Toward an OT Hermeneutic

As I pointed out in my previous post, the way I see it, the problem with most preaching of the Old Testament (but particularly OT narrative) has less to do with homiletical techniques than with hermeneutics. Therefore, what follows is the first of perhaps a few posts on this topic.

Now, let me warn you from the start that my answer to this rather large question is quite simplistic: Read the narrative, the whole narrative, until the author’s (redactor’s? composer’s?) purpose for writing is understood. Where it gets tricky, however, is ambiguity (among interpreters) as to where to look for that meaning.

In my opinion, we as evangelical OT interpreters are still trying to find our footing with this question after years of dealing with critical scholarship. Refusing to allow Scripture to be assaulted by those who did not view it as historically accurate, evangelical OT scholars made it their goal to prove the historical reliability of the OT. That is (and I’ll confess this is rather simplistic), when they told us it wasn’t true, we went digging in the sand to prove that it was. Thus, we had two veins of scholarship: (1) those who sought to prove historical veracity and (2) those who attempted to deal with arguments about the text from those who were continuing to look strictly at the text, which for the most part were critical scholars.

What is funny is that eventually historical-critical scholarship began to see the futility of the questions they were asking. Namely, they began to question why they would seek to establish a hypothetical text that conveyed meaning or to question less how these texts came into being than what they told us about Israel and/or her worship practices. Moreover, there has been recently a trend toward refocusing on the final form of the text. In light of this change, evangelicalism has picked up on this and is struggling to come into its own. The problem is that we are so entrenched in the pursuit of a historically-focused interpretation that the task has become complicated.

All of this to say that ultimately there was a type of disjoining of history and text. We evangelicals recognized this and made it our mission to show how interpreting the latter meant the pursuit of the former, and this is where it most affects those of us who desire to preach the OT. To a certain extent, we have been set up for what is virtually an impossible task. On the one hand, you must deal extensively with the text (preferably the Hebrew text), reading it over and over again in an attempt to come to an understanding of what it means. On the other hand, you must read extensively about ANE culture and history and attempt to set your interpretation and preaching extensively within this setting.

Thus, I don’t know about you, but I would quickly beg for mercy. How can a preacher with so many obligations ever accomplish this task? Ultimately most refuse to try. So, by default, many have taken the easier, more pragmatic approach: They abandon all attempts to deal accurately with the text in favor of a more palatable, application-oriented approach to OT preaching. But, do you really blame them? Not only do most seminary curricula not give a pastor the formidable tools to accomplish the above tasks, but many are told that the greatest priority is to teach and preach the text and theology of the NT, which is really the task they are most prepared to accomplish.


Author: Randy McKinion

Besides being a husband and father, I teach at Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH.

2 thoughts on “Toward an OT Hermeneutic”

  1. I too am an ardent fan of Sailhamer’s approach, though I only took hermeneutics with him. I would love to read more of your thoughts on OT hermeneutics. Do you have any articles or papers you could share? Thanks.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, as you can see it’s been a long time since I wrote anything here. I don’t have anything formal to give you. You can see some of my thoughts on the OT at Expository Thoughts.

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