Literary Approaches to Old Testament Study

by Tremper Longman III

Longman summarizes the main literary approaches and gives examples of how those literary approaches have influenced biblical studies. He also gives a brief evaluation of each one. He begins by pointing out that literary approaches to the Bible are quite old and not as new as some would think. In the early 1800s, however, with the rise of critical scholarship, the Bible was no longer looked at as literature, but as a specimen to be dissected. The majors literary approaches he classifies according to whether the theory is text-based or reader-based.

The first category Longman treats is structuralism and semiotics. The philosopher associated with this theory is Ferdinand de Saussure. Text is arbitrary because each sign can have many significances, while the same significance can have many signs.

If the sign has no attachment to the author who wrote it, then the next phase in literary theory is reader-response. The intention of the author is lost. Thus, the community is free to interpret a text according to its own significations, and not those of the author or his (or her) community.

If the sign has no attachment to the author, and is arbitrary to the reader, then deconstruction states, that the text has no meaning at all. According to Longman, this meaningless text necessarily divorces any authorial intent or implications, divine or otherwise. Thus, he concludes, that an evangelical understanding of inspiration cannot co-exist with a deconstructionist approach to interpretation.