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40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (40 Questions & Answers Series)An oft-quoted word of wisdom about seminary education goes something like this: Don’t take classes. Take professors. In other words, the teacher makes the class. Find the teachers you want to learn from, not just the classes that look interesting.

For my first semester at Southern Seminary, I decided to take Hermeneutics (the art of interpreting the Bible), hoping it would give me a firm foundation for biblical interpretation throughout my seminary years. I wound up in the class of Dr. Robert Plummer – a young-looking professor with a quirky sense of a humor and a genuine love for the Scriptures. Though I took more than 90 credit hours of classes at SBTS besides Hermeneutics, the initial class with Plummer remained one of my favorites.

Now that I am serving in a church, I have often longed for a concise, easy-to-read primer on Hermeneutics that I could draw from for my teaching. I don’t have to wait any longer. Dr. Plummer’s book, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (Kregel, 2010) is, quite frankly, the best Hermeneutics resource that I’ve come across.

The format makes it easily accessible. You can easily look up the question you want to answer. You can read straight through or skip around. I’ve been drawing heavily from it for a Hermeneutics class I’ve taught this spring at our church.

The strength of Plummer’s book is the variety of the questions he tackles: text transmission, questions of canon, how to determine meaning, approaching specific genres, etc. I was pleased to see his Hermeneutics course put together into this book. I was also happy to see his quirky sense of humor shine through. Here’s an example regarding Matthew’s typological use of Isaiah 7:14:

If we could go back in time to just after Isaiah penned chapter 7, verse 14 (reporting the prophet’s earlier interchange with Ahaz), the dialogue might go like this:

Plummer: “Pardon me, Isaiah. I’m from the distant future, and I’ve come back to chat with you. I was peeking over your shoulder, and I just noticed that you wrote that prophecy down about the promised child. Is that about Jesus?”

Isaiah: “Who is Jesus?”

Plummer: “Jesus is the coming Messiah who conquers sin and death forever.”

Isaiah: “Hallelujah! I didn’t know his name, but I knew he was coming. What do you mean by asking, ‘Is this text about Jesus?'”

Plummer: “Well, in the future, before the Messiah is born, God promises through his angel that a virgin will give birth, similar to the events in your day. Matthew, one of God’s messengers in Jesus’ day, says that this text of yours was pointing to the Messiah.”

Isaiah: “Yes, I see. Just as God signified his coming intervention with the supernatural birth of a child in my day, so in the final deliverance, again he promises the supernatural birth of a child. The historical parallels show God’s consistent intentions! Of course, not knowing exactly how God would repeat his deliverance, I was not fully conscious of the final typological correspondence until you told me. But, I knew later deliverances were coming. I wrote this text, consciously knowing it might be reiterated in a later, parallel, heightened saving event. Yes, yes, of course that is a valid use. That’s what is called biblical typology, with a correspondence between earlier events (the type[s]) and later events (the antitype[s]).”

Plummer: “Thanks for talking with us, Isaiah.”

Isaiah: “Shalom.”

There are a number of ways that a pastor can use this material. He can utilize the materials most relevant to his current situation and most helpful for his congregation. He can use it for himself, as an aid in his own Bible study. Or he can summarize sections into smaller chunks for a small group course.

I don’t agree with everything in Plummer’s book. (For example, I have doubts about authorial intent being the only determining factor of a text’s meaning; likewise, I’m open to the fourfold sense of Scripture, within reason). But I still can’t think of a more helpful introduction to Hermeneutics than this one. Get 40 Questions and use it. You won’t be disappointed.

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4 thoughts on “Plummer's Primer to Hermeneutics: A Must-Have”

  1. Bill Blair says:

    I am very glad to see all of the good reviews for this book. I was blessed to have Dr. Plummer for both my New Testament classes this past semester in Nashville. He has a gift of making learning seem easy and it sounds like that same gift is evident in this book.

    I am looking forward to checking this book out!

  2. Richard Worden Wilson says:

    Oh, my. Perhaps the simpler a hermeneutic is the more seductive it is. Kind of like: its all about Jesus. Well, except for the parts that are about God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and the parts where they are about dealing with creation, corruption, redemption, restoration, and re-creation. Yeah, that is all about Christ the Son, as Logos, in a sense and it is all of a piece, but Jesus is also the name of man, and it is easier sometimes to set that complication aside for the sake of a-historical simplicity. Which seems to me to be what this hermeneutical approach does; it is so overwhelmingly and un-historically whacked that it can only encourage the simpler minded to overly simplify the interpretation of God’s history transforming Word. Ironically perhaps, if you ignore or over-simplify the historical context in which a text was originally inspired along with the details of the text itself in the OT, you also tend to ignore or over-simplify the context and how it is re-interpreted in the NT, and then most likely can’t adequately re-contextually any of it today. Plummer’s fantasy scenario with Isaiah is mostly a fantasy, and just as useful as a fantasy, at least for me, a non-teaching non-pastor who doesn’t have to preach sermons to people who expect and desire over-simplified things. Historical critical realism isn’t often a strong trait among preachers, but I expected a bit better from you Trevin.

  3. Rob Plummer says:

    If the author of the Gospel of Matthew is not engaging in a biblical typological reading of the Old Testament, then the sun is not shining and the grass is not green. The fictitious dialogue with Isaiah is a pedagogical exercise to help students begin understanding typology. Richard, I’d appreciate you holding the polemical comments – at least until you’ve actually read my book.

  4. Stev Lindsey says:

    Richard, Praise the Lord you’re not a pastor! You remind me more of Judge Judy than a servant of God! I wonder if Jesus, standing in boat talking to an agrarian, hard working, simple society taught them the simple things about His Father, or the “Deep things of God” that so many of our legalistic churches teach. Remember the first and second commandment. We get these two right and everything else will fall into place. Thanks Dr. Plummer for reaching out to us simpler folks.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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