Excerpt from Prima Scriptura by N. Clayton Croy

The following is an excerpt from N. Clayton Croy’s Prima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation.

The most striking characteristic of biblical interpretation during the last several decades is an explosion of interpretive methods. Fifty years ago it would have been much easier to outline the steps in exegetical method or describe what hermeneutics entails. During the last half of the twentieth century, the landscape of biblical scholarship underwent as many shifts and divisions as the map of Eastern Europe.

The interpretive smorgasbord nowadays includes historical, literary, rhetorical, canonical, narrative, reader-response, social-scientific, anthropological, structuralist, and a host of ideological methods (liberationist, feminist, womanist, African, African-American, Latino/a, Asian, postcolonial, gay/queer, and so forth). Unlike a food smorgasbord, however, there is no consensus about basic food groups or what constitutes the ideal diet.

The effect of this methodological explosion is twofold. On the one hand, interpretation is potentially enriched by the wide variety of lenses through which texts may be read. The new interpretations or “readings” resulting from these methods can be complementary: different but not disparate. On the other hand, chaos and confusion may result from the proliferation of interpretive methods. This is particularly so for interpreters who do not have the luxury of leisurely, abstract musing in multiple modes. Those who interpret Scripture in confessional contexts for personal or congregational guidance often have more practical and pressing goals. When one studies Scripture with a view to proclamation, teaching, and shaping Christian discipleship, one can easily feel overwhelmed by a dozen options rather than enriched. In the smorgasbord image, these interpreters are looking for meat and potatoes that will nourish life more so than exotic foods that tantalize the eye and pique the palate.

Let me clarify my perspective, lest I appear dismissive of newer interpretive methods. Both enrichment and confusion have resulted. The new insights that have been gleaned from strategies such as rhetorical, sociological, narrative, and feminist criticism—just to name some of the most fruitful techniques—are to be received gratefully. But the welter of methods leaves some interpreters, especially beginners, confused. Sandra Schneiders rightly observes, “The new voices, until recently peripheral, are establishing themselves inside the camp. Increasingly the question of the coherence of the project of biblical interpretation, given the plurality of methods and the validity of multiple interpretations, is emerging as urgent” (The Revelatory Text, 24). In the chaos it is easy to lose sight of the fact that these methods are not necessarily mutually exclusive. They have common features that can be gleaned and incorporated into a basic eclectic method that will serve the practical needs of ministers, teachers, and students.

That is the aim of this book: to provide a starting point or foundation, not the final word. I do not, however, imagine that an eclectic approach can possibly incorporate all the benefits of the new methods that have arisen in the last few decades. Explicit and rigorous rhetorical, sociological, narrative, and feminist readings will open perspectives on texts that the method described in the succeeding chapters will only suggest indirectly. Nevertheless, a basic method of interpretation with a finite number of discrete steps still has much value. When Sunday is looming and a preaching text or a Bible study lesson plan is staring you down, a practical, methodical approach to biblical interpretation is needed. This is true for both newcomers and seasoned exegetes. A trusty cookbook with a step-by-step method serves both beginners who are learning the culinary arts as well as master chefs, whose skill derives from a well-honed habit of attention to details. Far from stifling creativity, mastering a basic methodology enables creativity by providing it with discipline and direction.
N. Clayton Croy (PhD, Emory University) is associate professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. His previous books include a commentary on 3 Maccabees, The Mutilation of Mark’s Gospel, and A Primer of Biblical Greek. He also contributed to the Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds.

For more information on Prima Scriptura, click here.


  1. Hi,
    This looks very interesting.