Archive for Exegesis
Joel Green, Fuller NT prof, editor of Catalyst, and all around great guy, mentioned my Catalyst article (see here as well) in a Facebook note. This has prompted a bit of discussion on Facebook itself, but also gave cause to two blog posts, one by a student of Joel’s and another by a more seasoned NT scholar. Rather than type lengthy comments in each of their blogs, I’ve tried to continue the conversation with responses to them here. My hope is to clarify some things about theological interpretation and prod my interlocutors a little in order to keep the dialogue going. You are more than welcome to join in here or on one of their blog posts.
Seth Heringer asks, “I wonder where Spinks sees theological interpretation falling?” If I were forced to choose among the four options Seth presents—(1) separate faith and theology out of scientific exegesis; (2) study the theology contained within the NT without making any truth claims about that theology; (3) mix scientific exegesis (think historical-critical paradigm) and theology in an unsystematic fashion; and (4) cast scientific exegesis overboard in pursuit of theology—I would likely follow the fourth option with severe qualifications. My problem with the way it’s all set up is that Seth continues to work with the theology/biblical studies dichotomy and creates four concoctions with various amounts of each ingredient. I reject the dichotomy to begin with—at least as far as theological interpretation of Scripture is concerned. It’s a different matter altogether if we are talking about purely academic disciplines. Theological interpretation, to my mind, is not an academic discipline in the strictest sense. It is something academics can, do, and should participate in, but on its own it is not an “academic” discipline that is looking for the right amounts of scientific exegesis and theology. Let me respond to parts of the post to further my point. You will want to see the post to get all of the references to it I make.
I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that I draw on Francis Watson other than I quote him as saying that theological interpretation is “a new paradigm for biblical interpretation [that] has begun to take shape and to establish itself.” I do not draw on him much beyond noting his observation. Theological interpretation is on the rise. It has begun to take shape and establish itself. The question is What is it that has started to take shape and establish itself?
To be frank, I’m not sure just what it is. What I have observed are the very “hues” Seth highlights, though he enumerates and describes them a bit differently than I do and in some respects creates a different set of hues altogether. His third hue is “Recalls the practices of historical interpretation,” where he says, “[Spinks] establishes a link between the postmodern turn to ‘faith-ful’ readings and the pre-critical readings of church history.” If he means by “historical interpretation” those approaches to scriptural interpretation from earlier generations, then I suppose Seth’s description is resonant with my point on the renewal of pre-modern interpretation. But, I am not sure I ever make explicit a link between the postmodern turn to “faith-ful” (I purposefully add an extra l to make it “faith-full”) readings and earlier readings within church history. (By the way, I do not use the term “pre-critical” in the section under question. That is Seth’s term. I do not believe pre-modern readings were somehow not critical. They were critical, but they started from a different place and asked different questions than “professional” biblical interpreters are used to asking.) I do think postmodernity has questioned the dichotomies that pre-modern readers were not usually bothered by. The separation of theology and biblical interpretation is a wholly modern division. So, in that way, interpretations of times gone by resonate with postmodern questioning and have something to teach us about the set of lenses we put on as we approach the text.
Seth is pressing interesting and important points, but I see them as beholden to the categories and language established by a couple hundred years of the predominance of a particular methodology, namely historical criticism, and the division of disciplines that came out of that methodological hegemony. Theological interpretation, as I am beginning to see it, is at one and the same time new and old. It is new because it resists being defined with the established categories, or at least it resists the way in which those categories have been prescribed for use. Yes, faith, texts, meanings, exegesis are a part of the glossary, but theological interpretation need not allow scientific exegetes be the ones to say how and in what sort of conversations these terms can be used. It is old because it hearkens back to a time when these terms and concepts were not governed by a particular methodology. Thus, to Seth’s question “Maybe he has a paradigm I have not identified?” I do not have a paradigm in mind. I have rather a conceptualization or an attitude in mind. I conceptualize theological interpretation as a constellation of conversations (historical, theological, ethical, etc.) centered on the community’s reading(s) of its sacred text. No paradigm required.
Now, at the same time that I seem to be taking the reins away from the historical-critical method, I do not want to kick it off of the wagon. And, this is where I make qualifications to the fourth of Seth’s options. Historical investigation has much to say about what direction the prairie schooner will go. I tend to follow Stephen Fowl’s assessment that historical methods are to be used in an ad hoc way as the community reads its Scripture for reasons other than historical ones. Here I point you to the series on the Christian Theology and the Bible blog where a section of Fowl’s upcoming book on theological interpretation is being excerpted over eight parts.
So why my identification with option 4 and not option 3? Doesn’t it seem like my description here is an unsystematic admixture of scientific exegesis and theology? I suppose it does. But, let me reiterate, I am supposing that I’ve been forced to choose among Seth’s options. I would not have delineated the options in the way he does for the reasons I stated above. Unlike option #4, I would not toss scientific exegesis overboard. Similar to option #4, however, I would claim that theological interpretation is primarily concerned with theology broadly defined. I do not mean by this the systematic theology of the academy, which stands apart from the scientific exegesis of the academy. Theological interpretation is concerned with the life of the Body of Christ in communion with one another and with God, and with the reading of Scripture for such ends. I am beginning to think that theological interpretation is theosis all the way down, or at least it is a part of the community’s ongoing strive for theosis. But this is not a well-developed thought. I only toss it out here as a suggestion for further consideration. For theological interpretation, scientific exegesis is neither an end in itself, nor something to be abandoned, nor an ingredient in a programmatic recipe; but rather, it is a tool sometimes used to assist the body of readers who read for broadly theological reasons. Theological interpretation, thus, puts scientific exegesis in its proper place.
In another blog post, Greg Carey is concerned that theological interpretation dwells too much on generalities and loses sight of the difficult particulars. He states early on in his post, “I’m not convinced the movement has fully faced the complications implied in the questions it is asking.” I’d be interested to know what questions Carey sees the movement asking. As I see it, theological interpretation begins with larger questions of ultimate importance, much like the inquisitive lawyer in Luke who wanted to know how to have eternal life. While theological interpreters may not be asking that particular question, they do approach the text with questions like, “What does this text have to say to our ongoing life with God and with one another?” How does one “fully” face the implied complications in that sort of question? (And, what does “fully face” mean as opposed to just simply “face”?)
Theological interpretation, at least as I see it taking shape, is just that act of facing these complications. It begins with a conviction about the nature of the texts under consideration, namely that they are sacred, they are “divine discourse” (if I may borrow from Wolterstorff without aligning myself wholesale with his ideas). Theological interpretation is not the exercise of making the complicated uncomplicated. It is not about clearing away all of the difficulties of the particulars in the biblical texts. It is in part about coming to terms with the complications and difficulties as a community in communion with God and each other, and in light of the sacredness of the texts. It is not an avoidance of the implied complications; it is a complete embrace of and engagement with them.
I don’t think Carey will find many theological interpreters disagreeing with his assessment of what “theological interpretation should be about, bringing the life of faith into conversation with scripture (141-44). That can be a messy process.” Messy, indeed! But, while Carey acknowledges the messiness, he still seems to want a vision of theological interpretation that will keep things in order and bear the heavy weight of the biblical complications, in other words clean up the mess. He wonders if what Joel Green “says [in Seized by Truth] about the Bible in general will bear the weight of the Bible’s particulars.” It’s a legitimate pondering, but does Carey dismiss the general notions of Scripture most theological interpretations are affirming?
If he is concerned that we will miss the peculiarities of the trees in trying to describe the forest, is he so concerned about the knotty bark of the trees that he forgets we Christians entered the forest in the first place because we believed it to be God’s and that even with all of the peculiar and complicated things in it, God speaks to the body of Christ through it? He urges his readers: “Let’s not generalize about the Bible and its subject matter, thus boxing us in to those dimensions of scripture that fit the model.” What dimensions and model does Carey have in mind? The primary dimension of the Bible that I see for those interested in a theological interpretation of it is in some ways a dimensionless dimension (if I may propose such an oxymoron). These texts are sacred texts of a community that strives to live faithfully with each other and with God, who fits no model and has no measurable dimensions. With that conviction, I see no reason to disagree with Carey’s closing exhortation, “Instead, let’s commit to read the Bible with curiosity, passion, and faith—the whole Bible—trusting the Spirit and the community of faith to guide us through.” And with that I can forgive him for referring to me as Sparks at one point in the essay.
I’m slated to teach an exegesis course on the Book of Acts in the Winter or Spring of 2009. I have to get the course approved first and part of that process is vetting an extended course description (ECD) with the appropriate department. And, part of the ECD is, of course, the list of textbooks I plan to assign. I’m still trying to decide on textbooks. Any suggestions?
I fly up to Seattle today so I can begin the NT Exegesis class tomorrow at Fuller Northwest. I wish I was better prepared, but the build up to and the eventual birth of Alexander and Oliver has kept me from preparing as well as I would like. Fortunately, I have a small class, which will make it easier to structure the class more as a seminar/exegesis lab than a lecture hall, which in turn means less lecture prep; although, I will need to be on my game if the seminar/lab model is going to be effective. The recent acquisition of the Talbert Commentary
in the Paideia series will be helpful for this. I highly recommend it. It will be the text I use most often in prepping for each class.
I had a conversation with someone at the North Park Symposium this past week. They are planning to teach a course with a colleague on the theological interpretation of Scripture. He asked if I had any bibliography recommendations. I send him the following email. I’d like to hear what those out in the blogosphere think about the list.
To my mind the most interesting things going on with theological interpretation are those projects that involve groups of people, especially groups of people of faith. Theological interpretation is communitarian and understands the bible to be sacred text, or so I argue in my book, The Bible and the Crisis of Meaning: Debates on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (T & T Clark, 2007). So, you will notice a good many sources listed below are articles compiled from colloquia, conferences, and other intentional gatherings.
1. Green, Joel and Max Turner, eds. Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology. Eerdmans, 2000. – I think this book would make a wonderful textbook. Don’t be put off by the focus on NT studies. It raises all of the important issues involved in thinking about interpreting scripture theologically. It was meant to be the ground-clearing exercise before the Two Horizons Commentary Series volumes started rolling out.
2. Davis, Ellen and Richard Hays, eds. The Art of Reading Scripture. Eerdmans, 2003. – from a group that met once a year (I think) at Princeton over several years (can’t remember name of working group); see especially Nine Theses (pp. 1-9)
3. Scripture and Hermeneutics Series. Zondervan, 2000-present. – Volume One, Renewing Biblical Interpretation, is probably the most helpful for general issues of interpretation of Scripture as Scripture.
4. Ford, David, and Graham Stanton, eds. Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom: Scripture and Theology. Eerdmans, 2003. – from a dialogue at Cambridge between the biblical studies and theology departments. I think they met periodically over the course of a few years. A participant in these conversations said at the end of the time there still seemed to be an impasse.
5. Ford, David, and C.C. Pecknold, eds. The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning. Blackwell, 2006. – from the Society of Scriptural Reasoning, a dialogue of interpreters from the three Abrahamic religions. For more see Ochs, Peter. “The Society of Scriptural Reasoning: The Rules of Scriptural Reasoning” The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning 2 (May 2002), online.
6. Bacote, Vincent, Laura C. Miguelez, and Dennis L. Ockholm, eds. Evangelicals and Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics. IVP, 2004. – Evangelicals trying to do what these other books are doing. Not very satisfying in my opinion. As good evangelicals, they are, as the subtitle indicates, hung up on authority.
7. The Journal of Religion 76:2, “The Bible and Christian Theology,” (April 1996) – collection of essays from a conference at U of Chicago Divinity School in 1995.
8. Vanhoozer, Kevin, ed. Dictionary for the Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Baker Academic, 2005.
9. Francis Watson, ed. The Open Text: New Directions for Biblical Studies. SCM Press, 1993.
10. Lundin, Roger, ed. Disciplining Hermeneutics: Interpretation in a Christian Perspective. Eerdmans, 1997.
11 Fowl, Stephen, ed. The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Blackwell, 1997.
12. Of course several volumes of Ex Auditu are good, especially the one dealing with methodology.
TWELVE BOOKS BY INDIVIDUALS:
1. Stephen Fowl, Engaging Scripture.
2 & 3. Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There Meaning in This Text? and First Theology.
4 & 5. Francis Watson, Text, Church and World, and Text and Truth.
6. Stephen Fowl and Gregory Jones, Reading in Communion.
7. Werner Jeanrond, Text and Interpretation as Categories of Theological Thinking.
8. Roger Lundin, Clarence Walhout and Anthony Thiselton, The Promise of Hermeneutics.
9. R. W. L. Moberly, The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus.
10. Sandra Schneiders, The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture, 2nd ed.
11. Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study.
12. Anthony Thiselton, New Horizons.
SIX ARTICLES (most of the best articles/chapters are in the two group of books above):
1. Ayres, Lewis, and Stephen Fowl, “(Mis)Reading the Face of God: The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” Theological Studies 60:3 (Sept. 1999).
2. Childs, Brevard. “Toward Recovering Theological Exegesis,” Pro Ecclesia 6 (1997).
3. Green, Joel B. “Modernity, History and the Theological Interpretation of the Bible,” Scottish Journal of Theology 54:1 (2001).
4. Lim, J. T. K. “Theological Hermeneutics: A Reading Strategy,” Asia Journal of Theology 15:1 (2001).
5. Soulen, R. K. “The Believer and the Historian: Theological Interpretation and Historical Investigation,” Interpretation 57:2 (2003).
6. Wood, Charles M. “The Task of Theological Hermeneutics,” Perkins Journal 33 (1980).
Opinions? Additions? Subtractions?
It looks like I might be teaching some intensives in the Winter and Spring quarters of next school year. This will require me to travel to Seattle five Saturdays per quarter and spend six hours in a classroom. Having enough material for each class period feels a bit daunting. For the Winter, I will likely teach exegesis of Ephesians. This will give me a chance to revise what I did last Spring in a normal course format. In the Spring, I will teach an NT intro course on Acts-Revelation. This one is going to take some work. I’ve never done it and the typical introductory material for these sorts of courses was never my forte. I would rather talk about grander hermeneutical issues of reading than explore the history and such lying behind and within the texts. I realize this sort of thing is necessary; I just never found it as intriguing as other things. So, I have some work to do. Here’s a list of questions to the biblioblogosphere:
- Any advice for teaching in such an intensive format?
- Any advice on how to make NT intro interesting to me and to the students? I’d rather not have them open their heads and have me dump in info.
- There are too many NT intro textbooks. Do you have a favorite?
- Since a good portion of Acts-Revelation is the Pauline corpus, do you have any favorites for intro to this material?
- How do I keep such an intro course from becoming another course on Paul? There is a good bit of material not attributed to him.
- And, one final one, for the exegesis course. What should be the primary purpose of an exegetical course on any book? And more pointedly, what should be the primary focus of the exegesis of Ephesians?
I am a sponge right now. Any and all advice, suggestions, etc. are much appreciated.
Can Narrative Criticism Recover the Unity of Scripture?
Richard B. Hays
Texts in Context: Scripture and the Divine Economy
Mission, Hermeneutics, and the Local Church
Michael A. Rynkiewich
Christ in All the Scriptures? The Challenge of Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scripture
“A Seamless Garment”: Approach to Biblical Interpretation?
Michael J. Gorman
One can download the introduction to the journal, by editor, Joel Green, and the article by Murray Rae here.
I think this will be $30 well spent.
I am coming to the end of my second quarter of teaching an exegetical methods and practice course and I am constantly wondering what is the purpose of exegesis. Why do we struggle with structure, grammar, syntax, lexicons, concordances, textual variants, cultural background, a synopsis, and the like? What is it that I hope students can do at the end of ten weeks with me? I’m tossing the questions out there for your consideration. I will think more about it and try to post some ideas later.
I am trying to utilize the append text tool of Quicksilver and so I created a file in which I can plop down thoughts about Ephesians as I go about my daily routine in the office – a routine that does not allow much time for reflections on Ephesians.Â So when I created the file I thought I would jot down a few initial thoughts.Â What was meant to be a quick note ended up as the following:
Authorship – Paul, pseudepigraphical, or later revision of Paul’s original – What does it matter?
If Paul – needs to be fitted into a plausible biographical and social-historical setting in the apostle’s career.Â Ephesians could be key to interpreting Paul’s faith and to understanding the ways in which Paul’s ideas are recast or modified.Â It seems to me though that the significance is not so much for understanding Ephesians but for understanding Paul.
If pseudepigraphon – forced to guess at what is the historical and social setting.Â Must come to terms with those places that are in tension with Pauline statements elsewhere.Â Again, the emphasis seems to be on understanding the author rather than understanding the text as it stands.
What does authorship matter for the course?Â Well, when we encounter certain parts of the text that could be enlightened by a comparison to other Pauline epistles, we will have to ask is this development/modification by Paul himself, or is it by someone else.Â Then we must ask, why the change by Paul, or by the imitator.Â To what were either of these authors responding?
Does that matter?Â To some extent.Â However, if the emphasis is laid on the text as we have received it, the questions of authorship and historical setting are less important.Â They are secondary matters of concern.Â In that they might shed light on our grasp of the message of the text itself these historical/authorship issues are important enough to consider.Â In that we are trying to grasp the message of the text itself, these concerns are less important than say, discourse analysis or grammatical analysis or rhetorical analysis.Â Our question is, “What is the message/thrust/point of Ephesians?”Â It is not “What is the message of Paul?”Â We might modify our question a bit to ask “What is the message of Paul in Ephesians?” or “What is the message of the pseudepigrapher in Ephesians?”Â But, we are still after the message of Ephesians.Â Ultimately, I want students to always be on the lookout for answers to more missional questions – What does this text say about who God is? who the people of God are? What idea/activity/conviction does the text prompt? What is the response of the church implied by the text?Â At this point, I am not concerned to answer questions like, “What is Paul’s view of who God is? who the people of God are?”, etc.
Will I disregard the authorship question altogether?Â Of course not.Â But, I will do my best to put it in its proper place among the many questions we can ask of Ephesians.
This week in my Exegetical Methods class we are discussing structural issues of texts, specifically the breaks and seams that demarcate one pericope from another. To use Erickson’s image, we are looking at the way bricks in a wall are separated. We will then consider how the placement of a brick or a group of bricks fit into the wall as a whole, how the brick(s) gives the wall some of its character, and how the wall as a whole gives character to the brick(s). We are not yet considering the structure of the brick itself. Rather, our concern is 1) to delimit, and 2) place in literary context. This, to me is a rather important early step in the exegetical exercise. For one it forces students, who are likely accustom to jumping straight in to a passage, to first consider the context of the passage. This is a literary parallel to the habit I am trying to instill in the students to consider the social and cultural contexts in which they are before even looking at the texts. Contexts on several levels are important to careful, close readings of any text, but especially texts considered sacred.
Contexts, however, are not the point of this post. I am more interested in the idea of seams and structure. Let me recommend something to everyone. When you are wanting to engage the biblical texts with depth and care, do yourself a favor and begin your exploration with a Bible (preferably a good translation! A topic for another day) that does NOT have paragraph headings. Read the text for yourself. Create your own paragraph headings.
I like the UBS text of the Greek New Testament (GNT), but it bugs me that the editorial committee provided English headings and sub-headings for all of the major breaks and paragraphs. For one, the placement of the breaks is somewhat arbitrary. I admit though, it would be a bit silly to have printed one continuous text with no breaks at all. But, did they have to title each of the breaks? The headings are actually pretty good, but that is not the point. The point is that I want to encourage my students to see the breaks for themselves, and maybe discern seams in different places. Of course, I want them to justify their decisions. Making these decisions by their own engagement with the text is what I want for them. The same things applies to readers of translations. The discernment of structure, breaks and seams is not an exercise only for seminarians or biblical scholars.
I think my frustration with this one smaller issue comes from a larger frustration. Too often readers of Scripture rely on tools and do not engage the text itself. Study Bibles, amplified versions, and the like should not be our first stop on the journey with the text. The bare bones text ought to be the first place we go. We should explore here before we go on to see the results of other people’s explorations. If we can engage the Greek, we should. If we cannot, we should get a good translation and dive in. Only after we have read the text carefully, noticing things like keywords, key themes, structural ambiguities, cultural complexities, etc., should we move on to the tools that will answer, correct, support, or amplify our initial observations and questions.
I am also keenly aware that one does not engage even the bare bones text without one’s own baggage. In other words readers are never bare bones readers. We should acknowledge this and even take the time to know ourselves. Still, I would hope that readers, no matter the marks of life they bear, could come to the biblical texts as they (the readers) are and engage the texts as they (the text) are. Seems a good way to approach people too!