Reading Isaiah as Christian Scripture

Can the Apostle Paul be Our Model for Exegesis?

Continuing to read Leithart’s Deep Exegesis [see my previous post on reading the text as a husk] I came across an interesting quote from Richard Longenecker.  Leithart’s comments that followed were also very perceptive.

Commenting on apostle Paul’s mode of exegesis Longenecker is convinced that neither his midrashic handling of the text nor his allegorical explications have any room in our own hermeneutical repertoire.  He writes, “What then can be said to our question, “Can we reproduce the exegesis of the NT?”  I suggest that we must answer both “No” and “Yes.”  Where that exegesis is based on a revelatory stance, or where it evidences itself to be merely cultural, or where it shows itself to be circumstantial or ad hominem in nature, “No.”  Where, however, it treats the OT in more literal fashion, following the course of what we speak of today as historical-grammatical exegesis, “Yes.”  Our commitment as Christians is to the reproduction of the apostolic faith and doctrine, and not necessarily to the specific apostolic exegetical practices.”  [ From his Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, 219]

To Leithart this is a clear example of the husk/kernel hermeneutics that encourages us to acknowledge Paul’s theology, and to do theology in the way Paul did it without following the reasoning Paul used to draw those conclusions.  He writes, “We are supposed to follow Pauline doctrine, but not Pauline exegesis…Paul may teach us how to read certain texts, but Paul is not supposed to teach us how to read.” [33-34]  In other words the NT should come with a disclaimer, “Professionals were involved in this exegesis.  Kids, don’t try this at home.”

Leithart closes this chapter with a promise, “My aim in the remainder of this book is to enrich the reading of individual believers, pastors, and theologians by encouraging devoted attention to the husk.  But not only that; my aim is also to contribute to the recovery of Scripture as the world-shaping book it was intended to be.”  [34]  Bold promise.  Stay tuned.

THE TEXT AS A HUSK: Peter J. Leithart’s “Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture”

I started reading Peter Leithart’s new book Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture. The first chapter talks about our tendency to read THE TEXT AS A HUSK.  He compares KJV with the Message and shows that the Message is an example of treating the Bible as as a husk to be stripped away and discarded.  Though he tends to be too harsh with the Message [it would be good to at least acknowledge Euegene Peterson’s stated intentions that could be found in his book Eat this Book], Leithhart makes intriguing comments.  He writes, “For translators, commentators, preachers,a nd theologians, the idioms and cadences, the rhetoric and the tropes, the syntax and the vocabulary of the original have been reduced to mere vehicles for communicating the message.  If the vehicle fails to reach its destination, we change vehicles.  We substitute, add, or subtract words to make the Bible sound normal.  We change idioms to be more familiar.  We turn God’s names into generic terms of divinity.  We fiddle with the Bible’s rhetoric so that it fits our rhetoric, rather than letting the Bible’s rhetoric shape ours.  Once we think we have found the spirit of the text, we feel free to old the letter as we will.”  [6]

In comparison with the modern situation Leithhart argues that, “For most earlier translators, and for commentators, preachers, and Bible scholars, the original Bible set the agenda, while the target language and the target culture were expected to make room for it.  They did not believe that the Bible needed to adjust to our prior concepts and institutions.” [6]

In light of these observations Leithhart makes a concluding comment that is bound to stir up some dialog at least in certain corners of the evangelical community, “Scripture once transformed the world precisely because Bible students clung to the letter.  Once the letter is reduced to a malleable vehicle, Scripture loses its potency.  It no longer shapes our imagination, our poetry, or our politics, because it is not allowed to say anything we do not already know.  We have lost the Bible because we are no longer theologians of the letter.”  [6]