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Archive for September, 2006

Students’ views on Exegesis & Interpretation

Following up on a previous post where I listed students’ responses to the first of three incomplete sentences:

The responses to the other two sentences are below. As before I have tried to clean up mistakes in spelling and grammar. There were many more grammatical mistakes, in part because students were not clear about these terms. When the grammatical mistakes reflect what I take to be some struggle with the concepts I’ve left them as is.

  • Exegesis is…
      1. determining what was meant by the original author
      2. essential for preaching
      3. the interpretation of God’s word
      4. dissemination and investigation of the Word
      5. undervalued
      6. necessary
      7. examining the context of Scripture to extract the author’s intended meaning of the text
      8. the way to interpret the Bible
      9. scary and intimidating
      10. a process to understand the text in its original context (what is it saying?)
      11. something I am learning how to do
      12. a methodical discernment of what the word is
      13. extremely important and the primary way to interpret the text
      14. pulling out the meaning of the text
      15. understanding a translation in terms of translation
      16. what people should learn and study before they open their mouth and claim certain things are biblical
      17. the deciphering or interpretation of the Greek NT text
      18. good
      19. analyzing and expounding the Bible according to various critical methods
      20. going deeper into God’s word
      21. a process of textual analysis used to better understand Hebrew/Greek and meaning(s) of Scripture
      22. the process and tools used to extract original intention of the author and understanding of the reader
      23. further, critical, in-depth interpretation
      24. understanding the historical, political and sociological context surrounding a particular text
      25. looking at the Greek for the deeper meaning of words
      26. difficult but necessary
      27. understanding God’s words in context
      • Interpretation is…
          1. determining what the text means
          2. unavoidable for anyone reading scripture
          3. the underlying meaning of a thought or spoken word
          4. knowing the elements and ow they fit; dissemination and review
          5. what we are always doing
          6. important
          7. the meaning one extracts from the text
          8. the way to understand the word of God (Bible) with specific methods
          9. complex
          10. the process of understanding the meaning and implications of the text (what does it mean?)
          11. a traitor
          12. how the word speaks and applies to us
          13. a community event and is both an art and a science
          14. open and varied
          15. taking the words and giving them meaning for life application
          16. our perspective on what objectively happened or was written; similar to people recapping what happened at the ball game
          17. using the tools you’ve been given to understand the message someone is trying to convey
          18. in the eye of the beholder
          19. expounding God’s word
          20. necessary
          21. a way of understanding textual circumstances, meanings and applications
          22. my provisional understanding of a text
          23. to coincide with the other scriptures in the OT & NT altogether
          24. the process of understanding the text through hermeneutics and exegesis
          25. after looking at Greek, striving to grasp what the author meant
          26. tricky!
          27. translating code into one’s paradigm
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          The Ubiquity of Theological Interpretation

          Two things happened this week that reminded me that theological interpretation is a hot topic right now.

          1) We received a copy of the Baker Academic Catalog in the office and the lead promotions were all books and commentaries on theological interpretation.
          2) I overheard a conversation in a faculty meeting about the split between SBL and AAR. Someone commented that they noticed more “theological” sections in SBL this year than ever before.

          This got me to thinking about the “bridge” discipline of theological interpretation. In the last 10-15 years more and more books, many of them collections of articles that came out of conferences and colloquia, have been published that deal with theological interpretation either directly or by way of some other conversation that seeks to bridge the chasm between theology and biblical studies. See for example:

          • A.K.M. Adam, Stephen Fowl, Kevin Vanhoozer and Francis Watson, Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2006).
          • The new series, Studies in Theological Interpretation, edited by Craig Bartholomew, Joel Green and Christopher Seitz (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic).
          • Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, eds., The Art of Reading Scripture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003).
          • Joel B. Green and Max Turner, eds., Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000).
          • The six volumes (and growing) of the Scripture and Hermeneutics Series, edited by Craig Bartholomew and Anthony C. Thiselton (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2000-2005).
          • Vincent Bacote, Laura C. Miguélez, and Dennis L. Okholm, eds., Evangelicals and Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
          • David Ford and Graham N. Stanton, eds., Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom: Scripture and Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003).
          • Stephen Fowl, ed., The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Classic and Contemporary Readings, Blackwell Readings in Modern Theology (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1997)
          • The Journal of Religion 76:2 (April 1996), which is subtitled “The Bible and Christian Theology,” and which arose out of a conference of the same name held May 7-9, 1995 at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
          • As well, one should consider the emergence of the journal Ex auditu, which came about for the very purpose of addressing questions of theological interpretation.
          • Finally, see the two theological commentary series mentioned in an earlier post.

          It seems odd to me that at the moment when theology and biblical studies are conversing more than ever that the two societies, with whom most theologians and biblical scholars associate, are moving apart.

          Students’ views on the Bible

          The first class is done and I am already behind. We were only able to get through the syllabus and make assignments. The discussion on hermeneutics will have to move to next class. [Note to self: syllabus takes longer to get through than it first appears.]

          One of the things I did was have the students fill out an information sheet. On the sheet, after questions regarding hometown and denominational affiliation, etc., I asked the students to complete the following three sentences:

          The Bible is…

          Exegesis is…

          Interpretation is…

          I thought it would interesting to interested readers and students alike to share the answers for the first sentence. [NB: I’ve cleaned up spelling and grammatical errors]

          1. God’s word/the word of God 6x
          2. God’s word for us
          3. God-breathed word
          4. the complete word of God
          5. the word of God revealed to us
          6. God’s word to us through human hands
          7. God’s word, recording the acts the acts of God pertaining to the well-being of humanity
          8. God’s word for humanity; a way we can know God our creator and creator of the universe
          9. the word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit
          10. the inspired (not inerrant) witness to the Word of God in Christ
          11. the word of God; our instruction manual for life
          12. a living word in which God wants us to understand and entrust while we live in the world
          13. God’s revelation to us; the story of the movement to reconcile creation through Jesus Christ
          14. awesome, but not a part of the Trinity and therefore not to be worshiped; inspired and a source of authority in my theology and daily living
          15. translated
          16. inerrant and infallible
          17. infallible and inerrant in its original manuscripts
          18. the written record of the covenant community of God and God’s interactions with that community
          19. a library of revered ancient texts
          20. life-changing
          21. everything
          22. wow!
          23. long

          I’m going to leave this list without comment. We will talk more about this as the class moves on.

          Class starts tomorrow!

          Fuller’s new term has begun. My class starts tomorrow night at 6:30. One thing I have learned is that the first week cannot be too filled. For one, it always takes longer to go over the syllabus and other preliminary matters than one expects. In addition, Fuller allows students to register for classes even in the first week. There is always the chance that I will have a few later registrants. I will use the first week to do two things: 1) Introduce the whole idea of exegesis; and 2) Set the tone and tenor for the rest of the quarter. I hope to introduce exegesis in a somewhat Socratic way. I want to use the first two classes to think out loud with the students about the working concepts we all have of Scripture, meaning, the purpose of exegesis, and in some ways the purpose of a seminary education. In other words, I want to ask, “Why are we here?” “What are your expectations for this course? for seminary?” “What are your convictions about this set of texts we call the New Testament? How do these convictions prevent you or invite you to explore the texts in certain ways? How do these convictions prevent you or invite you to listen to the conclusions of others who approach the texts from a different place?” I hope to set the tone by having the first two classes be a bit more conversational and reflective. I am hoping this will set precedence for subsequent classes where the topic might not seem like a conversational topic. In other words I hope to give the impression that the class is more than, even different from the open-head-insert-information sort of course. I also want to suggest to the students that the healthiest forms of exegesis are community-driven. We will need to operate as a dynamic, dialogging, diverse community in the classroom itself. For sure, subsequent weeks will become more mundane and methodical, but I am hoping with the proper initial class meeting we can set the stage for some interesting and enjoyable conversations.

          If you are interested, I have linked to the final form of my syllabi and schedule in the course information section of my Resources page (click here). For links to the PDF files click… Basic Syllabus or Schedule or Extended Syllabus.

          Lecture #2 – Textual Criticism

          Textual Criticism, to me, is a necessary evil of an exegesis course. But, it is an evil I rather enjoy! The details, relationships and theories surrounding the many thousand manuscripts spanning about 1300 years are fascinating.

          I have found the third addition of Metzger’s book, the revised edition of the Alands, and the excellent website out of Earlham University, Interpreting Ancient Manuscripts, to be most helpful in constructing a lecture outline. The difficulty is determining what is essential for the students to know. A lecture on textual criticism runs the risk of being far too long and far too unimportant for the overall goals of the course. I will likely have much more that I want to say than I will actually have time to say. This particular class will be one of the few when I will employ a powerpoint presentation. I think it is helpful (and fun!) to see pictures of papyri, codices, etc.

          My outline for lecture/presentation:

          • Textual Criticism: Definition
          • General characteristics of manuscript evidence
            • Materials – Papyrus, Parchment, Vellum
            • Forms – fragments, scrolls, codices
            • Language used in discipline – Papyri, Uncials, Miniscules
          • The work of the scribe
            • Developments
            • Types of Errors
          • Text Types: General Introduction
          • Witnesses
            • Important Papyri
            • Important Uncials
            • Important Miniscules
            • Lectionaries
            • Versions
            • Church Fathers
          • Text Types and their family members
          • Judging Variants
            • External Evidence
            • Internal Evidence: Habits of the Scribes
            • Internal Evidence: Styles of the Authors
          • Examples: Selected Passages

            Hermeneutics at the Crossroads

            In the summer of 2002 fifteen scholars from a variety of disciplines went to a hermeneutics summer camp. Organizer, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, selected an eclectic group of fourteen other participants from a pool of 45 applicants. These fifteen participants, as well as a few other special guests, participated in a five-week seminar that was, in the words of Vanhoozer, “less a vacation than a vigorous workout.”

            The fruits of this workout were published earlier this year in a volume for the Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion. Hermeneutics, say the editors, “is indeed at many crossroads.” These crossroads are at least four: 1) the intersection of disciplines; 2) a critical point in history; 3) cultural-linguistic traditions; and 4) a theological dimension.

            The articles in Hermeneutics at the Crossroads address these crossroads by “traversing intersections between different disciplines, genres, languages, and religious commitments.” Vanhoozer, along with fellow editors, James K. A. Smith and Bruce Ellis Benson, organize the articles into four parts: 1) philosophical hermeneutics in dialogue with Gadamer; 2) engagements with the radicalization of hermeneutics in Derrida and deconstruction; 3) explorations of the theories of interpretation that emerge from literature; and 4) investigations into the intersection of interpretation and ethics.

            The first part consists of contributions by Vanhoozer himself, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Eduardo J. Echeverria and Christina Bieber Lake. I am particularly interested in the articles by Vanhoozer and Wolterstorff, wherein the authors offer a descriptive treatment of hermeneutics and a challenge to focus on the text as illocutionary act of the author, respectively.

            The second section of the book where discussions of Gadamer give way to treatments of Derrida and deconstruction is comprised of articles by John D. Caputo and James K. A. Smith. Smith’s essay is more interesting primarily because he challenges both Vanhoozer and Wolterstorff who are among those who criticize Derrida based on Searle’s misreading of Derrida, a misreading mediated by American English departments.

            Roger Lundin, Brian McCrea, and Michael VanderWeele contribute articles to the third part of the book which turns more directly to literature. These essays begin with literary icons such as Faulkner and Defoe. Lundin’s attempt to show that Faulkner “provides a middle way between the ideas that interpretation is either a return to the past or simply a reflection on the present,” is the most intriguing article, to me, in this section.

            Finally, in the fourth part of the collection, Bruce Ellis Benson, Ben Faber, and Norman Lillegard address interpretation and ethics. (I wonder if this section might not echo some of Character & Scripture.) Benson’s analogy of interpretation as jazz improvisation and Lillegard’s of interpretation as conversation (I have heard this somewhere before! Oh, that’s right, my dissertation.) look interesting and will no doubt receive my time.

            I hope to tackle the chapters I have noted above and provide a short synopsis with comments here on the blog. In the meantime, get the book for yourself and read it. Conversations about hermeneutics are, to my mind, the most interesting ones taking place in biblical studies and theology.