Hermeneutics by Silva


            This is book review of Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., and Moises Silva.  It was originally published in 1994.  Due to its popularity, a second edition was published in 2007 with additional chapters and content.[1]  This is sort of how-to primer of biblical interpretation written by two different theologians.  It is unique in that they write the book separately, chapter by chapter. This compares to a traditional approach of multiple writers collaborating on each chapter or the book in total.  They present two different points of view on each significant subject.




            The work is divided into four parts, each focusing on a different aspect of hermeneutics.  Part One details the Search for Meaning:  Initial Directions.[2]  This part explores the definitions and need for a structured approach to hermeneutics, commonly referred to as biblical interpretation.  “Who needs hermeneutics anyway?” is a relevant question explored and answered.[3]  There is no formal method for interpreting other parts of life.  The need for a structured approach to understanding the Bible is questioned and supported.  Silva’s tone in the first chapter is formal and reads like a theologian wrote it.  Kaiser’s tone, setting the pattern for the rest of the work, is more relaxed, using more contemporary examples and illustrations. That difference in writing style makes the work easy and almost fun to read for a theology textbook!

            Part Two explores the meaning of five different portions of the Bible:  Narratives, Poetry and Wisdom, Gospels, Epistles and Prophecy.  There is a chapter on “How to Read a Letter” in the Bible.[4] So much of the New Testament is letters. Understanding the structure of letters of that time, as well as “how to read between the lines” is a fascinating and worthwhile discussion.[5]

            Part Three explores different uses of the Bible.  Using a structured method of reading and interpreting the Bible, the different uses or applications of scripture are presented.  The devotional, cultural and theological uses and applications are explored.  The discussion is very insightful. For example, “a variety of cultures” were represented by the writers of the Bible.[6]  Understanding that context, it is easy to see how to apply it to the many different cultures present in every city and neighborhood today.  The Bible has great “Cultural Relativity.”[7]  This is not a concept widely discussed today.  From the perspective of most readers, the biblical writers were all very similar.  They were all some sort of desert living Arab!  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Using the cultural differences of the biblical writers is a great way to find application today for our many cultures.

            Part Four encourages the reader to move on to “Further Challenges” in biblical interpretation.[8]  By understanding the history and contemporary approaches to hermeneutics, one may understand how to better explore the Bible for other possibilities, as a Christian or a student.   A detailed discussion of “The Case for Calvinistic Hermeneutics” is presented.[9]  The close relationship between hermeneutics and systemic theology is presented.  Both disciplines are dedicated to “excellence and clarity of exposition” when done properly, according to Silva.[10]

            Overall the four parts of this work give a convincing argument for the need for structured biblical interpretation and its use for every Christian, from the casual Bible reader to the serious theologian.




            The central theme is found throughout the work, from the preface to the concluding chapter’s “Concluding Observations.”[11]  Hermeneutics is a discipline full of publications and guides.  It does not stand still.  The “currents of thought” are constantly changing.[12]  Silva and Kaiser seek to present an introductory guide to the subject that is unique in its presentation and that allows the reader to “come to their own conclusions.”[13]

            Hermeneutics is not only ever-changing but the need for solid biblical interpretation is also an urgent matter among today’s believers.  These writers seek to provide a volume that is “useful to both the lay reader,” and “the more advanced student.”[14]

            Hermeneutics is also personal.  It is the best possible understanding of the “mind of the Prophet or Evangelist who first uttered or wrote” the biblical passage.[15]  What were their motivation, intention and ultimate goal?  It is not a casual pursuit.  There may be single or multiple meanings for any biblical passage and the well-guided biblical student can understand them all and come to their own conclusions.  There are general principles of the discipline that are well established and well proven.  Understanding those can begin to lead the student of biblical interpretation down the road to success.

            While developed in several directions the theme of this work comes back to the same place throughout its three hundred or so pages.  “The most important work needed in our day is to look for legitimate applications that do not go beyond what God has revealed” in the Bible, but to understand just what he intended for us to see.[16]  Hermeneutics is important. Doing it right is worth some effort. It is a worthy task to “be constantly on the lookout for the single truth-intention of the human author” of every biblical text.  The ultimate search is the truth for what God was using that writer to say to each of us.



            The strengths and weaknesses of the work will now be discussed.  For this discussion, three relevant secondary sources have been identified from the ATLA Religion database.  A book review from each of these three sources will be the foundation of this part of this discussion.

            Ronald J. Allen, in his review, identified both strengths and weaknesses of this book.  A strength of the work is its “exceptional clarity” in the writing style and dialogue.[17]  That style is combined with “a wide range of scholarship from across the exegetical and theological spectrum,” doing a very detailed job of supporting the positions of both Kaiser and Silva.[18] Another strength is the illustration of “the pluralism within the evangelical community.”[19]  Along with the divers points of view demonstrated by Kaiser and Silva, the many different points of view of the evangelical community are also presented and discussed.  Today’s believers and theologians enjoy healthy discussions on the many diverse points of view held by many fellow Christians!

            Allen also points out several weaknesses.  There is much discussion on inspiration in this work, yet “the authors do not carefully define inspiration.”[20]  An assumption of the understanding of the reader may cause some confusion in this type of work.  The detail of defining some terms used is omitted.  Also omitted is detail that is implied on other topics.  “Kaiser and Silva do not consider in detail the emphasis they place on the radical diversity with Scripture” present in today’s evangelical theology.  Assuming the understanding of their readers is a weakness in some parts of this work.

            In their review of Kaiser and Silva, Jason Spikes and Roy Zuck also identified both strengths and weaknesses.  A great strength of the work are the “various contemporary approaches to interpretation” presented.[21]  A wide variety of ideas are presented and discussed, complimented by the different points of view of the two writers of this book.  The overall structure of the book is also a great strength, according to Spikes and Zuck.  The three parts of the book each target important topics to a targeted audience.  The first section “points out the need for a biblical hermeneutical system” among Christian laymen.[22]  The second section, also directed toward laymen, interprets different literary genres in the Bible.   Part three, targeting laymen also, reviews “application and relevance” of different methods.[23]  The fourth section targets more serious Christian students and “deal with the relationship between theology and exegenesis.”[24]  The four topics are very important and targeting each toward an appropriate audience is strength of the book.

            The first weakness identified by Spikes and Zuck are similar to other reviews, illustrating how Kaiser and Silva’s presentation may lead “readers intentionally or unintentionally to read their own meaning into a text.”  Kaiser and Silva make many assumptions about their readers.  Another weakness is lack of detail, again similar to other reviews.  Silva “fails to give any specific biblical examples” of many of his statements.[25]

            Stanley Porter’s review of this work in The Journal of Evangelical Theological Society is much more critical of Kaiser and Silva.  “I cannon praise this book” is Porter’s concluding statement.[26]  As others, he details “Kaiser’s own presuppositions” on topics that the reader may not share or understands.  There are also few topics in the work “treated in sufficient detail.”[27]

            The strengths and weaknesses of this work are very consistent in these three reviews.  The structure of the book, the different points of view of the two writers and the overall importance of the topics are key strengths.  There are also significant weaknesses.  In a theological work of this type, the reader must not be assumed to share the same presuppositions or foundational views of the writers unless those views are clearly identified.  There must also be deep biblical detail for all significant positions in this type of work.  These are significant weaknesses.

            It must also be pointed out that despite the agreed weaknesses of this work; it is a very successful textbook on the subject.  Its success led to a second printing with additional materials thirteen years after the original publication.[28]


            The content of the work has been summarized.  The book’s central theme has been identified.  Strengths and weakness of the work have been discussed.  This is a solid how-to textbook on the important topic of biblical interpretation.  It is a worthy addition to the library of any biblical student.









Allen, Ronald J., “A Review of Walter C. Kaiser and Moises Silva, An Introduction to Biblical    Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning”, Homiletic 19 No. 2, Winter 1994.


Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. and Moises Silva, Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics:  The Search for      Meaning.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2007.


Porter, Stanley F., “A Review of An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics:  The Search for         Meaning”, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 41.4, September 1998.


Spikes, Jason B. and Roy B. Zuck, “Review of An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics:  The    Search for Meaning”, Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1995.


[1] Walter C.. Kaiser, Jr. and Moises Silva, Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics:  The Search for Meaning, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2007), back cover.

[2] Ibid, p 17.

[3] Ibid.

[4]Ibid, p 173.

[5]Ibid, p 178.

[6]Ibid, p 223.

[7]Ibid, p 225.

[8]Ibid, p 257.

[9]Ibid, p 295.

[10]Ibid, p 297.

[11]Ibid, p 321.

[12]Ibid, p 9.



[15]Ibid, p 321.

[16]Ibid, p 332.

[17]Ronald J. Allen, “A Review of Walter C. Kaiser and Moises Silva, An Introduction to Biblical       Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning”, Homiletic 19 No. 2, Winter 1994, p 23.


[19]Ibid, p 24.


[21]Jason B. Spikes and Roy B. Zuck, “Review of An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics:  The Search for Meaning”, Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1995, p 368.


[22]Ibid, p 367.

[23]Ibid, p 368.



[26]Porter, Stanley F., “A Review of An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics:  The Search for Meaning”, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 41.4, September 1998.


[28] Kaiser and Silva, back cover.

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