A Hermeneutic of Wisdom

Recovering the Formative Agency of Scripture

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How does the Bible shape us in our deepest affections and convictions? In this book, experienced teacher and scholar J. de Waal Dryden develops an integrated hermeneutic that connects the Bible to spiritual formation and the development of Christian virtues. He argues that this is actually what the Bible was written for and explains how to develop reading strategies built around this central conviction. Dryden challenges conceptions of the Bible as a collection of texts whose primary purpose is to communicate theology, ethics, or history. He asserts that the whole Bible can be understood as a wisdom text that directs its readers morally, shapes them in their deepest affections and convictions, and impacts how they look at the world and live in it.

Offering an innovative hermeneutical approach that goes beyond theory to concrete exegesis, A Hermeneutic of Wisdom will serve as an ideal supplement to standard hermeneutics textbooks. It will also be useful for biblical scholars, theologians, and pastors.


Part 1: Tilling the Soil
1. Knowing and Reading
2. Theology and Ethics
3. Law and Gospel
Part 2: Planting the Seeds
4. Reading Gospels for Wisdom: Theory
5. Reading Gospels for Wisdom: Practice
6. Reading Epistles for Wisdom: Theory
7. Reading Epistles for Wisdom: Practice
Appendix: Wisdom and "Wisdom Literature"


"Dryden brilliantly synthesizes important truths and insights from sources as hoary as the Hebrew Bible and as fresh as Mark Sneed and Sandra Schneiders. Viewing wisdom as 'a practical knowledge lived out in concrete agency shaped by desire,' Dryden plausibly claims the entirety of Christian Scripture as the locus of his shrewd and savvy reading enterprise. The biblical interpretation workplace today is littered with competing and broken methods. Dryden diagnoses the malaise and draws on classic sources from across the centuries to arrive at a fresh and innovative orientation fleshed out by helpful examples."

Robert W. Yarbrough, professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri

"Modern biblical hermeneutics struggles to relate doctrine and ethics, meaning and application in a manner consistent with the Bible's own historical-literary shape and communicative ends. In identifying the Bible as a wisdom text, Dryden's A Hermeneutic of Wisdom offers an integrative approach that helps us better follow the grain of the biblical text while forming rightly ordered loves for God and neighbor."

Scott R. Swain, president and James Woodrow Hassell Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida

"In an age of many good books on hermeneutics, Dryden's A Hermeneutic of Wisdom truly stands out. Rarely have I encountered an author who so deeply understands and integrates epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and biblical studies. With fair critiques of both modernism and postmodernism, Dryden calls Christians to a thoughtful and faithful engagement with Scripture, not as an object but as God's revealed wisdom aiming at our spiritual formation. Highly recommended!"

Jonathan T. Pennington, associate professor of New Testament and director of research doctoral studies, Southern Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky

"All too often serious students of the Bible feel compelled to choose between historically faithful readings of Scripture on the one hand and theologically meaningful or pastorally helpful readings of Scripture on the other hand. But in A Hermeneutic of Wisdom, Dryden resists this false dichotomy and instead points the way toward a rapprochement between the two; indeed, he gives us a hermeneutical approach that helps move beyond this classic bifurcation. Drawing on years of reflection on the formative agency of Scripture, Dryden makes a compelling case for the 'wisdom intentionality' of the whole Bible. Theologians and biblical scholars alike will need to reckon seriously with his central thesis, while pastors and seminarians will resonate with what is a remarkably commonsensical and ecclesial way of reading the Bible. If you want to become a wiser reader of Scripture--better yet, one whose reading bears the fruit of love--then take up and read this book!"

Todd Wilson, senior pastor, Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park, Illinois

"Dryden's stimulating volume helps us appreciate a wisdom hermeneutic for reading the Bible. Arguing that the sacred Scriptures were not primarily written to convey abstract doctrines or to create interesting historical-critical puzzles for us to solve, Dryden follows an older path, one far more promising. It was first trod by ancient authors and later advocated by the likes of Augustine in his hermeneutic of love. Following this approach, Dryden believes the Bible is primarily meant for spiritual formation, shaping us so that we might faithfully commune with God and neighbor. As we abide in Christ and he in us, we are shaped by his kingdom values and learn to flourish in God's world. There is so much wisdom and sanity in these pages! While this book is not written for laity--it is informed by top scholarship and argues with academic integrity--its effect is to give Christian laity their Bible back!"

Kelly M. Kapic, Covenant College

"As Augustine suggested, the seeker needs wisdom in order to find more of it--to know what one is looking for. Augustine also taught that we need wise mentors to guide us into wisdom. What a help, then, is this treasury of prudential guidance in how to read the Bible, particularly the New Testament, to become wise. From Dryden's perspective, given God's communicative agenda, the entire Bible should be considered Wisdom literature that is composed of many subgenres. This book exemplifies 'formative literature' that seeks to impact the shape of the reader's character as well as the reader's mind."

Eric L. Johnson, senior research professor, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

"This book is a hermeneutically, theologically, and exegetically powerful way forward for reading New Testament texts as deeply formational and virtue inducing. Dryden helpfully culls insights from hermeneutics, philosophy, and genre analysis to present a vision of the embodied life and wisdom to which Christ calls his disciples. Dryden's specific readings of New Testament texts helpfully unite both theory and practice. I look forward to using this book with great profit in my own teaching of the New Testament."

Joshua Jipp, associate professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

The Author

  1. J. de Waal Dryden

    J. de Waal Dryden

    J. de Waal Dryden (PhD, Cambridge University) is professor of biblical studies and chair of the department at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He is the author of Theology and Ethics in 1 Peter: Paraenetic Strategies for Christian...

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