Sacred Language, Sacred World

The Unity of Scriptural and Philosophical Hermeneutics

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Joshua D. Broggi
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury T&T Clark
    , December
     232 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In Sacred Language, Sacred World, Joshua D. Broggi undertakes the ambitious task of uniting scripture, tradition, and reason. Broadly speaking, Broggi’s work explores the unity of philosophical hermeneutics and textual hermeneutics, meaning that for Broggi, interpretation has much do to with the world one already inhabits. Reading scripture is not done in isolation; instead, how one reads scriptures depends upon one’s world. A worldview precludes the possibility of stepping outside it. As such, Broggi attempts to show that the separation of scripture, tradition, and reason is a fruitless endeavor. These represent a single phenomenon, and any attempt at separation is an exercise in abstraction. Reading scripture, and in fact any text, says Broggi, is a unified action.

Broggi justifies his claim through his particular reading of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer, the most influential hermeneutical philosophers of the 20th century. Broggi makes it clear that he is reading both Heidegger and Gadamer in a way that is uncommon for most theologians. Therefore, much of Broggi’s text is a reinterpretation and reappropriation of both Heidegger and Gadamer. Broggi does not claim to explore the original intents of the authors; instead he explores how their works support the claim of a unified hermeneutics. Both authors, Broggi argues, “make available to us a persuasive vision of human life and the place within it of history, thought, and language” (7).

Concerning Heidegger, he argues that Heidegger’s concerns go beyond doubt and existential questions. Heidegger, according to Broggi, explores why things have any meaning at all. In other words, Heidegger is most concerned with meaning in relation with the world. Things are classified in relation to their world, and only have meaning when they are classified in relation to their world. As for Gadamer, Broggi believes that scholars have missed Gadamer’s fundamental point. Gadamer goes beyond simply claiming how to read old texts. Broggi makes the case that Gadamer shows how one’s particular world, as a reader, is formed. Gadamer is not advocating two independent horizons (past and present), according to Broggi; rather the past and present comprise one unified horizon.

In terms of reading scripture, Broggi explores a contextual appropriation of scripture. By this, he means that how one reads scripture is rooted to one’s background commitments. Therefore, debates about scripture must take into account the world in which these debates are currently located. Broggi makes his point using the example of the Kimbanguists in the Congo. The Kimbanguist reading of scripture is vastly different from a European reading of scripture. A European may come to the conclusion that the Kimbanguist reading is wrong when scripture, tradition, and reason are separated. However, the Kimbanguist cannot read in any other cultural context or worldview. As with the European, the Kimbanguist reads scripture using their own worldview. Broggi argues that it is wrong to ignore the world of the Kimbanguist or the European; it is unjustified to call one correct and the other wrong. Broggi concludes that philosophical and textual hermeneutics must work together if Christians are to understand how scripture creates meaning. Interpreting scripture means taking into account the inhabited world, and the unity between scripture, tradition, and reason.

Broggi is excellent in his use of Heidegger and Gadamer. Bridging the gap between textual and philosophical hermeneutics is no easy task, yet Broggi’s careful analysis presents a compelling argument for a reimagined look at the unity of scripture, tradition, and reason. Broggi is a careful and precise writer, making this work easily accessible to those unfamiliar with Heidegger or Gadamer. Broggi’s text is a masterful achievement for theology, hermeneutics, and philosophy. Sacred Language, Sacred World is highly recommended.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jonathan L. Best is the Outreach and Instruction Librarian at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Date of Review: 
September 26, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Joshua D. Broggi is a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College and a member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford, UK.


Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.