I did not anticipate continuing to discuss hermeneutics, but I appreciate the opportunity to make some further comments. Throughout my academic career, I have been interested in the field of hermeneutics, beginning with when I was studying English literature, philosophy, and especially linguistics, and continuing to the present.
Students, however, are not always well served by various books that purport to be about hermeneutics. There are too many books that are more about interpretation—which usually means hermeneutics as technique or how to do it—than about what it means to understand as a human being. Many books that are used in seminary courses, even if they use the word hermeneutics, are often more about how to do interpretation—exegesis, if you will—than they are about what it means to understand. Some of these are books written by individual authors, and others are collections of essays with a little bit (often too little) on a wide range of topics. I won’t name names here, but such volumes are easily identifiable. They may be good for what they are, but they rarely address the major hermeneutical issues.
I would encourage students (and scholars, but that is another story) to gain a firm grasp of basic hermeneutical theory. I think that they will soon come to realize that there is no such thing as what is sometimes called the “plain sense” of a text, if by that one means a presuppositionless and contextless meaning of the text. Instead, interpretation encompasses a complex interplay involving at least the author, text, and reader, meanings mediated through language, socially and culturally influenced factors, and the relationship of past and present, among others. This is not to say that there is not meaning to be found in texts, but that the process of determining meaning is far more complex than many realize, and has been widely discussed and debated through the ages.
For those wanting guidance in hermeneutical matters, there are a couple of good, recent books I would recommend. I would begin with my former professor, Anthony Thiselton’s Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009). This can be followed up with any one of Thiselton’s other major works, although be prepared for some serious reading. These include The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), and The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007). An excellent collection of his individual essays is found in Thiselton on Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006). I do not get any kickback on recommendations of these books—only the satisfaction that readers are coming to grips with complex ideas in thorough and enlightening discussions.
I would, of course, be remiss if I did not mention a couple of my own works in the area of hermeneutics. These works differ from Thiselton’s in that they are less attempts to be synthetically encompassing , but more focused upon particular people and hermeneutical stances. I wrote with Jason Robinson, Hermeneutics: An Introduction to Interpretive Theory (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011) and co-edited with Beth Stovell, Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012), where five ways that the Bible is approached hermeneutically are presented and analyzed. Along with Matthew Malcolm (also a former student of Professor Thiselton), I will also be editing (and contributing to) a volume that comes from the recent Thiselton conference, entitled The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, forthcoming 2013). For some of these books I do receive a kickback, I must admit. Nevertheless, I think that these books do some things that other volumes do not, in making clear not only the distinction between hermeneutics and interpretation, but also how they relate to and influence each other.