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Posted by on May 2, 2014 | 1 comment

No Going Back: Considering the Future of Theological Interpretation

No Going Back: Considering the Future of Theological Interpretation

Origen of Alexandria (c.185–c.243 CE) is the most influential allegorical reader of Scripture in the early church tradition. He read the entirety of the Christian Scriptures—Old and New Testaments—as containing the reality of Jesus Christ, which is fully revealed in the Gospels. Even in the most problematic of Old Testaments texts, like the conquest narratives of Joshua, Origen read with a conviction that Christ was embedded, at times hidden and at other times revealed, in the very fabric of the Bible. When the plain sense of the text—what we refer to as the literal or historical meaning—was not harmonious with the Gospel of Christ, Origen would look only to “higher,” spiritual levels of meaning. So, for example, when Origen writes his commentary on Joshua he equates Joshua with Jesus. He immediately “spiritualizes” a morally problematic text.[1] As Barney mentioned in his last post, over the past few centuries there has been a shift in biblical studies toward understanding the historical nature of the text. This shift has resulted in a rejection by...

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Posted by on Apr 28, 2014 | 4 comments

Beyond Authorial Intention: What Does a Text “Really” Mean?

Beyond Authorial Intention: What Does a Text “Really” Mean?

This post explores how the philosopher Paul Ricoeur influenced the way we think of interpretation. What follows is a purely philosophical journey: I do not draw any theological implications, but it should hopefully become clear that there are important ones to be drawn. Our journey begins in the 19th century with the event called the “rise of historical consciousness.” Previously, when people used to read ancient writings, their attention was on the writing’s content; they assumed that the reader and author of a text were similar enough that communication could happen without too much difficulty. However, with historical consciousness, people started to notice more and more how differently people thought and spoke in other times and cultures. Because of this difference, they realised it was possible to misunderstand what someone meant while imagining you had understood. For example, the Bible tells us to love God. Our modern definition of “love” usually means how you feel, but in Bible times the word “love” was more of a decision about how to act....

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Posted by on Jan 16, 2014 | 6 comments

Historical ≠ Necessarily Secular

Historical ≠ Necessarily Secular

  In his book The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero, Joel Baden (Associate Professor of the OT at Yale Divinity) seeks to identify the real David behind the legendary narrative provided in the books of 1—2 Samuel. In introduction to his book, Baden describes his recovery of the historical David as involving a hermeneutic of suspicion where he must “first remove the nonhistorical pro-David elements from the story to expose the basic events underneath.”1 So far, so good. Yes, there was a historical David which is depicted in a particular theological light in the Old Testament. And yes, it does seem interesting to peel back the narrative to see the historical David as he was. But now the problems begin. Baden highlights that “the Bible is a product of human minds, and that, like all literature, it is subject to the biases and agendas, both conscious and unconscious, of the authors.”2 And yes, again he is right but he fails to recognize as he delves...

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Posted by on Sep 26, 2013 | 5 comments

Biblical Authority and the Primacy of Love

Biblical Authority and the Primacy of Love

Last week Barney succinctly presented his case that biblical authority is grounded in the early Church’s experience of God; these experiences were recorded in the Bible and we, as Christians, must submit to its authority. Unfortunately, I find this presentation of scriptural authority overly intellectualized. It is dependent on what we interpret, what we think, and what we believe. I reckon scriptural authority is based not on what we believe to be the case but on Whom we love. To be honest, Barney never says that we must think our way to the truth, but he does say that we must submit our beliefs and experiences to the revelation of scripture. Where his argument becomes dependent on the intellect is in the process of submission: this submission requires two levels of interpretation: 1) we must interpret the scriptures accurately so that we can submit our ideas to it and 2) we must interpret our experiences so that they are in line with what we believe to be true, given our interpretation of...

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Posted by on Aug 29, 2013 | 5 comments

What does it mean to consider the birds?

What does it mean to consider the birds?

Several people have said to me that in my last post I did nothing but raise questions without offering answers. I had written that we need to think about why we trust the Bible, but I didn’t say what my own reasons were for doing so. To demonstrate why I thought the question so important, I used an example of a Bible verse difficult to interpret in keeping with our experience. In this post I’m not going to give reasons for trusting the Bible. Instead I’m going to offer my interpretation of Matthew 6, the problematic passage I picked on. Hopefully it’ll serve as a constructive example of how to hold Scripture and Experience tightly together. This is the Bible passage: Consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? … Therefore...

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