Skip to main content

"The Text is a Husk" Review of Leithart, Deep Exegesis, ch 1

Peter J Leithart, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture, Baylor 2009

Chapter 1: The Text is a Husk

The first chapter of Leithart’s book presents the thesis that Western Christians have “emasculate[d] our own scriptures” (3). He presents as the epitome of this process Eugene Peterson’s “translation” (3-4) of Psalm 23. This is a disappointing cheap shot. The Message is explicitly not intended as a translation, but a paraphrase, and Eugene Peterson hardly seems like the enemy for a book about taking the text of the Bible seriously.  After this Leithart gets onto firmer ground beginning with Dutch Lutheran Humanist Lodewijk Meyer whose 1666 Philosophy as the Interpreter of Holy Scripture begins Leithart’s account of the “Battle for the Bible” (7). Leithart’s narrative takes us through Meyer, Spinoza (10), Kant (20), and all the way to Peter Enns (31), who may be surprised to find himself described as a “Kantian Evangelical” (!?!), and finally Richard Longnecker (32). Leithart’s account is lively, informative and effective in demonstrating the lineage of the modern impulse to privilege the “content” of the Bible over its “form”, the text.

The most damming of all his examples is his quotation of Richard Longnecker’s 1999 Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (33). Leithart succinctly sums up Longnecker’s position: “when the apostles do what we do, we can follow their example. When they do not, we cannot . . . He wants us to draw the same conclusions Paul drew from the gospel . . . [but] does not always want us to follow the reasoning that Paul used to draw those conclusions” (33-34). Thus the message (content) of the text is truth, but the text (form) itself is untrustworthy and is discarded. Can this really be called a high view of scripture?

Here, Leithart finds the real enemy: The nonsense of Evangelical hermeneutics that claims the authority of the Bible but will not allow the Bible’s own interpretive methods to be used. This is the Bridge Paradigm of hermeneutics. This is a personal bugbear for me, so I am excited to see where Leithart goes next. I recently led a session on hermeneutics with a group of pastors and almost to a man (sorry, they were all men in this instance) they agreed that they would not use Biblical methods of scripture interpretation in their sermons, but only the grammatical-historical method which they had been taught at Bible college. I’m grateful that my undergrad hermeneutics teacher, Myk Habets, while he did teach the Bridge Paradigm, also acknowledged the validity of Biblical modes of interpretation and encouraged their exploration. If I remember Habets correctly, “What the NT does with the OT, we are permitted to do with the whole Bible.” I’m still working that one out. My current PhD research is all about the way Mark interprets scripture in his gospel. Let me tell you, there is not a grammatical-historical bridge paradigm in sight!

Overall, this first chapter shows off Leithart’s considerable erudition but takes a long time (longer than necessary) to make the point. I’m also surprised he doesn’t include the enormously influential Schleiermacher in his narrative (or judging by the author index, in the book at all), as he is generally considered the father of modern hermeneutics. I’m eager to see what he does with the rest of the book, and hopeful for some exciting constructive work.


  1. Oh, bother, yet another book to add to my 'should really read, one day' list...

  2. Sorry Tim, but if I manage to finish the review, you will at least have a substantial summary to help you decide if you really need to read it or not :-)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

ANZABS 2018 program and abstracts

6-7 December, 2018

Venue: Wesley Hall, Trinity Methodist College,

202A St Johns Rd, Meadowbank, Auckland 1072

Thursday 6 December
10.00-10.10 – mihi
10.10-11.00 – Keynote speaker: Robert Myles – Fishing for Eyewitnesses in the Fourth Gospel
11.00-11.30 – Morning tea
11.30-12.00 – Lyndon Drake – Economic Capital in the Hebrew Bible
12.00-12.30 – Anne Aalbers – Resurrection and Celibacy: Two Sides of the Same Coin?
12.30-1.00 – Jonathan Robinson – "And he was with the beasts," (Mark 1:13): Ambiguity,
Interpretation and Mark as a Jewish Author
1.00-2.00 – Lunch
2.00-2.30 – Ben Hudson – Ethical Exhortation and the Decalogue in Ephesians
2.30-3.00 – Csilla Saysell – The Servant as 'a covenant of/for people' in Deutero-Isaiah
3.00-3.30 – Afternoon tea
3.30-4.00 – Jacqueline Lloyd – Did Jesus minister in Gaulanitis?
4.00-4.30 – Mark Keown – Jesus as the New Joshua
4.30 – AGM
Friday 7 December
9.30-10.00 – Ben Ong – Pākehā Readin…

That one time Jesus got the Bible wrong

It's so typical isn't it? You are preaching all day long, training your disciples, sparring with the Pharisees, encouraging the poor and down trodden, healing the sick and casting out demons, all day, day after day, and even when you go up a mountain to get a rest the crowds hunt you down and follow you up, and then the one time you get a bit muddled up with some of the details of a biblical text . . . that is the one they write down in the first gospel - verbatim. At least Matthew and Luke had the good sense to do some editing. But Mark, he always had his eye on giving the public the "historical Jesus" whoever that is supposed to be . . . warts and all. Thanks a lot Mark!

Some think I made the mistake on purpose, just to show the Pharisees up.

For some there is no mistake worth mentioning, only a slightly ambiguous turn of phrase.

Others think I am doing something tricky with Abiathar's name, getting him to figuratively stand in for the priesthood.

It really has…

Updated Current Research and Book Reviews

So, my PhD must be going well because I have just spent the morning updating my blog pages for Current Research and brand spanking new Book Reviews page. But it is not just procrastination, it is good to stop and and get an overview.

I had totally forgotten about half the book reviews I had done on this blog, they go back to 2009! I am still working on writing the sort of reviews I really enjoy reading, but now that I'm regularly doing reviews for journals it is great to also review books on this blog where I have stylistic freedom and no space limitations. I had always hoped this blog would be a good source of free books, but while it was a source of free books they were not good ones. Reviewing for journals (as a PhD student) has been much better and is helping me keep my broader education going even as I delve deep into my PhD subject. Looking at my old book reviews helps me realise how far I have come. Hopefully, much growth as a blogger, scholar and human being (perhaps not i…