In my last post, the problem of using the word “biblical” in a world of pervasive interpretive pluralism (coined by Christian Smith) was brought up. Example: One person may endorse this a view as biblical and another endorses a conflicting view as biblical. Logically, they cannot be reconciled. So who decides what is “biblical” in a faith of 2,000 years? In this post, I will analyze two popular interpretive methods.
Note: This post may get a bit technical.
This is one of the 10 (problematic) characteristics of Biblicism that Christian Smith describes in his book, The Bible Made Impossible. His definition for this term:
“The best way to read the Bible is in their explicit, plain, most obvious, literal sense as the author intended them at face value, which may or may not involve taking into account their literary, cultural and historical contexts.”
This approach to the Bible is exemplified in the cliche of “Just do/believe what the Bible says” when people come out doing/believing different things. There are a few problems with this approach:
 It assumes the meaning of the text is always plain and needs to be read “at face value”.
Taking the plain meaning of Jesus’ statement “If your right hand causes you to sin, then cut it off” (Matthew 5:30), then the most plain, literal meaning would to do just as Jesus commands. To say that the statement is a hyperbole would not be taking the text “at face value”, but rather seeing the text as a metaphorical command rather than a literal one. Jesus also said “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (John 6:54,55). The plain, literal meaning of this text would suppose that Jesus was in support of the cannibalization of His own body.
The same problem carries over into reading apocalyptic literature (visions in Daniel, Revelation) and the creation account (a ‘plain’ reading of Genesis 1 will lend to a literal 6 day creation account) and cultural commands (Greeting each other with a holy kiss).
 What is “most obvious”?
As Ed Cyzewski notes in his book, Coffeehouse Theology, US Christians and Latin American Christians seem to focus differently on what it means to be “poor”. US Christians are more likely to identify with Matthew’s ‘spiritual’ phrasing of “poor in spirit”, thus alleviating the tension for relatively rich Christians, while Latin Americans are more likely to identify with Luke’s phrasing of “blessed are the poor”, which speaks directly to the material and financial situation. What is obvious to one group may not be “most obvious” to another.
Referring to apocalyptic literature once again, what is the “most obvious” meaning in the texts of Revelation is hotly debated. Are these texts talking about the author’s present situation, the church’s historical future, mostly about the second coming or is the text about spiritual, rather than historical, truths? 
There also lies the issue of “reading through a lens” or with already theologically presumed ideas. Analyzing John Calvin’s sermons on Job, Martinus Wisse notes:
…most of the time, Calvin affirms the text of the book of Job in its arguments about reasons for suffering, except for two qualifications. The ﬁrst is that God can never be blamed. As soon as the text seems to blame God, Calvin will take recourse to his inverted hermeneutic… Calvin needs an ‘inverted hermeneutic’ to cope with those elements in Job that do not, to his mind, ﬁt his context. 
Working from a preset of theological beliefs, Calvin engages the text of Job with the mindset that he can discern which part of Job’s dialogue is correct and which isn’t. Someone functioning without Calvin’s same set of theological convictions may not bring the same criticism to the text as Calvin does and thus land differently in their final interpretation.
Historical-Grammatical Exegesis and Authorial Intent
Historical-grammatical exegesis… is in fact not so much a method, but more a way of life to most biblical scholars. The term refers to… the endeavour [sic] to interpret any passage according to the natural sense of the words (‘grammatical’) and according to the probable meaning of the author in his own time (‘historical’). 
Historical-Grammatical Exegesis goes beyond the superficial ‘plain meaning’ of the author and takes a bit more seriously the grammatical and historical context of the author/text. Using the presented evidence, one can see what the author intended the text to mean to the original audience - known as “authorial intention”.
Towards the end of the twentieth century, we can discern a significant return to hermeneutical theories that view authorial intention as the key to textual meaning… a hermeneutic that sees the text as a piece of communicative action on the part of the author and reader, and takes this as the key to the interpretation of the text. To a considerable extent, the revival of interpretation as a quest for the author’s intention is a reaction against the postmodern delight in the free-ﬂoating character of the sign. 
However, this method is not without its problems.
Historical-Grammatical Research as Dynamic
Our understandings of the world in which the Old and New Testament worlds improve, our understandings of the text in their historical-grammatical context challenge our previous understandings. I will give two recent examples, one in language and one in historical research.
 Junia, not Junias
Until recent translations, Romans 16:7 used the male name “Junias”. In recent textual research, however, it has been shown that (1) the female Latin name ‘Junia’ occurs more than 250 times in Greek and Latin inscriptions found in Rome alone, whereas the male name ‘Junias’ is unattested anywhere and (2) when Greek manuscripts began to be accented, scribes wrote the feminine [Greek form] (“Junia”). 
How does this name change have any theological bearing? It proposes a female, not a male, that is “outstanding among the apostles”. Though this phrase does not make any definitive statements on the nature of how she is outstanding, it does open up doors of conversation between complementarians and egalitarians on the role of women in the church.
 New Perspective on Paul
My friend, Lawrence Garcia, sums up the impact of historical research on the concept of Justification:
“…E.P. Sanders’ 1977 publication Paul and Palestinian Judaism argued forcefully against for what he perceived as the Reformed [mis]characterization of Second-Temple Judaism as essentially being “legalistic” (there were precursors, but Sanders’ thesis was more persuasive) On the contrary, Sanders was able to detect, through a fresh encounter of the literature of the Second-Temple period, a larger “pattern of religion” which he styled “covenantal nomism.” Namely, that the works required of Israel were in response to YHWH’s faithfulness to the covenant when redeeming them from Egyptian bondage on behalf of the promises given to the patriarchs. The works required didn’t “earn” merit per se, but were part of Israel’s proper response within a covenantal arrangement between Israel—an already redeemed people—and their God, who also provided a sacrificial system to deal with transgression when it arose. Voilà!—(well, sort of) overnight new life was breathed into Pauline scholarship, and while Sanders’ thesis has been challenged, reworked, and integrated at various levels, it inevitably led to a reconsideration of the precise meaning of justification.” 
The New Perspective on Paul (which is oddly named, since it is actually trying to get to the Original Perspective on Paul) changes the way certain passages and books are read. On the issue of justification, NT Wright says:
“It is blindingly obvious when you read Romans and Galatians - that virtually whenever Paul talks about justification he does so in the context of a critique of Judaism and of the coming together of Jew and Gentile in Christ.” 
Though the New Perspective is hard to pin down (Wright says “there are probably almost as many ‘New Perspective’ positions as there are writers espousing it - and that I disagree with most of them” ), it has taken historical research seriously and challenged other ways of thinking that do not take into account these discoveries.
How does this research change understanding? A recent controversy on this subject of the New Perspective is Justification. John Piper wrote a book in response to Wrights’ research on Paul and Justification and then Wright responded with a book of his own. Piper chooses not to use implement this understanding of the New Perspective into his work, but rather sticks with “the biblical view of justification” that reflects more of a Reformational understanding rather than an attempt at a 1st century understanding.
Even with the use of historical-grammatical/authorial intent, one’s understanding of the text can be misleading because one may be working with faulty/incomplete information (1st example) or with the rejection/arbitrary use of historical research (2nd example). This also has implications with the struggle of evolution and the “traditional” understanding of Creation in Christianity. 
While we ponder with our defects in interpretation, one must ponder what is, then, a valid hermeneutic. There are plenty of biases in our own interpretation, so what is the solution to understanding the real meaning of a text? I will explore possible solutions in my next post.
 Ed Cyzewski, Coffeehouse Theology, pgs. 18-19
 See “Revelation: Four Views - A Parallel Commentary” by Steve Gregg
 Pieter Martinus Wisse, Scripture Between Identity and Creativity, pg. 69,161
 DJA Clines, On the Way to the Postmodern: Old Testament Essays 1967-1998, Volume 1, pp. 23-45. Emphasis mine.
 Wisse, Scripture Between Identity and Creativity, pg. 166-167
 BM Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, pg. 475
 Lawrence Garcia, Review of “Justification: Five Views” (http://academiachurch.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/lawrence-garcia-reviews-justification-five-views/)
 NT Wright, 10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference: New Perspectives on Paul, pg. 3
 See Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam.