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Title: Pre-understanding in historical and biblical interpretation
Author: Ferguson, Duncan Sheldon
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1969
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The purpose of this study is to discuss the role of preunderstanding in historical and biblical interpretation. We define preunderstanding as that set of assumptions and attitudes which a person brings to his apprehension and interpretation of reality or any aspect of it. Because preunderstanding comes in a myriad of shapes, an effort is made to classify them by type and to suggest some categories of function. Once this is done the argument is able to proceed. The initial and foundational point which is made is that certain aspects of reality suggest, even demand, that a particular preunderstanding be present on the part of the interpreter if they are to be fully grasped and adequately interpreted. Judging the Christian revelation to be no exception to this general rule, we set about finding the appropriate preunderstanding for its apprehension and interpretation. We assert that it is faith joined with the historical method which constitutes the only adequate preunderstanding for the interpretation of the Christian revelation. We then turn our attention to the issues raised by this assertion. The first issue with which we deal is the precise role of a consciously articulated preunderstanding (a hermeneutic) in the interpretive task. This in turn leads us to a discussion of the problem of revelation and history. We next examine the central issue of the study, the role of preunderstanding in historical interpretation, and consider its implications for the specific task of interpreting the Christian faith. Having defined and categorized preunderstanding and analyzed its role in historical and biblical interpretation, we are in a position to discuss representative interpreters of the faith as they have appeared in and during the life of the church. To this task we devote Sections II and III. In Section II we discuss the role of preunderstanding in six representative historical interpretations of the Christian faith. In Augustine we see the influence of his exposure to Neo-platonism as he attempts to construct a biblical interpretation of history. Edward Gibbon, a rationalist in love with the glory of pagan Tome, depicts the Christian faith as an enemy of the progress of mankind. The philosopher, Hegel, forces the Christian faith into the confines of his metaphysical system. In Adolph von Harnack we find a nineteenth century liberal world view shaping the categories in which Jesus is understood. Reacting to this liberal mentality, the dialectical theologians of the 1930's, which we discuss in the person of Emil Brunner, attempt to remove the Christ - event from historical scrutiny altogether by creating a realm of super-history. We conclude Section II with an analysis of the views of the American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, whose deep involvement in the American social situation and wide reading in the thought of Western culture, influence his historical interpretation of the Christian faith. In Section ITI we turn our attention to six representative interpreters of the Bible, again attempting to ascertain the role of each interpreter's preunderstanding in his efforts. Origen, under the influence of Platonism and the allegorical method, interprets the Bible as a source book for divine truth. The great reformer, Martin Luther, approaches the Bible in the light of his own unique historical situation and Personal exrerience. Spinoza, a Cartesian rationalist, views the Bible as the product of the popular "imaginations' and interprets it accordingly. John Wesley, the leading figure of the Pietist movement, comes to the Bible with the expectancy that it will speak to personal experience. In Charles Spurgeon we find an interpreter who, as a faithful representative of protestant Orthodoxy, understands the Bible as being the literal Word of God. As a contrast to Spurgeon we complete Section III by examining the views of the liberal American preacher, Barry Emerson Fosdick, who views the Bible as a thoroughly human book which nevertheless contains lessons of "abiding value". We conclude our study of preunderstanding in a final charter in which we attempt to restate the main thread of our theme, summarize the results of its application to representative interpreters and suggest some mandates for the general task of interpretation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available