Essays on Biblical Interpretation
by Paul Ricoeur


For students of the theory and practice of biblical interpretation, Paul Ricoeur’s work grows in importance. Philosopher without a theological degree, Christian unencumbered by ecclesiastical occupation, advocate of reform in the French universities and confidant of students and workers during the Paris uprisings of spring 1968, professor in the Faculty of Arts at Paris-Nanterre, successor to Paul Tillich at the University of Chicago, Paul Ricoeur has produced a series of books and articles which today provoke intense discussion among those who struggle to "make sense" of the way the Bible might speak now to humankind and to the Church.

This small anthology, with critical introduction, is designed to make Ricoeur’s thinking on biblical hermeneutics available to a wider audience than has up to now been part of the dialogue. Ricoeur has written few works for a general readership. He has written no single work which comes close to summing up all facets of his thought on the interpretation of the Bible. Many of his most important essays on the subject are available only in learned journals or in anthologies substantially devoted to other topics. The materials gathered here are selected for readability, pertinence to the topic, interconnectedness, and coverage of a representative range of issues. The editor’s Introduction attempts to discover interconnections between Ricoeurian hermeneutical themes, to sketch their philosophical frame of reference, and to lift up their importance for the actual practice of interpretation today. The Introduction follows the thread of thought in the anthologized essays with cross-referencing to these and other Ricoeurian texts.

The editor participated in Professor Ricoeur’s seminars on imagination and intersubjectivity in Paris during the academic year 1973-74, while on a sabbatical leave for which he thanks the Trustees of Amherst College. He has been active in the Ricoeur group of the American Academy of Religion. After coming to McCormick Theological Seminary, he was invited by the Chicago Cluster of Theological Schools to lead a faculty seminar on Ricoeur’s hermeneutics Many of the ideas in the Introduction as well as selections under consideration for inclusion in the volume, were first tried out in the latter context.

The editor wishes to thank David Pellauer and Brad de Ford both former graduate student assistants to Ricoeur at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, for their helpful suggestions concerning the introduction, and for access to manuscript materials. A version of the introduction was presented as a paper at the Chicago Society for Biblical Research in October 1978, and later published in revised form in the Society’s journal, Biblical Research, for Fall 1979. It is used here by permission Professor Ricoeur himself has been graciously helpful from the time of his original permission for this Project to its publication, and has provided an illuminating reply to the introduction for which the Editor is grateful.

The editor thanks Northwestern University Press for permission to use the essays "Preface to Bultmann" translated by Peter McCormick, and "Freedom in the Light of Hope," translated by Robert Sweeney, both originally published in The Conflict of Interpretations. He also thanks Harvard Theological Review for permission to republish "Toward a Hermeneutic of the Idea of Revelation," translated by David Pellauer and Anglican Theological Review for permission to reprint "The Hermeneutics of Testimony," translated by David Stewart and Paul Reagan. No attempt has been made to harmonize renderings of terms which differ slightly from one translator to another.

Sue Armendariz has cheerfully typed and retyped different versions of the Introduction I am grateful for her decoding abilities and for her accuracy.


June 1980

Lewis S. Mudge