Abstract

This essay aims to explore the concept of interpretive virtue and to elucidate its significance for contemporary exegetes. Although several recent works have referenced the importance of the virtues in renewing biblical interpretation, a concise account of the options, benefits, and challenges associated with such a move remains elusive. To sketch this account, this essay explores virtue epistemology as an analogous (but not identical) trend in a sister discipline. Two models of virtue epistemology—the first from Linda Zagzebski, and the second from Robert C. Roberts and W. Jay Wood—offer several insights that should inform appropriations of virtue ethics in biblical interpretation. While there are surely important differences between epistemology and exegesis, Roberts and Wood in particular demonstrate the great potential that lies in a virtues approach to biblical interpretation that aims at improving the intellectual life by forming habits conducive to the acquisition of various interpretive goods. Though this approach is unlikely to provide a way of adjudicating interpretive disputes, it can significantly enrich our understanding of biblical exegesis by delineating its goals more clearly while also helping teachers to train students more effectively. While this reorientation must not be overhyped—virtue theory does not offer a complete picture of what makes good biblical interpretation—it holds significant promise. Finally, the essay addresses three common objections to virtue theory: that it represents a poor fit with the biblical witness, that it yields no substantial contribution to hermeneutics, and that it ineluctably results in problematic forms of relativism.

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