Osborne’s hermeneutical method

I did some stuff on hermeneutics a little while back for London Theological Seminary and I found Grant Osborne’s Hermeneutical Spiral particularly helpful. He covers issues surrounding intended meaning, grammar, context, syntax, genre analysis, methodology, homiletics and much else besides. I’d highly recommend it as a go to reference book. I was particularly helped by his material on methodology (see ch. 15; pp. 347-73). He outlines the various methodologies employed as follows:

  1. The synthetic method – seeks to trace various themes through Scripture (eg. covenant). This method appreciates unity, but can artificially impose itself on Scripture, and fail to recognise diversity.
  2. The analytical method – studies distinctive themes of books but undermines (sometimes even denies) the overarching unity of the canon.
  3. The history of religions method – considers the ways in which the Bible borrowed ideas from surrounding religions. Any parallel is considered a precursor to the Bible. This approach obviously relies on certain liberal presuppositions.
  4. The tradition-critical method – the developing creed of the community is of greater relevance than historical accuracy. The view unnecessarily plays one off against the other and is more interested in the expression of faith than the reality of the events.
  5. The Christological method – we interpret every part of the Bible in light of the Christ event. Obviously a good thing but we need to beware of allegorising or spiritualizing OT texts, or losing the importance of God’s historical dealings with Israel.
  6. The confessional method – the Bible is a series of faith statements to be adhered to. True, but beware of the tendency to dismiss any sort of critical engagement with the historical development of the text.
  7. The narrative method – tracing the development of themes in the development of the book. The danger is that historical issues can become determinative, and the overall theology lost.
  8. The multiplex method – employing the strengths, whilst being aware of the weaknesses, of all of the above (Osborne’s preference unsurprisingly).

The other helpful discussion in this section is regarding the necessary disciplines in a sound hermeneutical method and the relationship between them.



Exegesis informs Biblical theology which informs Systematic theology. Historical theology underpins them all as a control. Osborne adds a fifth, practical theology, and notes that there is in fact an ongoing dialogue between the five disciplines rather than a neat logical progression (p. 351). It’s an excellent book well worth having on the shelves – get it on your Christmas list!


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