D.A. Carson’s wonderful little book, Exegetical Fallacies, is a brief survey of some of the most common interpretive fallacies that exegetes face when they look at scriptural texts. While the subject matter of the book may make it seem negative, if one takes it for what it is, it is a very useful survey.
Carson organizes his survey into four categories of fallacies: 1) word-study fallacies, 2) grammatical fallacies, 3) logical fallacies, and 4) presuppositional and historical fallacies.
The first category is probably the most prevalent and the one that this author is the most guilty of. Carson recognizes the need for context and usage as the most important factor for determining meaning of a word rather than etymology. This section is a great introduction to biblical semantics if one has not read the more substantial works of Barr, Caird and Silva.
The second category recognizes the possible fluidity of grammar in actual usage and cautions against making too much of grammatical constructions. Thus for example, though the aorist tense in Greek is usually described as a point verb emphasizing that an event happened once it is a stretch to suggest, as commentators have, that the use of the aorist in 1 Cor. 5:7 (‘for Christ our passover lamb was sacrificed‘) means that his sacrifice was a ‘once for all’ kind of deal. While, theologically, this might be true, it cannot be argued on the basis of grammar.
In surveying logical fallacies, Carson recognizes the tendency to demand an either/or solution where a complementary view might be better suited.
The final category deals with historical and presuppositional fallacies. While it is here that the book reaches its highest ‘evangelical peak’ in that it is critical of views that do not accept the historicity of the Bible or who hold their presuppositions as above the Bible. It is also very helpful in that it recognizes the usefulness of the postmodern critique of the modern arrogance of interpretation. The recognition that we all bring our own presuppositions to the text can help us to make allowances for them an be even more true to the text.
All in all, there is nothing truly groundbreaking or profound in Carson’s book. But it is a very helpful introduction to the most common fallacies interpreters face.