Dale Allison on the History of Interpretation

allisonDale Allison observes how the patterns of most commentaries privilege recent works over older sources. Rather, he says the history of interpretation invites serious consideration for the following reasons.

  1. “Such history is intrinsically interesting in and of itself.”
  2. “It instills humility by reminding exegetes of how much they owe to those who came before, and of the degree to which they are bearers of traditions.”
  3. “Careful attention to older commentaries sometimes allows one to recover exegetical suggestions and profitable lines of inquiry that, from a historical-critical point of view, should never have dropped out of the commentary tradition.”
  4. “The history of the interpretation and reception of [Book X] reveals the plasticity of texts, and how easily and thoroughly they succumb to interpretive agendas.”
  5. “Reception history that looks beyond theologians and commentaries reminds one that biblical texts are not the exclusive property of clerics and exegetes. They instead belong equally to popular piety and to literature in general, and likewise to artists, poets, and musicians.”

The meanings of “history of interpretation,” “reception history,” and Wirkungsgeschichte have undergone much discussion —  see Journal for the Study of the New Testament 33, no. 2 (Dec 2010) for discussions within the NT discipline. Allison regards the first as formal, exegetical work. Whereas the latter two, Allison understands them as broader and more inclusive (e.g., sermons, hymnody, general literature, application, beyond ecclesial settings, and more) (James, 2n5).

Dale C. Allison, Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of James, ICC (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 2–3.


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