The stated goal of this text is “to give the reader not only an understanding of the principles of proper biblical interpretation but also the ability to apply those principles in sermon preparation, personal Bible study, and/or in writing” (p. 12).  I believe that Virkler has been successful in obtaining this goal.  He defines hermeneutics as “the science and art of biblical interpretation“ (p. 16), and “essentially a codification of the processes we normally use at an unconscious level to understand the meaning of communication” (p. 19).  In order to interpret Scripture correctly, several “gaps” have to be bridged.  These gaps are historical, cultural, philosophical and linguistic (p. 19). Unfortunately, successfully bridging these gaps has proven difficult historically, therefore before hermeneutical principles can be applied other issues must be addressed such as: inspiration (pp. 20-21), senus plenior (pp. 24-25, 49-59, 171), illumination (p. 28), inerrancy (pp. 29-39), allegorical approaches (pp. 45-48, 52-58), and neoorthodox interpretation methods (p. 61).  Virkler also covers much of the history of interpretation (pp. 52-77).

The author works from the premise that “the meaning of a text is the author’s intended meaning.” (p. 80).   In order to determine the authorial intent a six step process is offered, with a detailed chapter devoted to each step:

  • Historical-cultural and contextual analysis (chapter 3)
  • Lexical-syntactical analysis (chapter 4)
  • Theological analysis (chapter 5)
  • Examination of other special literary forms: similes, metaphors, proverbs, parables and allegories (chapter 6)
  • Examination of special literary forms: prophecy, apocalyptic literature and types (chapter 7)
  • Application of the biblical message (chapter 8)

Along the way, Virkler discusses many hermeneutical related issues.  Some outstanding ones include:

  • Distinctions between dispensationalism and coventalism (pp. 123-144). I am not in full agreement with his view that progressive dispensationalism is now the primary understanding of the system (pp. 128-131)
  • Types (pp. 181-186)
  • Culturally conditioned issues (pp. 201-209)
  • Three methods of preaching (pp. 218-221)
  • “Devotional” misuse of Scripture (p. 223)

One of the book’s most helpful sections details how to apply narrative literature, such as dominates much of the Old Testament, without resorting to allegoricalism.  Virkler calls his approach “principlizing” and it is a concept every reader of Scripture should understand and apply.

This is an excellent volume on hermeneutics which updates and supersedes the older works by Benard Ramm and Milton Terry.  It would make an excellent textbook for use in the local church as well as Bible college and seminary.   It is accessible enough that any serious Bible reader would find it readable and useful, yet thorough enough that more advanced students will benefit from it.  This will be my go-to book for future courses on hermeneutics.  Highly recommended.

Hermeneutics, Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation (2nd Edition) by Henry A. Virkler and Karelynne Gerber Ayayo (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1981, 2007) 256 pp., paper $8.33

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel