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The End of Interpretation

Reclaiming the Priority of Ecclesial Exegesis

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Those who wish to interpret and understand the Bible face a fundamental question: How do I interpret Scripture faithfully? Theological interpretation is an approach that has received much attention in recent years, and R. R. Reno is a leading practitioner and proponent of this approach.

In The End of Interpretation, Reno's first full statement on the topic, he argues that Scripture is interpreted correctly only when it is read through the lens of creedal orthodoxy--that is, through the apostolic faith. The principle of accordance between doctrine and Scripture is of first importance for solid Christian interpretation.

Reno provides a simple explanation of this multifaceted approach. He wrestles with what makes interpretation "theological" and provides two historical case studies, discussing Origen and the Reformation debate over justification. He then demonstrates what theological interpretation looks like in practice, reflecting on Genesis 1, John 17, and 1 Corinthians. Reno's insights will benefit serious readers who seek to interpret Scripture faithfully.

1. What Makes Exegesis Theological?
2. Theology and Interpretation
3. Origen and Spiritual Reading
4. Reformation Controversy and Biblical Interpretation
5. In the Beginning
6. That They All May Be One
7. Law, Loyalty, and Love
8. An Exegetical Postmortem


"A still largely unrealized ambition of Vatican II was to foster a true revival of the Bible in the life of the Church. Inspired by the great ressourcement theologians, the fathers of the council wanted the Scriptures to inform every aspect of Catholicism. In this splendidly written and bracing text, R. R. Reno shows us what a truly ecclesial interpretation of the Bible looks like."

Most Reverend Robert Barron, Bishop of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota

"Reno here urges us to turn conventional exegetical wisdom on its head: instead of doing theology in accordance with Scripture, we should be reading Scripture in accordance with church doctrine. Protestants may (again) protest, yet the doctrines that guide Reno's theological interpretation are themselves the result of the church's painstaking attempt to read Scripture rightly. The End of Interpretation is both a bold claim about what it means to be biblical and a helpful illustration of the 'state of the art' of theological exegesis by one of its foremost proponents."

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, research professor of systematic theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"With this book, Dr. Reno has provided an excellent treatment of the ever-present tension that all thoughtful Christians feel between biblical exegesis and theological statements, between the desire to maintain the uniqueness of biblical authority while also respecting the church's historic teaching. Unashamedly Catholic, he nevertheless writes for an ecumenical audience, and thoughtful Protestants will find much here to help them as they address these matters from their perspective and navigate questions of tradition, higher criticism, and the place of faith and reason in the theological task. The first chapter, on the nature of theological exegesis, is where Dr. Reno expounds the key idea of the presumption of accordance. This alone is worth the price of the book. But the gems continue, with, among other things, a thoughtful reappraisal of Origen and a provocative engagement with the Reformation. This book will be on the reading lists of my theology classes from now on."

Carl R. Trueman, Grove City College

"With characteristic clarity, Rusty Reno dismantles the modern assumption that an intellectually responsible approach to the Bible requires setting theology aside and embracing some sort of mythical 'objectivity.' Instead, Reno here defends an approach to exegesis from within theology, an approach that he is well positioned to unpack given his work shepherding the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series. In this new book, he offers a collection of case studies that illustrate how such theological exegesis has and should function for Christians. He considers difficult passages, asking how the theology of creation ex nihilo can help us read Genesis 1 and how the doctrines of the Trinity, atonement, and sanctification can help us make sense of Jesus's prayer for the oneness of the church in John 17. He also considers how theological exegesis has functioned throughout Christian history, with examples ranging from Origen to the medieval poet William Langland, to the Reformation, to the present day. I am especially gratified by how strongly ecumenical Reno is here. Throughout the different case studies, Reno's tone is both reasonable and pastoral, modeling what it means to do exegesis from a place of intellectual submission within a community and urging Christian theologians starting from such a place to plunge boldly into dialogue with Scripture, allowing their knowledge of the Christian theological tradition to inform their reading of Scripture and allowing their reading of Scripture to strengthen their connection to that tradition. Overall, a hopeful and encouraging read."

Laura A. Smit, professor of theology, Calvin University

"There is more than a half century of argument contained in the double entendre of this book's title. Reno is recalling exegetes and theologians to the original purpose of their task, but he is also calling for the abandonment of certain conditions that have been imposed on biblical interpretation: critical minimalism, for example, and the bracketing of faith commitments. In 1988, Joseph Ratzinger urged academics to overcome the dualism that separated exegesis from theology. This requires us not to reject the historical method but, rather, to subordinate it to a hermeneutic of faith. In identifying the 'end' of interpretation, Reno plots the trajectory of something far greater than anything we've known in my lifetime: reading Scripture from the heart of the church--in the great tradition--and not surrendering it to the canons of the secular academy."

Scott Hahn, Michael Scanlan Professor of Biblical Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville

"This book may not have all the answers to the thorny questions of biblical hermeneutics after the demise of the historical-critical approach, but it at least points us in the right direction by advocating for the priority of ecclesial exegesis. Since the Bible was given to the church by God, it must be interpreted with its end, or purpose, in mind. Reno shows that true doctrine neither supersedes nor undermines the Bible but rather 'accords' with it. In premodern times, doctrine and exegesis informed each other, and they should do so again."

Craig A. Carter, research professor of theology, Tyndale University; author of Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis

The Author

  1. R. R. Reno

    R. R. Reno

    R. R. Reno (PhD, Yale University) is editor of First Things. He taught theology at Creighton University for two decades. He is the author of many books, including Return of the Strong Gods and Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian...

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