N. Clayton Croy, Prima Scriptura

It's now summertime at DTS, so my schedule has opened up a bit. One goal for my summer is to work through several books I've gotten over the last year. Today is the first of several offerings, mini-reviews perhaps, on books that have landed on my desk and deserve some attention.

Exegesis is the warp and woof of biblical studies, especially on the graduate level. Here at DTS all Th.M. students have to take a number of courses on exegesis of the Greek and Hebrew texts, and we offer many electives on exegesis in particular genres and books. So I am always interested in new texts that discuss exegetical method. N. Clayton Croy, associate professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, has produced a new text on exegesis entitled Prima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation. The title is a play on the Reformation mantra sola scriptura. In essence Croy argues for an exegetical method in which Scripture holds primary authority but other authorities are allowed to have their say in an appropriate way. Practically Croy handles this matter very well, helping the reader to recognize from the outset that we are not purely objective interpreters. Instead we have presuppositions and biases and contexts which often drive our understanding of the text. Managing those with proper emphasis upon the centrality of Scripture is the goal of his exegetical method.

Croy's exegetical method, and thus his text, is organized into four main sections: (1) analyzing and preparing the interpreter, (2) analyzing the text, (3) evaluating and contemporizing the text, and (4) appropriating the text and transforming the community. In the first section Croy takes a serious look at what it means to be a non-objective interpreter. He suggest some conscious self-evaluation to create awareness of biases and presuppositions which impact the interpretive process. The second section is the exegetical process proper, what most people will readily recognize as the nuts and bolts of exegesis. The benefit of this section largely lies in its breadth. Croy covers the gamut of issues which need to be examined when studying the text, and he offers helpful examples and bibliography along the way. The third section deals with hermeneutics proper and wrestles with the proper role tradition and reason can have in the exegetical process. The last section deals with what is traditionally called application, although Croy expands beyond that idea to aid the reader in genuine transformation. The book closes with several useful appendices.

The most helpful aspect of Croy's text is his ability to keep one eye on exegesis and another on hermeneutics. The mechanics of the exegetical process are discussed ably, but all along the way Croy helpfully reminds the reader that there is a lot more going on in the interpretation of a text than grammar, syntax, genre, and so on. The reader must always be willing to wrestle with how they themselves impact the exegetical process for good or for ill, and Croy has given the exegete some very helpful advice on that matter. I would highly recommend the introduction to the work alone for its handling of those thorny hermeneutical issues.

There are a few places in the text where Croy and I would disagree. For example, he and I would not see eye to eye on the importance of the doctrine of inerrancy; I affirm that doctrine, while Croy prefers to speak instead in more modest terms of Scripture's authority. See the introduction for his take on this issue and some very good argumentation in support of his view. There are certain aspects of the exegetical method which could have been discussed more fully. For example, I teach a more involved method for lexical and grammatical study, but these skills would certainly be in place already for most of Croy's readers, and his text aims to present the method as a whole, not all the particulars of each part of it.

All in all Croy has written a very useful text on exegesis without ignoring larger hermeneutical questions. I would recommend it to those who need a refresher on exegetical method and those who are ready to wrestle with larger hermeneutical issues, such as the nature of meaning and the bias of the interpreter, while exegeting the text.