Book Review: Abner Chou, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers

Chou, Abner. The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2018. 251 pp. Pb. $23.99   Link to Kregel Academic

This new monograph from Aber Chou has its origins in an undergraduate class in hermeneutics taught by William Verner at The Master’s University where he is now associate professor of Bible. Chou’s task in this study is to describe what he calls the prophetic hermeneutic (chapters 3-4) and demonstrate the apostolic hermeneutic evidenced in the New Testament was essentially the same (chapters 5-6). With this biblical foundation, Chou then develops a Christian hermeneutical strategy (chapter 7) which he argues is faithful to how the Old Testament prophets read earlier Scripture and how the New Testament apostles read the prophets.

Abner Chou, Hermeneutics, IntertextualityChou claims “Old Testament intertextuality demonstrates the prophets were exegetes and theologians” (93), they were “scholars of Scripture (47). In the New Testament the “apostles used the Old Testament contextually” (121) and were “remarkably consistent with each other in how they interpret and apply the Scriptures” (196). For Chou, the “Christian hermeneutic follows the prophets and apostles, and is thereby a hermeneutic of obedience” (23). In order to demonstrate the first two points, he marshals evidence of inner-biblical exegesis (to use Michael Fishbane’s term). Chou begins with clear examples drawn from the prophets using earlier texts and demonstrates there are trajectories from earlier texts to later ones. For example, the prophets use the Exodus events to describe a future “new Exodus.” This is new revelation, but the later prophetic writer did not find a hidden meaning in the earlier text nor did the later writer change the meaning of the original text. As Chou says, the later writer draws out certain consequences from the earlier revelation (91).

In his second chapter he states three presuppositions. First, a reader ought to seek the author’s original intent. The task of hermeneutics is to trace the author’s logic and clearly understand what the author intended his readers to understand from a text. Second, there is a difference between meaning and significance. The task of exegesis is to understand the meaning of the text, but Scripture has significance for the lives of contemporary Christians. The meaning of the text has ramifications for Christ-followers in other contexts. Third, intertextuality is found throughout Scripture. Later in the book he argues every Old Testament book alludes to every other book (53). For the most part these presuppositions are not problematic for conservative scholars or evangelical in general.

Since Chou uses the term intertextuality throughout the book, he ought to carefully define what he means by this often used word. Unfortunately, he does not contrast his view of intertextuality with reader-response criticism or other more radical uses of the term. One common problem in intertextual studies is demonstrating an allusion to another text exists. By way of methodology, Chou briefly endorses a modified form of Richard Hays’s now standard set of criteria (39-40). In practice, Chou has a conservative view of intertextuality (not surprising given his evangelical commitments). The examples given throughout the book lean toward quotations and clear allusions and rarely fall into Hays’s category of an “echo of Scripture.”

Chou uses intertextuality (as he defines it) to map redemptive history and to read Scripture in light of previous revelation. This raises the issue of “going beyond the Bible” or what Chou calls “Trajectory Hermeneutics.” He is clear his method is not the same as William Webb in his Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals (226-7). Chou finds this method problematic since it misconstrues the redemptive historical trajectory with “movement in redemptive history” (228). He is concerned the trajectory some writers trace in Scripture results in a non-biblical conclusion. Given his interaction with Webb and others who use a trajectory method to support a more egalitarian view of the role of women in ministry, it may be the case in that particular issue Chou disagrees with the end point of the post-biblical trajectory rather than the method itself.

Since the prophets “intentionally positioned their writings for later writers to use” (119) The New Testament use of Old Testament texts underscores the continuity between the Testaments. Chou focuses on quotations and clear allusions to Old Testament texts to demonstrate his point that the New Testament is the exegetical foundation of the Old Testament prophets in both the “big picture” of the Old Testament narrative as well as the details of individual texts. This is true for the Gospel writers as well as Paul, James, Peter and John. Chou gives examples for each demonstrating how the author reflects both the redemptive history of the Old Testament as well as citing (or alluding) to specific texts to make their theological points.

Chou makes his case that later writers built on earlier texts and interpreted them within a redemptive biblical theology. The broad examples he uses in the book are designed to support his thesis, although for any given example someone might raise objections. For example, within the canon of the Old Testament there is always the question of precedence. For example, did Joel use Isaiah, or was Joel written before Isaiah? Arguments can be made for either direction of inner-biblical exegesis in this case, or even for a common source. A second problem for Chou is oral tradition as opposed to textual tradition. Intertextual studies by definition focus on the exegesis of a text, but it is quite likely Isaiah 40-55 is using Exodus and wilderness traditions rather than citing verses from a physical copy of the Book of Exodus as we know it today. Even in the New Testament texts were more often heard than read. If Jesus alludes to a text in his teaching, his audience would quite literally “hear the echo” of Scripture. But modern readers only have the report of the allusion as recorded by a Gospel writer. This adds a second layer of possible inner-biblical exegesis.

Despite these reservations (which in many ways go beyond the scope of the book), Chou’s The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers is a good introduction to the complexity of the intertextual nature of both the Old and New Testament.


NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


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