Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church is part of Ad Fontes: Early Christian Sources, a series designed to present ancient Christian texts essential to an understanding of Christian theology, ecclesiology, and practice. The books in the series will make the wealth of early Christian thought available to new generations of students of theology and provide a valuable resource for the Church. This volume focuses on how Scripture was interpreted and used for teaching by early Christian scholars and church leaders.
Developed in light of recent Patristic scholarship, Ad Fontes volumes will provide a representative sampling of theological contributions from both East and West. The series aims to provide volumes that are relevant for a variety of courses: from introduction to theology to classes on doctrine and the development of Christian thought. The goal of each volume is not to be exhaustive, but rather representative enough to denote for a non-specialist audience the multivalent character of early Christian thought, allowing readers to see how and why early Christian doctrine and practice developed the way it did.
Late last year, Books and Culture interviewed Richard Hays about some of his story and common themes in his work. Stemming from Hays’s similarly titled book, one of the questions addressed is “How is reading backward in a figural sense different from reading prophecy forward?” In response, Hays comments, in part,
To be sure, in the Old Testament, there are a few passages that look forward in hope to a future king who will restore the kingdom, a lot of those particularly in the Psalms. There are also enigmatic passages, of course, in Isaiah that refer to a suffering figure, although that figure is never described there as a Messiah.
But the whole picture doesn’t really come together until you read the text, as I say, “backwards,” through the lens of cross and resurrection. Once you have the story of Jesus, you can go back to the older texts and have a kind of “Aha!” recognition that certain things are foreshadowed there, but there’s a big difference between foreshadowing and prophecy.
When you’re moving forward in a narrative, you can’t know what is foreshadowed until you see the full unfolding of the plot and see what actually happens in the end, and then you can do a second reading of the text in light of its ending. That second reading allows you to unravel clues that you never would’ve seen before.
For the balance of the interview, see the Books and Culture website.
HT: Nijay Gupta
Due out this year under Wipf and Stock’s Pickwick imprint is Explorations in Interdisciplinary Reading: Theological, Exegetical, and Reception-historical Perspectives, edited by Robbie Castleman, Darian Lockett, and Stephen Presley. The volume includes essays assembled through the Institute for Biblical Research’s recently concluded study group on Biblical Theology, Hermeneutics, and Theological Disciplines. A key among the essays in the volume is the interplay between Scripture as situated in its own historical contexts and its continuing reception as a canonical whole.
The volume’s ten essays are:
- Andrew J. Schmutzer, “The Suﬀering of God: Love in Willing Vulnerability”
- J. Richard Middleton, “A Psalm against David? A Canonical Reading of Psalm 51 as a Critique of David’s Inadequate Repentance in 2 Samuel 12”
- J. David Stark, “Rewriting Torah Obedience in Romans for the Church”
- Darian Lockett, “‘Necessary but not Suffcient’: The Role of History in the Interpretation of James as Christian Scripture”
- D. Jeﬀrey Bingham, “Against Historicism: The Rule of Faith, Scripture, and Baptismal Historiography in Second-Century Lyons”
- Stephen O. Presley, “From Catechesis to Exegesis: The Hermeneutical
Shaping of Catechetical Formation in Irenaeus of Lyons”
- Lissa M. Wray Beal, “Land Entry and Possession in Origen’s Homilies on Joshua: Deep Reading for the Christian Life”
- Craig Blaising, “Integrating Systematic and Biblical Theology: Creation as a Test Case”
- Susan I. Bubbers, “A Guiding Principle and Question-based Strategy for Integrating Biblical Systematic and Practical Disciplines”
- Gregory S. MaGee, “Biblical Theology in the Service of Ecumenism: Eschatology as a Case Study”
Hopefully, readers will find my essay will be helpful too. But, based on the preliminary version I read, Susan Bubbers’s contribution is particularly stimulating and thought-provoking in the question-based method that it proposes for theological and practical integration.
In his On the Advantage of Believing, Augustine reflects on the necessity of belief but also on the danger of being overly credulous. He comments, in part,
But now consider, you will say, whether in religion we ought to believe. For even if we concede that it is one thing to believe, another to be credulous, it does not follow that there is no fault in believing in religious matters. What if it be a fault to believe and to be credulous, as it is to be drunk and to be a drunkard? One who holds this view as certain, it seems to me, could have no friend. For, if it is base to believe anything, either he acts basely who believes a friend, or, in not believing a friend at all, I do not see how he can call either him or himself a friend…. For there is also no friendship at all unless something is believed which cannot be demonstrated by positive reasoning. (Util. cred. 10.23–24)
To be sure, reasons are important, but reasons have force within the context of some kind of faith toward the source from which the reasons derive.
Annually, the St. George’s Centre for Biblical and Public Theology sponsors three seminars at SBL: Scripture and Church, Scripture and Doctrine, and Scripture and Hermeneutics (in partnership with the Institute for Biblical Research). Registration is now open for these seminars’ 2017 meetings in Boston, as well as for the accompanying dinner. The lectures and discussion are always quite stimulating.
This month, Verbum has Joseph Fitzmyer’s Impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Paulist, 2009) available for free. The $0.99 companion volume is Fitzmyer’s Interpretation of Scripture: In Defense of the Historical-Critical Method (Paulist, 2008).
Verbum products will download, integrate, and run with Logos-branded engines and base packages also.
Craig Keener shares the following humorous diagram:
At the end of chapter 1, “Questions of Truth and Epistemology,” in her Comical Doctrine: An Epistemology of New Testament Hermeneutics (Paternoster, 2006), Rosalind Selby summarizes:
If this chapter has concluded with an appropriate understanding of the logical structure of grace and faith as we contemplate how it is that we know God, it must be important to pursue it in terms of the relationship between the individual and the community. The community of the ‘church’—however we define that—is founded by and founds its texts. This is a dialectic which itself rests in the priority of the founding acts of God. The priority over community, individual and the textual conveying of revelation always belongs with God; and the Christian will take that fundamentally seriously. (52; emphasis added)
Selby’s situation of both text and community within “the priority of the founding acts of God” allows her to recognize a kind of symbiosis between text and community while giving primacy still to the divine word.
Not dissimilarly, Ernst Käsemann too had commented years ago,
[I]n the evangelical conception, the community is the flock under the Word as it listens to the Word. All its other identifying marks must be subordinate to this ultimate and decisive criterion. A community which is not created by the Word is for us no longer the community of Jesus. . . . Correctly expressed, the relationship of the community and the Word of God is not reversible; there is no dialectical process by which the community created by the Word becomes at the same time for all practical purposes an authority set over the word to interpret it, to administer it, to possess it. Naturally, the community has always the task of interpreting the Word afresh, so that it can become audible at all times and in all places. In a certain sense it has also the task of administering it, inasmuch as it creates ways and means for the Word to make itself heard. But possess it—never. For the community remains the handmaid of the Word. If it makes the Word into a means to itself as an end, if it becomes the suzerain of the Word instead of its handmaid, the community loses its own life. The community is the kingdom of Christ because it is built up by the word. But it remains so only while it is content not to assume control over the Word—a temptation which as been a constant threat to the Church (261).
In her Comical Doctrine: An Epistemology of New Testament Hermeneutics (Paternoster, 2006), Rosalind Selby has several insightful observations. Summarizing the thought of Karl-Otto Apel, Selby comments:
Apel himself proposes a dialectical mediation of objective-scientistic and hermeneutical methods with a critique of ideology. Philosophical hermeneutics is reflexive in as much as the subject must self-objectify in order to be self-critical and avoid any hidden prejudices. (36)
Or, at least to avoid them as much as possible. Slightly later, Selby also reflects:
Does not the very Cogito [of Descartes] itself, far from establishing as a logical priority the existence of the doubter-who-doubts rather point in another direction? The very notion of an “I” presupposes a “not-I” over against which to define itself. But, much more than that, the very possibility of expressing cogito ergo sum depends upon the existence of, and participation in, a community of language users—teachers and preservers—who first gave the lonely thinker the linguistic tools with which to conceptualize and articulate solipsism. (37)
That such linguistic tools are strictly necessary to conceptualize solipsism is perhaps debatable (thought can happen independently of what is identifiable as language). Nevertheless, Descartes’ category of “self” as it plays out in his Cogito is certainly not one he has brought to the Cogito apart from influences from the “not-I” social community.