Picture of author.

Paul J. Achtemeier (1927–2013)

Author of Harper's Bible Dictionary

34+ Works 3,312 Members 6 Reviews 1 Favorited

About the Author

Romans, in the Interpretation series, was authored by Paul Achtemeier, Professor of Biblical Interpretation Emeritus at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia.

Works by Paul J. Achtemeier

Harper's Bible Dictionary (1958) — Editor — 1,479 copies
Epiphany, Series C (1973) 19 copies
Pentecost 3, Series C (1986) 4 copies

Associated Works

Tagged

Common Knowledge

Members

Reviews

In An Introduction to the New Hermeneutic, Dr. Paul J. Achtemeier undertakes an examination of a hermeneutical method that has grown out of the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and the existential theology of Rudolf Bultmann. Achtemeier notes that exegesis and hermeneutics have often become blended and interchanged, but hermeneutics has reemerged as a consideration that deserves serious theological thought. The “new hermeneutic” seeks to acknowledge the “historicality of human existence” and bridge the gap between the New Testament (NT) and the contemporary time frame (24). The “Notes” in this work are presented as end notes and span 17 pages at the end of the work. There is also included an “Index” that includes names and subjects noted in the work. The word count is approximately 54,000 words, so at 200 wpm the reading time would average 4.5 hours; but, the nature of the subject matter requires a close read at several points so many would find themselves taking longer than the projected time frame.

Regarding the overall structure of the work, Achtemeier has two primary divisions. First is a discussion of the background that contributes to the understanding of the new hermeneutic and focuses on Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann. The second part is a more in-depth discussion of the New Hermeneutic and the contributions of Ernst Fuchs and Gerhard Ebeling.

Since Achtemeier sees the philosophy of Heidegger as one of the formational influences of the new hermeneutic, the first two chapters are devoted to understanding that influence. It is noted that the fundamental question Heidegger attempts to understand is the question of “being,” which Heidegger divides into two different types … “a ‘being’ is anything that is, while ‘Being’ is that by which it is, that which keeps it from non-being” (27). It is enough to see that Achtemeier reveals Heidegger’s understanding of human existence in four elements: that man lives in relationship with others, that man always exists in a relationship to himself, that man would not be man without the ability to understand himself and his world, and that the relationship with the world stimulates reaction. Therefore, as interactions influence the man, the man also influences future interactions, this is what Heidegger identifies as the “hermeneutical circle” (36).

Achtemeier begins the second chapter on Heidegger with the observation that whereas early Heidegger approached his analysis to the Being of man, his later career focused more on Being itself. The first period had a more anthropological focus and became an influence on Bultmann, while the latter period had a more linguistic characteristic and contributed to the new hermeneutic (41). Language becomes an expression of Being and man uses language to uncover truth; thus, as language evolves and becomes more complex, new truth regarding Being can be determined. This means one must “retrieve” the origins of man’s response to the openness of Being and refine that response to understand what could not have been expressed originally. By retrieving the event of Being as expressed in language (interpretation) in the past event (the text), Being can be re-discovered anew (hermeneutics). “Such is the thought, then, in which the new hermeneutic is anchored, and in terms of which it seeks to carry out its theological task” (54).

The work of Rudolf Bultmann, and his influence on current theological thinking, “can scarcely be overestimated” (55). Regarding the interpretation of the NT, two thoughts are important: the historical method, and demythologizing. In the historical method of Bultmann history is seen as a closed causal continuum and therefore any supernatural outside influence is no longer sought; God and his acts are no longer seen as part of the cause of historical events. Since he saw history as a closed system, to Bultmann any event attributed to God as part of the causal link to historical events was mythological. Bultmann understood the myths themselves as primitive expressions of understanding, the problem comes when the imagery of the myth is taken as literal and “the original intention of the myth is totally obscured” (58). The task of interpretation then is to recover the original intention of the mythical imagery and express that intention in terms that make sense to modern man.

From this point a detailed examination of Achtemeier’s work would be inadequate unless an equal amount of time and space were given to the subject as did the author; therefore, noting several the key points regarding the new hermeneutic may better serve this precis. It will be helpful as these key points are related to remember the existential ground from which the new hermeneutic proceeds: the relationship of the events of history in the formation and application to the self, the closed causal continuum of history which removes the supernatural action of God, and the interpretation/reinterpretation of past events in such a way that contemporary man may understand and apply those perceived truths to himself.
Language plays a large portion in the understanding and use of the new hermeneutic, since language represents that medium by which we are able “to profit from the experience” of past generations. Those previous generations also faced the difficulties encountered by contemporary generations, that is, bringing order to the “chaos of possible perceptions” (80). To Achtemeier, since the new hermeneutic recognizes a relationship between perception, language, and reality it should be given serious attention as a theological movement. Therefore, it is helpful to keep in mind that the new hermeneutic is a way of doing theology and “not limited to exegesis” (87). This highlights a significant point; i.e., “a true understanding of the text must be related to human existence” and the basic task of the new hermeneutic is provide the concepts of interpretation so that interpretation is not “divorced from existence” (98). For the new hermeneutic language can be the key to theology since it is by language that an encounter between man and God occurs.

Regarding faith, it is the opinion of Fuchs that any “attempt to provide proof for the truth of faith” is directly at odds with true faith. This, as noted by Achtemeier, explains the “vehemence” with which the new hermeneutic attacks any suggestion that true faith can be “validated” by an appeal to a prior truth or reality apart from faith itself. As soon as faith seeks to prove the truth of its content, or to validate itself by an appeal to something other than itself, it has destroyed itself as faith. Therefore, the new hermeneutic has accepted Herrmann’s dictum as a fundamental tenet, that “the ground of faith and the content of faith are identical.” The foundation from which faith grows is as much a matter of faith “as the content that faith affirms” (111).

When discussing NT interpretation according to the new hermeneutic, interpretation should be existentially driven rather than historical or cosmological. Interpretation in the new hermeneutic seeks to bring interpretation back to its proper focus – the question of human existence and decisions about self-existence considering the NT witness. “The whole of existential interpretation (Bultmann, Fuchs, and others) thus represents an altered pre-understanding” (123). Existential interpretation sees itself as rescuing NT interpretation from becoming merely a recovery of factual or objective information. Rather what the new hermeneutic is “driving at is a decision related to concrete individual life” (124). From this perspective, the existential interpretation of the Christian faith means “faith has significance of the self in the world now, or it has no significance at all” (127).
The relation of the new hermeneutic to the figure of Jesus also has significant implications. The proclamation of the Kingdom by Jesus is seen as a “language-event” meaning that what Jesus revealed about the future is “disturbing” to one’s picture of the world, challenging the hearer to “see the world in a new way” (135). The parables told by Jesus are also seen as a language-event since they present a new way to envision one’s relationship to the world. Parables are seen as an analogy to the position a person should take in relation to the truth which Jesus announces (137). But it is also clear that Jesus did more than simply speak, but the miraculous events as recorded by the Gospels receive little “positive” discussion. The “reports of such mighty acts” are regarded as purely “mythological” and therefore may be ignored (139).

This stance is in line with the demythologizing that Bultmann saw as important for an existential understanding of NT theology. The one miracle that does receive attention is the resurrection. The resurrection, to be truly understood, is not viewed in an “objective” manner, but as a “scandal that must be repeatedly overcome.” The power of the resurrection is seen in the “comfort and succor” that the one resurrected possesses the power to “transform and send forth his followers with the message of the cross to all men” (141). In light of the question of the self in relation to the cross, existential interpretation sees the acts of Jesus in the death, burial, and resurrection as a “judgment on our own self-centered and self-assertive existence” (143).

Achtemeier ends the work with his personal reflections on the new hermeneutic in which is presented what he feels are both strengths and weaknesses. On one hand Jesus is seen as the model that God desires man to emulate but only what Jesus could portray as a historical man can be of any value for man to understand himself. Also, the need to find in Jesus a possible model of self-understanding of historic man helps explain the different treatment of the traditions of the cross and the resurrection (152). The cross is a valid consideration since it can represent the way Jesus viewed his relationship to life; yet, the resurrection cannot be seen as a part of Jesus’s self-understanding since it was not an action he performed but something forced upon him.

For the new hermeneutic, the only way to find meaning in the resurrection is to relate it to the cross, to “absorb” the resurrection into the meaning of the cross, but the witness of the NT is very specific – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is a verifiable event in history and is a reliable foundation upon which faith is grounded. This view is directly at odds with the view of faith for the new hermeneutic. “How is this difference resolved? Easily enough; it is Paul who has erred here” (160). The view of faith that is rejected is the one that sees God as working in history – God is the cause of certain historical effects. For the new hermeneutic, understanding God as working in history is untenable since that is to “think mythologically, and such thinking is no longer possible for man in the twentieth century” (162).

Existential interpretation of the Scriptures by way of the new hermeneutic certainly highlights the need of the individual to find meaning in the text and apply that meaning to the self, but that meaning is found at the expense of the historical nature of the Scriptural record and those events that are proclaimed to be the assurance of the veracity of Jesus’s claims. “Yet any attempt to speak of New Testament faith will surely have to come to terms with the New Testament witness to Christ risen from the dead more effectively than has the new hermeneutic” (165).

Quotes from the work:

“For the transfer of meaning to occur, for the ‘hermeneutical situation’ to exist, there must be some point of contact between interpreter and text. Without such contact, no meaning can be transferred.” (18)

“In this ever-repeated structure of question, answer, and further question, we meet again the ‘hermeneutical circle,’ in which each answer allows man to refine his question in light of his answer, so that the question may probe ever more deeply into the hidden riches of Being.” (52)

“Man, therefore, open to a future that demands he respond to it in the form of decision, namely, the decision as to its meaning for him, must therefore recognize those events which are vital to him, and must decide appropriately.” (89)

“Faith is grounded, therefore, not in any historic event taken by itself, nor in any historical account of something that happened in the past. Rather, faith, if it is to remain faith (and that means, seeking no ground for itself outside of itself), relies on the language of grace for its substance and its sustenance.” (114)

“The question of the self, asked honestly and seriously is, as we saw, the hermeneutical principle of the New Testament. Only in the face of that question does the text really ‘happen.’” (132)

“By allowing the present to be seen in the light of the future rather than the past, man thus abandons his attempt to exercise control over the present by seeing it only in terms of what he knows of the past.” (147)

“Surely the assertion that faith is a way of meeting life, rather than the provision of esoteric knowledge, must be taken seriously. Surely the question of finding the correct hermeneutical principle must be solved. Surely the problem of the self must be a concern for any modern attempt to speak relevantly of the meaning of faith.” (164)
… (more)
 
Flagged
SDCrawford | Nov 26, 2018 |
Includes material from the Old Testament, Apocrypha, New Testament, pseudoepigrapha, early patristic books, Dead Sea Scrolls, related texts and Pesher, Targumic material, Mishnaic, the Nag Hammadi Tractates, and other Rabbinic works.
 
Flagged
keylawk | 2 other reviews | Aug 26, 2012 |
NO OF PAGES: 142 SUB CAT I: Theology SUB CAT II: Tanach SUB CAT III: DESCRIPTION: The heart of the Christian faith rests upon the confession "Jesus is Lord", yet faithful Christians sometime overlook the fact that the Lordship of Jesus is firmly rooted in the promises and prophecies of the OT.NOTES: SUBTITLE:
 
Flagged
BeitHallel | Feb 18, 2011 |
Excellent biblical resource. Easy to read and understand.
 
Flagged
KimberWitch | 2 other reviews | Nov 8, 2009 |

Lists

You May Also Like

Associated Authors

Statistics

Works
34
Also by
3
Members
3,312
Popularity
#7,725
Rating
3.9
Reviews
6
ISBNs
36
Languages
2
Favorited
1

Charts & Graphs