In All the Scriptures: The Three Contexts of Biblical Hermeneutics – Nicholas Piotrowski

In All the Scriptures Nicholas Piotrowski
In All the Scriptures: The Three Contexts of Biblical Hermeneutics by Nicholas G. Piotrowski, Graeme Goldsworthy
Published by IVP Academic on December 28, 2021
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Theology
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No one reads the Bible without some interpretive principles, or hermeneutics, in place. The question every student of Scripture needs to ask, then, is this: Are your interpretive principles and methods legitimate and ethical? In this accessible introduction to biblical hermeneutics, Nicholas G. Piotrowski presents an approach that explores three layers of context: literary, historical, and christological. Because no text exists in the abstract, interpreters must seek to understand a passage's ecology: the flow and argument of the entire biblical book, the world of the original author and audience, and the movement of redemptive history that culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Careful interpretation is both a science and an art, Piotrowski argues, and it has powerful implications for what we believe and how we apply God's Word. Featuring numerous examples, further reading lists, and a glossary, In All the Scriptures equips students, pastors, and thoughtful readers to build a solid foundation for interpreting the Bible.

Hermeneutics is a big word, but basically it just means a method of interpretation. At some level, everything is interpretation. We experience nothing objectively, but everything is subject to some form of interpretation and it’s the common structures we create to talk about how we interpret things that makes all the difference. In All the Scriptures in an academic look at the three contexts of biblical hermeneutics: literary context, historical context, and Christological context. Basically, Nicholas Piotrowski writes, when we come to Scripture, we must put it through the lens of these three contexts. The result helps us read and interpret Scripture as it was meant to be read and interpreted.

Even though it’s an academic text, In All the Scriptures is accessible and foundational. The introductory chapters clearly explain the need for hermeneutics, a history of hermeneutics, and hermeneutics as worked out in the New Testament. This foundation sets readers up for the meat of the book which is whole chapters on literary context (“In the Text”), around the text (“Historical Context”), and Christological context. Piotrowski then closes with an important chapter on genre and a chapter on application.

Throughout In All the Scriptures, Piotrowski relates the work of hermeneutics with his love ecology, showing how interpretive structures exist outside of just Scripture or even just literature. This not only helps Piotrowski illustrates hermeneutical observations in fields outside of literature, but infuses the book with personality. This isn’t just a clinical, sanitized hands-off discussion of hermeneutics—it’s personal, practical, and individual. With books on hermeneutics abounding, probably the best thing Piotrowski could have done was invested himself into the work. The result is an accessible but challenging work that is a joy to read because it feels more like a rousing conversation than a dry lecture.

One criticism that I’ll note is that the way in which Piotrowski defines deconstructionism is slightly different and more negative in tone than the way I, and other scholars writing about it, would define it. Piotrowski defines deconstructionism as an attempt to read (and/or rewrite) narratives in a way that moves the center of attention away from traditional (and sometimes obvious) interpretations and give voice to the characters and ideas at the margins. By way of illustration, he uses Malcolm Gladwell’s explanation of Goliath as someone with sight and mobility issues, making David’s victory over him more palatable. This isn’t really what I would see as a fair analysis of most deconstructionism, though it is an example of deconstructionism as Piotrowski defines it. Instead, I would define deconstructionism as a careful analysis of one’s faith tradition that is critical of certain elements that, on analysis, aren’t as clear-cut as that faith tradition had made it seem. Deconstructionism happens in social areas (think beliefs on women in ministry or same-sex behavior), but also in theological realms (emphasis on other atonement theories over penal substitution, etc.). Using a silly example by someone who is not a Bible scholar holding a position rejected by every major OT scholar is not a great example of deconstruction.

Despite that, I would uphold In All the Scriptures has right up there alongside Grasping God’s Word for its value in teaching biblical hermeneutics and a contextual interpretation of Scripture. Piotrowski’s writing and teaching style is clear, conversational, and substantive. He deftly manages to be comprehensive while still being accessible, offering further reading resources at the end of each chapter for those who want to dive deeper. Every section comes with multiple examples from Scripture, teaching students along the way how to apply what they are learning.

Biblical illiteracy is a major problem in the church—even from the pulpit. So many people don’t know how to read the Bible or understand that the Bible they read has already (literally!) been interpreted. Understanding Scripture in its context makes for better theology and better practice. Maybe at very least, it’ll teach us to stop saying “the Bible is clear” when what we mean is that “my preferred English language translation with all of its hermeneutical presuppositions that align with my own presuppositions from my culture and faith tradition make it clear.” Piotrowski writes that he wants to guide others toward a better, more ethical reading of Scripture. I’d say he accomplishes that admirably.