writing things down…

Archive for June, 2006

I’m still here & theological commentaries are coming

Quick note to remind myself that I still have this blog and that I have every intention of making it a portal to my professional life. Instead of posting I have been preparing for a lecture I have to give to the class for which I am a TA this summer. This just happens to be the course I will be teaching in the Fall, so good prep now will save time in October. I have also added a bit to my resource pages. I have set up a skeleton of categories for those pages with no resource yet listed. In addition, I am working on a spreadsheet that will lay out the different parts of the four exegesis textbooks I am exploring. All of these activities relate to Exegetical Methods and Practice somehow. Aside from exegesis things I am tossing around the idea of a review and comparison of two new theological commentary series.

The first volumes of Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (BTCB) and Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (THNTC) have recently arrived on bookstore shelves. The goals of these commentaries are similar. The BTCB “is designed to serve the church–through aid in preaching, teaching, study groups, and so forth–and demonstrate the continuing intellectual and practical viability of theological interpretation of the Bible;” while the volumes of THNTC “aim to help pastors, teachers, and students engage in deliberately theological interpretation of Scripture.” (emphasis mine) I have been aware of these series for some time. Since the 1998 session of SBL, THNTC has been under consideration. The papers from that gathering were collected and published the next year in one volume that was to serve as the background to the commentary series. Between Two Horizons (BTH) is a much-recommended book. After seven years the commentaries are finally coming out. I am less familiar with the history of BTCB but I do remember a session at SBL 2004 that was dedicated to the series.

The BTCB volumes will be penned by “leading theologians” who are “to read and interpret Scripture for the twenty-first century, just as the church fathers, the Reformers, and other orthodox Christians did for their times and places.” The list of contributors is rather impressive and includes Stanley Hauerwas, Jaroslav Pelikan, and my two interlocutors Kevin Vanhoozer and Stephen Fowl. Similar to the BTCB, the THNTC aims to “offer section-by-section exegesis of the New Testament texts in close conversation with theological concerns.” The THNTC is a little more ambiguous when characterizing its contributors. They are simply “leading scholars,” which could refer to theologians, biblical scholars, ethicists, etc. However, in looking at the contributors to BTH, one will quickly see that the Two Horizons project is comprised mostly of biblical scholars. Interestingly, Fowl is one of the first to publish a volume in THNTC and Vanhoozer cntributed a chapter to BTH. The fact that Fowl and Vanhoozer are involved in both projects says something about not only the breadth of their expertise but also about the way theological intepreters need not be pigeon-holed as either a biblical scholar or a theologian. Indeed, the very nature of theological interpretation would shun such exact characterization. For the record, Fowl’s specialization is New Testament (see his his faculty page); while Vanhoozer is senior research professor in systematic theology. At any rate, it might not be a completely inaccurate observation to distinguish the BTCB and the THNTC by their contributors: theologians and biblical scholars, respectively. But it also might not be an inaccurate observation to say that with these commentaries the line between theologians and biblical scholars has gotten blurrier.

I am shooting from the hip here. I really do plan to formulate more cogent thoughts on the matter and look to publish a review article. [Note to any journal editors: call me!]


Biblical Studies Carnival VII

It seems that there have not been many submissions for the next Biblical Studies Carnival. I’ve done my part by submitting my reflections on teaching exegesis. It’s not the most heady post on biblical studies, but appropriate nonetheless, I hope. Do you have something on your blog that the biblical studies bloggers might like to read? Or, maybe you just want to check out the carnival. See information below.

Carnival Website: http://biblical-studies.ca/carnival/

Carnival Email: biblical_studies_carnival@hotmail.com

Submission Form: http://blogcarnival.com/bc/submit_203.html

Good intentions

I am more than thrilled finally to have my own domain name.  No more Blogger or edublogs.  That’s not entirely true.  I plan to post personal, fun stuff on the Blogger site.  But, I will no longer post to dcspinks.edublogs.com.  I am in the process of moving everything from edublogs to my own site.  Most of that is done.  I still have a few dissertation-related things to move over.

I have every good intention to post frequently and with erudition.  However, I find that the creative well is running dry.  Currently, I am more interested in finishing my grading from the Spring, teaching and assisting on two different courses this Summer, and preparing for a new course in the Fall.  As well, I want to begin the exploration of dissertation publication, and I now have a fairly good idea for an article, which I hope to begin reading for soon.  I am sure these things will get worked out on the blog somehow.

About the blog…aside from the moving of content from the old blog to this one, I am working with an incredible learning curve.  Having my own domain gives me a lot of freedom, but it also forces me to learn how to do things like put a logo for Scribe on the site somewhere.  Wess to the rescue?  I also want to figure out how to make these letters more readable.  The very first comment I received here noted the difficulty of seeing gray on black.  Hey, I was just happy to figure out how to put a header image up.  I don’t know how to modify font color yet.

In the meantime, until I can think of something to write about, I will probably work on bulking up my Resource pages.  I am working on materials that I think will be helpful for my Fall class.  I’d be interested to hear comments on how I have the Bibliographies organized at the moment.  It might help to consider the Extended Course Description and my reflections on teaching exegesis.

At any rate, I welcome you to my new site.  I hope you will join me in conversations about the New Testament, hermeneutics, exegesis and much more.

A Beginner’s Guide to NT Exegesis

[update 6/26/06: I doubt I will ever finish this review.  Now I don’t need to.  See nice review by Peter Judge on the RBL website.  Thanks for the link, Rich.]

[I started this review a couple of weeks ago. I am not sure when I will finish it. I am finding life busier post-dissertation than I had expected. Maybe my drive has lessened. Nonetheless, I got tired of seeing this in my drafts file, so I present it here, knowing that I will get back to it to finish at a later date. Your comments are appreciated even now before it is completed.]

Since the Extended Course Description for my course was due several weeks ago, I had to choose my required reading list earlier than I would have wanted. My good friend and colleague, Rich Erickson, recently published the newest and most helpful introduction to NT exegesis I have yet seen, so I chose it as my primary textbook, having looked at it only briefly. I am certain I will not be disappointed. I am also quite confident the students will enjoy Erickson’s style. Still, I want to review it here. The results of this exercise might benefit the few interested readers who take the time to read the review, but the exercise itself is mostly for me.

Erickson, Richard J. A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Exegesis: Taking the Fear Out of Critical Method. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Richard J. Erickson is associate professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary at Fuller Seminary Northwest in Seattle (for those of you who do not read the back cover of the book). After twenty years of teaching exegesis and several years of using and adapting Gordon Fee’s Handbook, Erickson decided to write a guide to NT exegesis that would not be so overwhelming for the beginning student. Still, his goal is much the same as Fee’s – “to lay a groundwork for the exegesis of the Greek New Testament.” (15) Rather than overwhlem, Erickson hopes to encourage and enthuse his student readers.

The book is divided into ten chapters (Fuller is on the quarter system, and so each chapter represents a week in the quarter), with the first five chapters covering introductory matter and general exegetical methods, and the last five chapters covering the specific issues of the three broad literary genres of the NT (narratives, epistles, and apocalyptic literature) and the place of exegesis in theology, ministry and life.

Chapter One spells out Erickson’s assumptions and the exegetical frame of mind, both following a fairly traditionally moderate evangelical stance. For instance, the New Testament is understood as inspired and life-providing. It requires people dedicated to interpreting it for the church and for whom the Holy Spirit is guide. The task of exegesis, Erickson claims, is “to project us back into that ancient world.” (21) This task requires skills in the orginal languages and a certain distance between ourselves and the text. But, and most importantly, the task requires us to see ourselves as part of a larger grand theological conversation. Ultimately then, for Erickson, exegesis is a listening tool.

The next four chapters proceed in a logical manner, introducing the reader to the issues of textual criticism (ch. 2), linguistic, semantic and literary structure (ch. 3), syntactical and discourse analysis (ch. 4), and historical-cultural criticism (ch. 5). It may jolt students a bit to begin with textual criticism, but the establishment of the text with which they will be working seems a good place to start. The order of chapters 3-5 rightly puts historical-cultural criticism in its place following a thorough analysis of the text itself.

After an introduction to many of the most important exegetical methods, Erickson turns to the three broad genres of the NT. In chapter 6, Erickson considers the questions surrounding the interpretation of NT epistles. This leads him to consider the setting of a letter’s writing, but more importantly revisits discourse and syntactical analysis as well as introduces rhetorical criticism to the readers. The chapter helpfully ends with a brief step-by-step approach to a simplified exegesis of an epistle (something this reader wishes he had done for the other two NT genres). Chapters 7 & 8 cover the NT narratives, complex, yet central, bodies of writing. Erickson first discusses the broad approaches to gospel exegesis (ch. 7), namely narrative, historical, form and source criticisms. He spends a good bit of space expanding on the source critical approach through his explanation and discussion of redaction criticism and helpful instruction for using a synopsis. With chapter 8, Erickson moves to more detailed reading of NT narratives. In this chapter, he essentially expands on narrative/literary criticism by considering things like plot, character, setting, parables, allegory, type-scenes, allusions, parallel accounts, speeches, logia and summary passages. Erickson’s consideration of the apocalyptic genre in ch. 9 is both careful and helpful for the beginning exegete. In covering aspects of apocalyptic literature such as generic characteristics, function and method, Erickson concludes that apocalyptic literature of the NT is “an alternate style of biblical communication” which employs “alternative forms and methods to convey the same message conveyed by all of Scripture.” (203) Erickson’s last chapter…

The goal to encourage and enthuse beginning exegetes is a lofty one. Erickson does his best to meet it. I think he does about as good as anyone can hope to, better than most in fact. I myself felt encouraged and enthusiastic about the task of exegesis.
Fourth section – mechanics of layout; helps, etc.

Fifth section – relevance and personal recommendation for use

Teaching Exegesis

Next school year I will be teaching a class entitled ‘Exegetical Methods and Practice’. As I begin to think about my syllabus, I am struck by the various ways one could teach such a course. I think the variety stems from the diverse nature of exegesis itself. How does one teach the methods and practics of exegesis when it has become increasingly difficult to say what exegesis is or should be? This question is related to my lingering questions about biblical interpretation.

My dilemma is selecting the right combination of introduction to traditional critical methods, introduction to more recent critical methods, and the theoretical foundation for all of these methods. And, how do I cover these things in only ten weeks? Furthermore, what is it that students should leave the class knowing or knowing how to do? What exactly is the point of this class? What exactly is the point of exegesis of Christian scripture?

Ultimately, in the seminary setting, exegesis means to serve the church somehow. So, the questions of How? and What? must be asked with the church in the foreground.

Still, I am wondering what it is I should say and do from week to week. What should the students be saying, hearing and doing from week to week that will prepare them to listen, say and do from week to week in their churches, parishes, ministries, lives? I cannot answer these questions without acknowledging some of my own presuppositions and convictions about interpretation in general.

I am convinced that most of the “traditional” critical methods–and by that I mean those methods connected to the larger historical-grammatical-critical method–are necessary and helpful for what it is my students will be doing in their respective ministries. So, I will certainly introduce and try to teach these methods. I have in mind things like grammatical analysis and historical-cultural analysis. Certainly since the middle of the twentieth century exegesis cannot be done without also giving proper attention to the surface of the texts themselves. So, literary tools will need to be employed–redaction criticism, textual criticism, discourse analysis, narrative criticism, rhetorical criticism. The historical and literary tools will take up most of the class. The need for these critical tools has to do with a recognition of 1) the historical setting of the text’s production; 2) the dynamics of the language of the texts; 3) the genre and form of the various books that make up the NT; and 4) the ways in which and the reasons for which first-century authors wrote, compiled, and edited texts.

The historical and literary methods of biblical criticism are teachable methods. They represent approaches to the text that can be demonstrated and practiced. The question we must ask though is what they do for us. How do their results serve the church?

We cannot answer that question without also having an eye on the church itself. And, having an eye on the church requires a panoramic perspective, because the church is not a synchronic community. We cannot view the church through a keyhole. In fact, I contend, that we cannot view the whole of the church even if we open the door and move around the house. I am convinced that the church–a community I and my students (most at least) are a part of–must be understood as a living body whose life precedes me and whose life will continue after me. It is from the early church that the NT texts were written. It is within the church that the texts are read and revered as scripture. In other words we are not reading strictly ancient texts produced by ancient authors who come from unknown communities that worship an unknown god. We are a part of their community, we worship their god, we live empowered by the same spirit, we have faith in the same savior. But, and I must be clear about this, the texts of the NT are products of a culture and time unfamiliar to us. How do we reconcile these two things–historically embedded texts and transhistorical scripture?

I am not sure that there are practices I can teach or exercises the students can practice that will help relay this conviction. But, there are critical methods that begin on the frontside of the texts in the community of today’s readers and ask questions that stem from these settings rather than the cultural settings of the first century. I think it is imperative for students to be aware of these sets of questions. In addition, I think it is important to retrace the interpretations of our community and ask the frontside questions for our forebearers. This practice will help remind us that reading the scriptures is not something new to us. Our community has been doing it for centuries. And as any good and healthy body should do, we have the responsibility to learn from, question, and even refute the readings of the past, just as the church will do to our readings. So, some discussion of reader-response criticism and history of interpretation ought to be a part of our exegetical practice.

After all is said and done, however, the day-to-day content of the course will center around reading the text, reading them carefully and fully, and reading them in community. I am going to try to teach the students to be good readers. And, good readers strive for a clear picture of what went into the production of the texts. Good readers have a sensitivity to the use and effects of the texts in the present community. Good readers are sensitive to the contours, rhythms, seams, tones and complexion of the texts. They recognize the type of texts they are reading (scripture on the whole, various genres in specific). But, most importantly they recognize that a full understanding of God’s word can come only by a reading of the body of Christ, the church. And so, good readers of scripture learn from, question and converse with their fellow community members, those who have gone before, those who sojourn with them now, and even those who will follow.

I have only 10 weeks. The best I can do is help put some reading tools in their toolkits and encourage them to develop healthy habits of reading.

Future posts: a review of the following possible textbooks.
1) New Testament Exegesis and Research by Donald A. Hagner
2) New Testament Exegesis by Gordon D. Fee
3) Elements of Biblical Exegesis by Michael J. Gorman
4) A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Exegesis by Richard J. Erickson