Tuesday, November 24th, 2009...1:20 am

A brief review of Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm

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Protestant Biblical Interpretation is a textbook of hermeneutics, which the author defines as the “science and art of Biblical interpretation.”  This was assigned reading as part of my “Thinking Biblically I” class at Christus Rex Study Center.  There is a lot of good material in this book, and there are only a couple of untranslated German quotations.  The book is conservative and protestant in nature.  As such, it is critical of liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism.  There are a couple of aspects of the book that I find questionable at points.  First, while Ramm defines hermeneutics as the “science and art” of Biblical interpretation, he seems to have little value for “the art.”  Again and again Ramm extols science and scientific interpretation.  I’m not sure that modern science is the best model for biblical interpretation.  Is it truly the case that engineers in general would make better interpreters of scripture than poets or chemists than musicians?  Ramm also tends to inflate the role of “scholars” relative to the interpretation of the Bible with a bit of a modernist chronological provincialism.  Scholarship is not the pillar and ground of the truth; the Church is.  Ramm seems to imply in a number of places that scholars are the ultimate arbiters of what is true (see p. 183).  God has made no promises about scholars, and the New Testament is very critical of the prideful Scribes.  In his wisdom, God has chosen to entrust his Word to the primary care of pastors and elders.  Again, there is a lot of good stuff here.  I found a paragraph in the Epilogue particularly wise and edifying: “There is a prevailing danger to let differences in interpretation interrupt the unity of the Spirit.  When differences are sharp, feelings are apt to run high.  With foreboding storm clouds of oppression billowing on the distant horizon, it is well for conservative Protestantism to discover bases of fellowship rather than divergence.  If we stand together in the great truths of the Trinity, of Jesus Christ, and of Salvation, let us then work out our interpretive differences in the bounds of Christian love and endeavor to preserve the unity of the Spirit.  A hermeneutical victory at the expense of Christian graciousness is hardly worth winning.”  Amen to that!  Grade: B+

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