutics and bib- lical interpretation.

Because of limited space and the interests of the readers, I will focus my attention on pneumatology as discussed in the various essays. Regrettably, T iselton’s Collected Works does not off er an essay on the role of the Holy Spirit in relationship to biblical hermeneu- tics. He is concerned with both popular and academic appeals (Barth) to the Holy Spirit which would dismiss the necessity of hermeneutics. T iselton’s consistent argument is that the “hermeneutical procedure is demanding in all interpretation” (p. 466). For T iselton, “the Holy Spirit works through the normal process of human understanding,” not indepen- dently or contrary to it (The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description (Eerdmans and Paternoster, 1980, pp. 85-92, 90, and 440). Because the Holy Spirit works through human understanding, the Spirit will not “short-circuit the problem of hermeneutics” (Two Horizons, p. 91). In short, the Holy Spirit is not dismissed but is simply afirmed as indispensable in mediating the written word as the Living Word in addressing humanity through human understanding. In this manner, the discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit is set in a negative context. The Spirit is concerned with the “word- event” and thus emphasizes an understanding of Christ that is consistent with Scripture. The Spirit with Scripture can bring judgment, correction, and transformation to humans but always through human understanding.

T iselton off ers a more substantial discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit in hermeneu- tics in his Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Eerdmans, 2007), but he does not move beyond the above stated concern of the hermeneutical necessity of human understanding. A welcomed

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2009 DOI: 10.1163/157007409X418194



Book Reviews / Pneuma 31 (2009) 105-160

essay to his Collection would have been a positive contribution on the role of the Holy Spirit in hermeneutics. Although I agree with T iselton concerning the immanent work of the Spirit through human hermeneutical understanding, the afirmation of the transcendence of the Spirit would naturally lead to a discussion of the “voice” and “manifestation” of the Spirit. This discussion of course is fraught with dificulty and is dependent upon human rea- soning.

In his Collected Works are two important essays which address the nature and gifts of the Holy Spirit. In chapter 18 T iselton’s methodological appropriation of Wirkungsgeschichte or reception history is an explication of Patristic exegesis on 1 Corinthians. The purpose of such a method is to show us “dimensions of meaning that successive contexts of reading bring into sharper focus for our attention” (p. 304, italics T iselton’s). The result was that the exegesis of the Patristic fathers and the exegetical conclusions of James Dunn on 1 Corin- thians “fully cohere.” Furthermore, T iselton de-emphasizes the “supernatural gifts” while encouraging “greater boldness to speak of an implied ‘Trinitarian’ theology” (p. 304). Chapter 16 addresses the lexicography of the phrase “interpretation of tongues” found in 1 Corinthians. T iselton argues that interpretation of tongues is for intelligible communi- cation and concludes that the person who speaks ecstatically should move beyond the stage of childhood for the benefi t of the community. The one who speaks ecstatically should pray for articulate speech when addressing the community but “at the very least he should exer- cise this gift in private” rather than in corporate worship (p. 264). In the above referenced works of T iselton, when he discusses glossolalia he hesitantly afirms it, but then moves to dismiss its current practice except for private prayer. He off ers typical and traditional, albeit more sophisticated and empathetic, arguments against the Pentecostal-charismatic practice of charismatic gifts for the contemporary Christian communities.

T iselton on Hermeneutics is a valuable contribution because it provides quick access to the broad scope and range of his work in this area. The chapters refl ect the topics indicated in the sectional headings; however, each section can stand alone. The reappraisals at the end of each section off er direction for future development. Of initial interest to Pentecostal readers would be chapters 16, 18, and 20 which address pneumatological concerns. Others will be drawn to the essays addressing Postmodernity and its decisive impact on interpreta- tion. Educators and students will fi nd T iselton on Hermeneutics to be a vital asset for the study of hermeneutics and biblical interpretation.

Reviewed by Kenneth J. Archer


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