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The Reformation and the Right Reading of Scripture Hardcover – September 25, 2017
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"I've been waiting years for a book such as this: a comprehensive treatment of the nature, history, and significance of the Bible's literal interpretation. Here is a sustained argument for the importance of reading with the Reformers, which in Provan's account means doing as they say, not exactly as they do. This is a brave book that sails against the prevailing winds of hermeneutical fashion, charting a 'fifth way' that avoids reductive historical, expansive postmodern, narrow literalistic, and unregulated spiritual ways of reading the Bible. Read literally, Scripture is not a wax nose that can be turned this way or that, but a divinely inspired, authoritative text with real bite."―Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
"Using the magisterial Reformation for his compass, Provan surveys the current landscape of biblical interpretation and seeks to chart a faithful path forward. His sprawling, historiographical cartography explores the trails taken by those he styles as inveterate historical critics, unrepentant fundamentalists, modish postmoderns, and fashionable post-Protestants, all so he can offer a timely affirmation of 'literal' reading, rightly understood. Provan's 'fifth way' entails a chastened, reframed use of critical methods, rather than capitulating to them or rejecting them. His ultimate destination is a renewed emphasis on 'the Great Biblical Story as a canonical whole.'"―Stephen B. Chapman, Associate Professor of Old Testament and Director of Graduate Studies in Religion, Duke University
"Iain Provan has given us here a vigorous affirmation on how to read the Bible as a Protestant. An important and nuanced argument set in the context of the wider Christian tradition and recent hermeneutical developments, this book stands out among the welter of recent writings on the Reformation."―Timothy George, Dean, Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture
"This prodigiously well-read, well-written, elegant, and accessible study has a passionate and serious treatise to expound. As its title hints, it is not another book on the history of interpretation, except in the sense that Professor Provan believes that the history of interpretation, especially in the time of the Fathers and the Reformers, has vital significance for the twenty-first century. So, we need to pay attention if we are to get interpretation on the right track five hundred years after Luther posted his theses. Aspects of Professor Provan's own thesis about literal interpretation are unfashionable and therefore need to be pondered with open minds."―John Goldingay, David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary
About the Author
Iain Provan is the Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College. He lives in the Vancouver, Canada area.
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• What does it mean to read the Bible literally (in its Reformation sense)?
• How does the NT read the OT?
• What does sola scriptura mean?
• What does perspicuity mean?
• How did the Reformers understand biblical authority (vis a vis their predecessors)?
• What continuity and discontinuity is there between the early church fathers and the Reformers?
• Is Interpretative pluralism problematic?
• How can critical methodologies be used alongside a commitment to Reformation hermeneutics?
• What is the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation?
• Should we be trying to maintaining the interpretations of the Reformers?
• What commitment do exegetes have to tradition?
• Should the languages and the ANE be allowed to offer new interpretations?
• What importance do the languages have?
• Are scholars the new elite?
• What is the history and significance of the Septuagint and the Vulgate?
• …and much much more
As you can see, he addresses hermeneutics and OT critical scholarship in particular, but the book is hardly limited to those.
He identifies four ways of reading Scripture:
1. Historical Criticism (modernism)
2. Postmodern reading (largely reader response)
3. The Chicago Constituency (ICBH and ICBI—most evangelicals)
4. Counter-Reformational Protestantism (Levering et al)
He carefully parses out the difficulties with each of these and offers a fifth way that he proposes remains faithful to the commitments of the Reformers (though not always to their conclusions) and synthesizes the strongest points of the other four ways.
This is a book that I would dearly love for all of my students to read and absorb. Provan is widely read in the whole scope of the subject matter and he writes clearly and persuasively. He is committed to Reformation hermeneutics and highly respectful of tradition without idolizing it.
Provan's book throttled me. It was a page-turner to be honest. I felt like I was reading something that will later be mandatory for all serious students of the word. He is a humble, gracious, and honest writer as he firmly, but fairly, gives air-time to a variety of views that he can recommend at times and at other times criticize. His book has given me a great appreciation of what our ancestors have had to wrestle with in an attempt to hear God's voice. The book is divided into three parts: long-standing questions, scripture in a changing world, and scripture in a postmodern world. It was well-organized and the argument actually builds throughout the book rather than simply repeats itself in a variety of forms.
I encourage you to read this book and take seriously the word God has for us, a word that frees us to be re-made in the image of a good God.
The book is VERY clearly argued, redeeming a "seriously literal reading" of the biblical text. He distinguishes literal from "literalism," which allows him to think about literal readings that include metaphor, figuration, typology, and more. He goes on to argue that the NT authors had a similar literal reading of the OT, addressing tricky passages that seem to be allegorical.
Provan also tackles a robust view of canon, which allows it to be open-ended in the time of its formation, but authoritative (excluding non-canonical status to peer texts during the formation of the Hebrew Bible and NT).
Without spoiling the excellent work within, I cannot recommend this enough for those interested in the best arguments for a Reformational reading, even though the Reformers sometimes got it wrong. The first 400 pages alone are worth the price of the book.