When I had seen N. Clayton Croy’s Prima Scripture: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation (Baker, 2011), I wondered what it was going to be all about. Is it about hermeneutics? Is it an exegesis primer? Actually – it is all-in-one in about 200 pages and it is FANTASTIC.
Essentially, Croy wanted a moderately rigorous hermeneutics book that worked basically from an inductive study method, but also offered traditional “exegetical” analytical tools and resources as well. Thus, Croy works with a very basic structure of chapters:
1. Analyzing and Preparing the Interpreter (1-12)
2. Analyzing the Text (13-128)
3. Evaluating and Contemporizing the Text (129-160)
4. Appropriating the Text and Transforming the Community (161-184).
There are four things that drew in my attention when reading this book. First, it blends very well theoretical and philosophical issues (what is meaning? Where does meaning reside? Can we be certain? Is there one meaning?) and pragmatic issues (book surveys, grammatical analysis). Secondly, Croy champions an inductive method – hunt for your own food. Thirdly, he takes the tasks of theologically analyzing the text and seeking personal and communal application very seriously. Some scholars treat Biblical interpretation as solely a historical or literary endeavor. Not so with Croy – I would say he fits pretty well within the broader group of scholars that have appreciated this thing we now call “Theological Interpretation of Scripture.” For example, I was blown away by the very rich and fruitful theological questions that he encourages good readers to ask of a text:
How does the text make you view the world differently? How does it envision the reign of God? How does it guide, encourage, and empower you to pursue that vision? What would the world look like if the vision of this text were realized?
How does the text envision the community of God’s people? How would leadership look different? What would relationships look like? How would Gods people on earth order their communal life differently if this text’s vision were realized?
How does this text form and inform Christian discipleship? At what points of living, doing, thinking, and being does it challenge persons today? (see p. 111).
What Croy is calling for is not a systemazation of Scripture’s theology, but a theological engagement with the stories and discourses in Scripture that is conversational, personal, communal, and transformative.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Croy is a good writer – actually, an outstanding writer. There are many amazing authors out there who get by on being good scholars. Croy has the advantage of having good material and being a very clear and engaging writer.
So, where does the title come from? In a way, it comes from the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and also the Reformation. As for the Reformation, many conservative Biblical interpreters want to claim Sola Scripture - only Scripture. Croy makes a helpful corrective that few of the great Reformers were actually trying to argue that Scripture is all there is theologically. They criticized some creeds and gave Scripture the ultimate authority, but, perhaps a better way to express Reformation ideals is Prima Scriptura - Scripture is given primacy, not exclusivity. As for the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, Croy talks about how reason, experience, and tradition have their parts to play in the Christian pursuit of wisdom, but do not have the prime place that Scripture should have. Croy’s discussion is very careful and cogent here.
How can Croy’s book be used? It is rich in good theory and has many general exegetical tools and pointers that work well with a Seminary hermeneutics course. My suggestion would be to pair Croy with Gorman or Fee. There will be some overlap, but if your students are like me, they could use the repetition!
Here are some great “sound bytes” from Croy:
(on textual criticism and translations): “Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your sweetheart through Saran Wrap. It’s better than nothing, but direct contact is always more exciting.” (p. xlii)
(on Sola Scriptura): “nearly all Christian traditions employ one or more additional criteria such as tradition, reason, and experience. A more realistic motto, then, would be prima scriptura: Scripture as the primary authority, but in conjunction with and mediated by other authorities.” (xlv)
(0n reader and meaning): “The fact that all interpreters read from a certain location does not mean that we should despair of meaningful interpretation; nor does it mean that all interpretations are equally prejudiced and therefore equally valid (or invalid). It simply means that we must analyze the interpreter as well as the text.” (p. 2)
(on observation): “reading attentively, perceptively, and inquisitively” (p. 15)
(the problem of parallelomania): quoting Dale Allison, quoting Ihab Hassan, “Learned and meticulous essays have been written to demonstrate the influence of everything on anything” (p. 91)
“When we reflect on the NT theologically, we are engaging it in a manner that builds upon but transcends description of the text” (p. 108)
“postmodernism has leveled the playing field for ideological readings, with the result that theology, having been escorted out the front door by modernism, returned by the back door of postmodernism” (p. 109).
(On using second sources): “By all means, stand on the shoulders of giants, but do not ride along in their pockets.” (p. 115)
(On what tradition brings to the table): Quoting G.K. Chesterton, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” (p. 138)