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Archive for March, 2006

The Bible as Scripture?

I have established that an exploration into the nature of Scripture is a first priority. What follows is simply personal reflection on the matter. I will need to read and reflect more thoroughly as I proceed.

It seems to me that the term “Scripture” can be understood in at least two ways. First, one can hold the conviction that a set of texts, the Christian Bible in our case, is the word of God. Of course one would want to analyze this conviction a little more, but for now we can define Scripture in this way as divine text. Second, one could hold the conviction that a set of texts is Scripture because a community deems it as such. Many in the community would no doubt hold the prior conviction–the text is the word of God–but to speak of interpreting the text as Scripture would imply a communitarian perspective. In this way the text is a sacred text.

At this point we could go one of two ways. 1) We could accept without question the idea that the Bible is either divine text or sacred text. In the first case–the Bible is divine–there is a straightforward conviction that the words we are reading are God’s words with little to no mediation of these words through human authors, human communities, or human interpreters. The goal of interpretation then is to filter out all of the noise and uncover the voice of God. The pure form of this position is rarely held today because we have understood that God’s word has come to us in human form. In the second case–the Bible is sacred–there is the implication that the text is really no different than any other text but it is held in higher esteem by certain folks. Interpretation with this idea in view becomes either an exploration into the history of the community’s interpretation or an attempt to uncover the “real” meaing of the text hidden behind the layers the community has applied to it. 2) We could also, and instead, recognize the overlap of the ideas of a divine and sacred text. That is to say, we do not naively accept the text as God’s word without also exploring the way the community has understood that conviction. Nor do we simply accept the fact that this (or our) community holds an otherwise normal text as sacred without exploring the reasons why the community holds these texts as such. By recognizing the text as both divine and sacred, as both the words of God and the sacred texts of the Christian community we are acknowledging a complex relationship between community, text and God. To interpret Scripture with this relational web in mind forces us to take account of the community (more on this later) and the text. In this we also assume the presence of God in both the community and the text. A recognition of this network of relations is in some ways an expansion of the straightforward assumption of the text as God’s word. It explores the complexity of God in text and God in the community that reads the text. The network of relations is also a corrective and revisioning of the notion that the Bible is sacred only at a functional level. It acknowledges with the functional perspective the importance of the history of the community’s interpretation but it does not see layers of community interpretation as necessarily a negative thing one must overcome. In other words, we are recognizing that the theological interpretation of Scripture is an intra-communal conversation in which the community is understood to span many locations and times.

In the end, my exploration into the nature of Scripture is necessarily an exploration into the nature of the Christian community with its sacred text as well. At this point I am a little uncertain how I might proceed. My initial thought is to do some reading, delve deeper into my dissertation sections on the issue and offer some reflection.

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What is the theological interpretation of scripture?

I should know how to answer this question. It is after all the topic of my dissertation. But, the question is not easy to answer. Much has been written on interpretation in general and even on interpretation of the Bible. And, I suppose if I am going to get a firmer grip on theological interpretation then I will want to explore some of those conversations. When we put “theological” in front of interpretation, however, it seems to me that we are implying an extra set of assumptions and therefore an extra level of complexity. Add to this complexity a sacred text and we are now dealing with a growing hermeneutical web. This is not a general interpretation of just any text; it is the theological interpretation of scripture, our scripture. So the question asked in the title is more complex than it first appears. We have, in asking the question, added two crucial topics to the conversation. We must explore what it is that makes theological interpretation theological. Before that, however, we must explore the very nature of the bible as scripture. What implications for interpretation are there when we understand the texts to be sacred? I think the question of scripture needs to be at the center of my reflections at first.

Writing things down

I have been blogging for nearly a year over at Ekballo. This blog, however, has been more personal and scattered. I needed a place to just write, a place where I could not only practice the art of writing, but a place to get down some of my ideas and thoughts on matters more related to my career and research interests. I expect two things to happen if I stick to writing on this newly created blog. First, I hope that I will begin to see improvement in my writing. Second, I hope that I will begin to see development in my thinking on certain academic, theological, biblical studies. One will not find the miscellany found in Ekballo.

Right now the following areas are at the top of my interest list:
1. Theological Interpretation
2. Emerging movement
3. Anabaptism

I think there is significant overlap among these areas, and I believe the overlapping issue is communitarian in nature.

Other areas on which I think I need to spend some time:
1. Major issues in curent New Testament studies (I know this is broad. Part of what I need to do is identify what the major issues are.)
2. Hermeneutics
3. Philosophy of interpretation (includes philosophy of knowledge)

These three areas, no doubt, have significant bearing on the three primary interests and so the two lists are not mutually exclusive.