Review of W.R. Tate, Biblical Interpretation

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

W. Randolph Tate, Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach (3rd Edition; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008). Pp. xix + 380. Hardcover, US$29.95. ISBN 978-1-59856-080-0.

The third edition of Tate's Biblical Interpretation is in recognition of the changes that have taken place in biblical hermeneutical methodology since the second edition was published in 1997. This significantly expanded edition follows Tate's classic three world model (author, text, and reader), but has been reorganized to integrate the original synopses into the explanation of the three worlds rather than the final chapter. Further methods are included in the four appendixes. Additional changes include a subject index, slight revisions to chapter 8, and an updating of the bibliography.

The book begins with a survey of the field and an explanation of key terms and their usage. In this introduction, Tate explains the three worlds of the text and how each of these approaches are usually applied not only internally but in relationship (or lack thereof) to each other. Each of the first three sections of the body of the book focuses on one of Tate's three worlds and contains multiple chapters.

Section One focuses on the World Behind the Text and contains a justification for studying the Bible historically and in relation to the cultural context in which the text was created. The methods covered in this section include Source Criticism, Social-Scientific Criticism, and Canonical Criticism. The choice to place chapter two, “The Importance of Language: The Grammatical Background,” in this section rather than within the World Within the Text is not entirely convincing as the latter section focuses entirely on the literary dimensions of the text. Within the second section issues of genre are particularly important. The first chapter in this section focuses on general literary forms that run the length of both testaments and the next two chapters examine the genres that are unique to each testament. The specific methods covered in this section are Redaction Criticism, Literary Criticism, and Genre Criticism. The third section examines the World in Front of the Text. Being the shortest section in the book, the two chapters in this section explore the role of the reader in relationship to the interpretation process. Reader-Response Criticism, Autobiographical Criticism, and Feminist Criticism are highlighted in this section. Tate's final section attempts to bring the three worlds together into one interpretative method that uses the Gospel of Mark as an example text. His claim is that true interpretation comes with the integration of the three worlds of the text.

The seventy pages of appendixes list a large number of additional methods and are divided according to each of the main sections within the book. This is a very valuable resource. However, why these additional methods are relegated to the appendix rather than included in supplements to each section is less than clear and could prove to be awkward when used in the context of a classroom.

The book is written at a level appropriate to the established target audience and is clearly presented in a helpful, easy to understand and easy to navigate way. It still represents one of the best introductions to hermeneutics on the market and is only enhanced by the changes made to this edition. It also maintains the strengths of the early editions, such as highlighting of key terms, study questions, clear graphics, suggestions for further reading, and a clear, articulate writing style.

Yet, two areas of improvement could be suggested. The first area is that in reading the book one could get the impression that biblical interpretation began with the historical critical method or that no other method of interpretation existed before the rise of higher criticism. This eliminates much of the history of interpretation from the conversation and thus the book could be improved if more ancient methods were included in the dialogue.

The second area where improvement could be made is a pedagogical one. If Tate chose to include a glossary of terms, the book would be an even more valuable classroom tool. While he does do a fine and consistent job of defining terms as he uses them, a glossary would be an asset since it would allow beginners easy access to these definitions in order to refresh and enhance their memory of the terms. It would be sufficient even to take the terms listed for study at the end of each chapter and use these for the basis of a glossary at the end of the book.

The end result of this third edition is a more up-to-date and thorough introduction to hermeneutics that is certainly usable in a course context. There are still, however, minor areas that could be improved upon.

Ellen White, University of St. Michael's College