Reading Isaiah as Christian Scripture

Meet the Bernhard Duhm of the Moster Truck World

Posted in Book of Isaiah, Humor by Bacho on April 3, 2011

Bernhard Lauardus Duhm [10/10/1847 – 11/1/1928] was a German Old Testament scholar and theologian.  He studied theology at the University of Göttingen, where he had as instructors Albrecht Ritschl, Heinrich Ewald and Julius Wellhausen.   In 1873 he became a lecturer at Göttingen and subsequently an associate professor of Old Testament studies. In 1888 he relocated to the University of Basel, where he was one of the more influential Old Testament scholars of his time.  Today he is remembered for his pioneering work in Isaiah studies.  While the multiple authorship of the book of Isaiah was already a theory in circulation, Duhm’s commentary outlined the three-part division of the book as 1st Isaiah [Isaiah 1-39] , “Deuterojesaja” [Isaiah 40-55], and Tritojesaja” [saiah 56-66].

Now…meet another pioneer, the Bernhard Duhm of the Monster Truck world: Ryan Anderson, who became an Monster Truck sensation since he performed the first ever flip in Las Vegas during the recent Monster Jam World Finals.  This is amazing.  Almost as amazing as the impact of Bernhard Duhm on Isaiah studies.

Christopher Seitz: Why read the Book of Isaiah?

Posted in Book of Isaiah, Christopher Seitz, Theological Interpretation by Bacho on March 21, 2011

“So why read the book of Isaiah?  Merely to see a record of past events, with little relationship to the present?  The book of Isaiah presents another option.  Here we see quite clearly an effort made on theological grounds to catch the inner significance of historical events across the ages, from Isaiah’s preaching in the days of Ahaz and Hezekiah, to the events of 587 BC, and beyond.  The choice is not between history and apocalypse, between seeing the book as relevant only for the past, or having only to do with the readers present.  Rather, a series of crucial historical events are held up and linked together in order to demonstrate God’s ways with Israel and the nations, as much for the present and the future as for the past…The shapers of the Isaiah traditions have worked with one overwhelming conviction: that God’s word to Israel in the past was uttered to instruct present and future generations.”  [Christopher Seitz, Isaiah 1-39, 17-18]

Robert R. Wilson on the meaning of biblical exegesis

Posted in Book of Isaiah, Hermeneutics, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on February 14, 2011

“One of the most common mistakes in biblical interpretation is to confuse familiarity with understanding.  The only way to avoid this mistake is to study familiar texts thoroughly and to raise consciously the question of meaning at each point in the process of study.  If this sort of self-conscious reading of texts is carried out honestly, then the texts can be read with greater understanding.  Stripped of all its mystery and jargon, exegesis is nothing but reading and rereading biblical texts and trying to answer the questions raised by the reading process.  If we do this often enough, then we eventually become competent readers and perceptive intepreters, able to use the Bible in the service of the church.”  [Robert R. Wilson, “The Community of the Second Isaiah”, in Reading and Preaching the Book of Isaiah, 54-55]

Two things to keep in mind while working on PhD in Biblical studies

Posted in Book of Isaiah, Life of Fatih, PhD Research, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on January 25, 2011

As I inch towards my eventual PhD dissertation, I want to keep this simple truth in mind:

“My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”  [John Newton]

Well, when your topic of research is “Reading Isaiah as Christian Scripture” this somehow seems to be fitting…


Isaiah, Creative Justice, and Daniel Mireles’ Humiliation

Posted in Book of Isaiah, Life, Life of Fatih by Bacho on October 17, 2010

Today I was working on Isaiah 10:1-4 that issues a severe warning to all who would abuse the poor in the application of the law.  Brevard Childs writes, “Through directives and decrees, red tape and delay, they rob the widows and orphans of their rights, and through trickery render the judicial system into a heartless exercise for defrauding the vulnerable.  For such people there is no future.  The tragic irony of their situation is summed up in three plaintive questions:  What will you do?  Where will you flee?  To whom will you leave your riches?  Then the prophetic answer is provided: Nothing remains but to crouch on the ground among the refugees awaiting certain death.”

Then I read about this dude and his wife in Houston who stole money from crime victims fund by the use of her official power…

His sentence began today.  I love the creativity of the judge.  Daniel Mireles stood on one of the busiest streets in Houston today telling everyone he’s a thief.  He walked back and forth holding a sign. It read, “I am a thief. I stole $250,000 from the Harris County crime victim’s fund. Daniel Mireles.”  A judge ordered the public humiliation as part of Mireles’ sentence.  “I’ve been stopped by two gentlemen who don’t approve of me walking the street. This block right here,” he said. “They don’t approve of what I did, but they don’t approve of this.”  Mireles must stand at the intersection for five hours every weekend for the next six years. His wife Eloise, a former county employee, was also convicted of theft in July. She’ll serve the same public punishment once she gets out of jail.

Isaiah would be smiling…

Childs vs. Brueggemann: Reading Isaiah as Christian Scripture or Neutral Hebrew Text

Earlier I posted a entry about Walter Brueggemann’s struggle to read Brevard Childs.  It is now time to let Childs return the complement.  Here are some of Brevard Childs’ thoughts on Walter Brueggemann’s reading of the book of Isaiah that come from Childs’ book The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture.

First, Childs argues that Brueggemann’s postmodern stance lets go of any substantive linking between the Old and New Testaments.  “The relation between the two testament derives not from anything arising from the literal sense of the Old Testament, but stems from the imaginative construal of the New Testament communities…the Hebrew scriptures are largely a disjunctive corpus, often incomprehensible in themselves, requiring human ingenuity to project meaning.”  [295]

Second, Brueggemann’s insistance on the Hebrew Bible being “generative” in the postmodern sense as a text able to produce endless number readings seems to Childs as an assault on Christian understanding of the Bible as Scripture.  “Brueggemann’s use of postmodern categories calls into question the Christian confession of a unified Word of God in an Old and New Testament that together constitute the Christian Bible.  Central to this confession is the belief that the two testaments together reveal the true will of God for his people.  The one redemptive purpose of God from the creation shaped the world’s history toward its eschatological fulfillment according to God’s sovereign power.  To suggest that hebrew scriptures are “neutral” source of imagery waiting to be construed at will by various pluralistic readings strikes at the heart of the Christian faith.”  [296]

Third, Childs opposes what he perceives as Brueggemann’s replacement of the theocentric focus with anthropocentric focus in interpretation.  “Human imagination, not the divine Spirit, is assigned the role of quickening the biblical text.  In contrast, when the early church spoke of the coercion or pressure exerted by the biblical text on the reader, it was a formulation grounded on the conviction that the written Word possessed a voice constantly empowered by God’s Spirit.  (Credo in Spiritum Sanctum.) To confuse the divine Spirit with human imaginative creativity is to introduce a serious distortion into the entire theological discipline.”  [296]

Childs’ final verdict on Brueggemann’s reading of Isaiah as Christian Scripture is sobering, “With much sadness, I am forced to conclude that Walter Brueggemann’s postmodern interpretation of the Old Testament offers a serious break with the entire Christian exegetical tradition that I have sought to pursue from the earliest period to the present.  The struggle to understand the book of Isaiah as Christian scripture is seen by him as largely misplaced, because the attempt to find substantive continuity between the Old and New Testaments, or to discover the Christian gospel prefigured in the Old, are rejected in principle at the outset.”  [294-295]

While it seems that Walter Brueggemann has become a household name in many main-line and evangelical churches Childs’ analysis of Brueggemann’s project invites a serious second look at this new patron saint of the Church.  Indeed Brueggemann is stunning in the breadth of his knowledge, eloquent in his writing and faith-stretching in his evocative and memorable statements, yet it is sad that many in the Church uncritically embrace his writings.  The phrase Prophetic Imagination is very much in vogue in the circles I move.  While the prophetic aspect of Brueggemann’s writings might be very potent and timely, it is the imagination aspect that according to Childs’ analysis that might be sneaking in a Trojan horse into the body of Christ.

Franz Delitzsch on Reading the Bible as Christian Scripture

I just came across Franz Delitzsch’s short article titled “Must We Follow the New Testament Interpretation of the Old Testament Texts?” published in The Old Testament Student, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Nov., 1886), pp. 77-78

Here is Delitzsch on the relationship between the two testaments:

“The New Testament is the key to the Old, and the citations of the Old Testament in the New are the norm according to which the Christian interpretation must use these keys of knowledge (cf. Luke xi. 52). These citations, however, are not specimens of the art of grammatico-historical exegesis, but illustrations of prophecy by the history of its fulfillment. The apostles determine the meaning of the Scriptures, not according to the consciousness of the Old Testament writers, but according to the meaning of the Holy Spirit, who passes into them, as the one “auctor primarius” (cf. Ileb. III. 7).”

Furthermore, here is Delitzsch on Jesus as the key interpretation of scripture:

“The New Testament writers presuppose that not merely this or that passage in the Old Testament is a prophecy looking to the New Testament, but that the whole is a prophecy of the New. Jesus is the fulfilling of the law and the prophets (Matt. v. 17); he is the “end of the law” (Rom. x. 4). The history of the Old Testament, the cultus of the Old Testament and the prophecy of the Old Testament-all look to him as their goal.”

Finally, here is Delitzsch’s memorable words that point to our need to reading the Bible as a whole, two-part canonical Scripture:

“Without the New Testament, the Old Testament would be a labyrinth without a clue, a syllogism without a conclusion, a riddle without a solution, a torso without a head, a moon without a sun, since Christ is the proper interpreter of the Old Testament.”

John Goldingay: Brilliant Old Testament Scholarship and Genuine Faith

John Goldingay is David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Seminary.  He seeks to combine his superb scholarly training in Old Testament with genuine Christian faith.  Among things written by him that should be on everyone’s shelf are 3 volumes of Old Testament Theology and Models for Interpretation o Scripture. He has also begun a series Old Testament for Everyone that is a counterpart to NT Wright’s New Testament for Everyone.

As much as one might appreciate and at times strongly disagree with his approach, there is also another side to this brilliant scholar.  It is his tender faith.  Reading his book Walk On that chronicles his life journey and struggle with his wife’s severe disability brought tears to my eyes and gave me a new appreciation for his scholarship as well.  As someone who seeks to stand on the border of academy and believing community, I find Goldingay as superb example to follow. Here is a short video that gives a very personal side of John Goldingay.

[NB. Some might find his language offensive.  Yet I hope that we find him more convicting than scandalizing]

Roy Melugin on Reading Isaiah as Christians

Posted in Book of Isaiah, PhD Research, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on April 20, 2010

Roy Melugin, “Texts to Transform Life: Reading Isaiah as Christians,”  Word & World, Volume XIX, Number 2, Spring 1999, 109-116

Melugin laments the fact that the interest in original meanings of biblical texts among modern biblical scholars has left by the way side concern about the use of Old Testament in the life of the church.  He is looking for a way to both affirm the merits of historical-critical study of the Old Testament texts like Isaiah and at the same time find ways to read this text as Christian Scripture.  Towards this end he proposes the notion of performative hermeneutics. Here Melugin draws on writings of J.L. Austin and J.R. Searle.  According to these proponents of the Speech-Act theory language does not merely refer to something, rather it creates a symbolic world that is open for a reader to enter into as a participant.  Melugin writes, “The text can do something; it can shape or reshape the basic identity of those who read it.”  He argues that performative hermeneutics brings us closer to the way the authors and editors of biblical texts envisioned their work to be used.  They did not follow Western exegetical rules, but rather had their own way to conduct hermeneutical tasks.  So according to Melugin texts like Isaiah intended to create a symbolic world into which Israel was invited to enter into in order to experience a radical transformation of their identity and behavior.  He writes, “They didn’t follow the post-Socratic philosophical tradition that language must describe reality accurately if it is to be regarded as language that is reliable.  Biblical writers instead used different “rules”: They were more concerned with performative or transformational use of language, i.e., how language could shape or transform the community of faith, than with how accurately language used words to explain reality.  Just as the words, “I pronounce you husband and wife,” create a marriage and, in so doing, transform the lives of the woman and the man by placing them in a new covenant relationship, so also Philip transforms the identity of the Ethiopian by his interpretation of Isaiah 53. Just as a marriage ceremony creates a marriage instead of explaining a marriage, so also Philip uses Isaiah 53 to shape a life rather than to explain the meaning of a text in its original context.”

The Ancient vs. Modern Audience of the Book of Isaiah

In his article, ‘Reading Isaiah from Beginning (Isaiah 1) to End (Isaiah 65-66): Multiple Modern Possibilities’, David Carr provides an intriguing analysis of ancient and modern reading methods.  It is eye-opening to see that the difference in the way this text is approached, what one expects to find in it, and how it is absorbed.  First, the ancients primarily heard the text while modern readers are trained to read the text silently.  Second, the ancients worked with a text in a scroll format while modern reader works with a ‘codex’, i.e. bounded book with pages.  Codex format in much more conducive for textual comparisons via concordances and other resources.  For ancients the primary reference tool was their resilient memory.  Third, bound by codex mentality modern reader has a special interest in the overall coherence of the ‘book’, which according to Carr was not shared by the ancient readers.  Rather than an interest in the coherence of the book the ancients had a concern for the coherence of their world. Carr writes, “Ancient readings although intensely interested in the text, usually have a broader theological/legal horizon in the forefront.  This means that ancient readings are less interested in the individual book of Isaiah than they are in using Isaiah as part of Scripture to discern and articulate Truth.”  Finally, most modern readings of the book of Isaiah are carried out as isolated academic activity.  Carr writes, “These studies lack multiple and explicit connections between details of their interpretation of the text and a believing community for which the text is normative.”  This stands in a radical contrast with the ancient readings where interpretation of a text was means of shaping community’s life and behavior.