Scripture and Its Interpretation:
A Global, Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible
Michael Gorman, Ed.
Hardback: Baker Academic, 2017.
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Reviewed by Chuck Sackett
In the introduction, Gorman identifies the limits imposed on a volume with such a broad subtitle. He readily admits that this work will be an overview at best. But, he also indicates something of his dream for the book at the end of the introduction when he uses the analogy of a library. He acknowledges that Scripture, like a library, may raise questions, invite you into a new world, and proposes interpretative approaches you’ve not considered. He concludes, “We hope to point you in the direction of some of these interesting questions, answers, and perspectives” (xxii).
Upon reading Scripture and Its Interpretation, you will undoubtedly agree that he and his colleagues have succeeded. Gorman, joined by an impressive array of twenty-two other scholars, takes the reader on a delightful journey, providing brief, but informative overviews on a wide range of interpretive issues. Scripture and Its Interpretation presents twenty-four chapters divided into three sections: The Bible (chapters 1-7), The Interpretation of the Bible in Various Traditions and Cultures (chapters 8-19), and The Bible and Contemporary Christian Existence (chapters 20-24). The volume concludes with an extensive glossary and helpful Scripture, Subject, and Author indexes. In addition to these resources, each section and each chapter include questions for further reflection and suggested readings for further study.
Section One: The Bible, provides a useful (if somewhat elementary) overview of key topics related to Scripture. Chapter one covers the actual Book we call the Bible, with its overarching story. Chapter two presents the concerns of the Biblical setting (Geography, History, and Archaeology), while chapters three and four give an overview of the Scriptures of Israel and the Church respectively. Chapter five discusses non-canonical writings and is followed by chapters on the Canonization and Transmission/Translation of the biblical texts (chapters six and seven). This section would make an excellent resource for those new to the study of Scripture. It could easily be assigned to incoming Seminary students as a foundation for their future studies. Each chapter, while necessarily cursory, provides excellent information and concise considerations. The resources offered at the end of each chapter (as well as in the sectional introduction) provide more than adequate follow-up reading.
Section Two: The Interpretation of the Bible in Various Traditions and Cultures, is the longest and broadest division of the book. Chapter eight identifies the significance of reception issues related to Scripture. That chapter is effectively followed by chapters summarizing and comparing Premodern, Modern, and Postmodern methods of interpretation (chapters nine and ten). Immediately after that the reader is provided with an overview of Theological Interpretation (chapter eleven). Chapters twelve through fifteen summarize Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Pentecostal approaches to interpretation. Four chapters addressing the broader concerns of regional and/or ethnic approaches to interpretation round out this section.
For those who might have little exposure to interpretive approaches created by the various traditions or global perspectives, these chapters are especially helpful. They are admittedly brief overviews, but the authors do a commendable job of informing the reader of the questions created by reading through the lenses of differing backgrounds. The reader cannot help but benefit from exposure to these varying perspectives.
Scripture and Its Interpretation closes with five chapters on imminently practical topics. Gorman cites Augustine for the reason he ends this volume on these selected practical notes: “Anyone, then, who thinks they have understood the divine Scriptures, or any part of them, but cannot with this understanding increase in the twofold love of God and neighbor has not yet understood them” (Augustine, On Christian Teaching 1.36.40, Gorman’s translation).
The five chapters present a diverse array of topics. Chapter twenty reflects on Spirituality and the Bible’s influence on our growth as Christians. Scripture and Christian Ethics effectively shows the relationship of God’s Word and our lives. Politics (organizational culture) is addressed by chapter twenty-two and the influence of Christian community on our reading of Scripture (and vice-versa) is presented in chapter twenty three. Scripture and Its Interpretation appropriately ends with a discussion of Christian Mission and how Scripture informs us of the grand finale to a grand story.
Michael Gorman has successfully and enjoyably brought together a group of diverse scholars and topics to present a global, ecumenical introduction to the Bible. The reader will not be disappointed at having spent the time investing in this volume. There are places, undoubtedly, where Gorman was correct in his assessment—it will not appear nearly comprehensive enough. There may be places where you will find an unexpected turn in the way a particular topic was handled. But, in the end, you will be far richer for your investment.
Chuck Sackett is a Professor at Lincoln Christian University, and Preaching Minister, Madison Park Christian Church in Quincy, Illinois.