Divine Interpretation by T.F. Torrance: a Review

Book: Divine Interpretation: Studies in Medieval and Modern Hermeneutics by Thomas F. Torrance (edited by Adam Nigh and Todd Speidell) (AMAZON LINK)

Publisher: Pickwick Publications (an imprint of Wipf&Stock) (PUBLISHERS LINK)

Overview: Released only this month, this collection of essays by Torrance is a valuable addition to his current body of work. While the two essays on Barth stood out as the high points of the book, each essay was a masterful piece of scholarship.

Undoubtably, the great benefit of this book is the republication of two important essays on Karl Barth written by Torrance and published in the now out of print (and therefore very costly) volume, Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical TheologianI’ve wanted to read this book for some time now, but the near $100 price tag has prohibited me from getting my hands on a copy.

The essays “Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy” and “Karl Barth, Theologian of the Word”, were naturally the high point of the book for me. Yesterday I posted an article examining several quotations from the first essay. Reading my article from yesterday will give you a taste of this essay, which you can do so by clicking here.

The second essay on Barth masterfully examines his doctrine of the Word of God, especially in relation to the Bible. Torrance makes many insightful comments regarding Barth’s doctrine of scriptures, such as this paragraph which highlights the dynamic nature of scripture:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”18″]”Because Barth thought of the revelation that came to the prophets and apostles in this way as nothing less than God himself, and because he thought of God’s language as God’s act, he used to describe the relation between the Word of God and the Bible in terms of ‘contingent contemporaneity.’ By that he wished to keep in mind the fact that the bond between the Word of God and the Bible is not a static or necessary one but a dynamic one, freely established by God which he is pleased unceasingly to affirm and maintain through the real presence and activity of his Word. The mighty living Word of God is not encapsulated in the written words of the Bible, far less is that Word personally incarnated in the Bible as it is in the Lord Jesus Christ, for there is no hypostatic union between the Word of God and the word of man in the Bible. Nevertheless God has graciously accommodated his revealed Word to the written Word of the Bible, and has thereby adapted its written form to his self-revelation in a profoundly covenanted and sacramental manner such that we may hear the still small Voice of God himself speaking to us in the Bible in the form of human words and statements.” 1[/perfectpullquote]

Towards the end of the essay Torrance also writes,

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”18″]“Biblical statements are true not because they capture the truth in themselves but because they refer to truth independent of themselves.” 2[/perfectpullquote]

While I enjoyed these essays on Barth the most, the entire book is well worth reading. Other insightful essays that stood out to me are Torrance’s study of Anselm, Schleiermacher, and Aquinas.

According to editor Adam Nigh, Torrance planned three volumes on hermeneutics. The first on the fathers, the second on the medieval and reformation theologians, and the final on modern theologians. While he never completed this project he did publish two books on hermeneutics, which this collections serves as a companion to. These are his books (sadly both out of print) Divine Meaning and The Hermeneutics of John CalvinPlaced within this trajectory, this collection is an insightful completion of the study initiated in those works.

Overall, this is an insightful book, and without a doubt it is an important contribution to Torrance’s body of work. I’m happy to see books such as this being published as Torrance become more widely read and appreciated.

My thanks to Wipf & Stock Publishers for a digital copy of this book for review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review, and have presented my honest reflection on this work.

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