Reading Isaiah as Christian Scripture

Walter Moberly on the nature of the Divine language of promise and judgment

Posted in Hermeneutics, R.W.L. Moberly, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on November 26, 2010

“The language of divine promise is intrinsically response seeking.  An announcement of disaster is not only a prediction but also a warning, a summons to a different course of action that might enable the disaster to be averted.  A promise of blessing likewise seeks to engender a response of gratitude and faithfulness, in the kind of way that if such a response is not forthcoming, then what the promise envisioned may not be forthcoming either.”  [Walter Moberly, Theology of Genesis, 172]

Walter Moberly: The Bible’s reception as Scripture as creation of plausibility structures for its reading

I have given a few summary posts on Walter Moberly’s recent book The Theology of the Book of Genesis several months ago.  I recently returned to this book.  Here is an interesting nugget on what according to Moberly makes our study of Genesis different from a study of other ANE texts like the Epic of Gilgamesh:

“A theology of Genesis needs to be more than, and somewhat different from, this, primarily because Genesis is not a freestanding ancient text, like the Epic of Gilgamesh, but is part of the authoritative scriptures of synagogue and church, wherein there has been an unbroken history through the centuries of living with the text in a variety of ways, not least its incorporation into regular worship, both through reading aloud and in liturgical texts. Among other things, this means that one does not, indeed almost cannot, come to the text “cold,” but only in the context of an enduring Jewish and Christian, and consequent wider, cultural reception. This reception forms a kind of plausibility structure, a context for bothering with the text and for taking it seriously, in a way that would not be the case otherwise. It means, among other things, that Genesis (or any other biblical book) is approached with expectations, or at least arguments, about its enduring significance and possible truth that are not the case when one approaches most other religious texts of antiquity.”

Walter Moberly on Reading the Bible Theologically as Christian Scripture

Walter Moberly has been one of the most prolific voices in the reemergence of the theological interpretation of the Bible.  Some have quipped that it was people like him that allowed biblical scholars to quote Karl Barth and C.S. Lewis in their exegetical writings.  Moberly has often been painted in the same corner as Brevard Childs.  While having learned much from Childs, Moberly has in many ways paved his own path.  He is a rigorous scholar but he is also a committed Anglican churchman.  In his own words, “The overall concern in my scholarly work is the responsible understanding and use of the Bible in the life, thought, and spirituality of Christian faith today. Although I wish to read and respect the biblical texts as ancient texts I wish also to articulate the dynamics of their enduring significance as Scripture.”

Here are few significant excerpts taken from his article “The Nature of Christian Biblical Theology” in his book From Eden to Golgotha: Essays in Biblical Theology. They highlight the overall direction of Moberly’s work in reading the Bible as Christian Scripture.

First, we must point out Moberly’s basic premise of the plurality of approaches to the Bible that on one hand undercuts the reigning hegemony of the historical-critical approach and on the other hand puts the Christian reading of the Bible as Scripture back on the table as a viable academic option.

Moberly writes, “How we read the Bible depends on our particular stance and why we read the Bible.  There is more than one perspective from which one may legitimately be interested in the material and each perspective will set its own agenda of questions and priorities in reading the text.  A fundamental problem with the familiar historian’s agenda has been the all-too-frequent imperialistic assumption that it is the only legitimate approach.  Of course no responsible interpretation will abandon the insights to be gained from historical study; yet to accept such insights does not entail acceptance of the overall agenda and priorities of the historian.  On the one hand this means, that one must accept a legitimate plurality of readings of the biblical text.  On the other hand, this means that a reading according to the agenda and priorities of the Christian Church has a validity which is ultimately the validity of the Christian Church itself.”  [147]

Second, based on this overall premise we are urged to ask, “What, then, might a biblical theology composed according to the agenda of the Christian Church look like?”  Moberly’s answer is that it would revolve around Christian Spirituality.

Moberly wites, “Clearly it will utilize appropriate historical insights, but it will eschew the agenda of the ancient historian as such.  Rather, it will be concerned to interpret the text in ways that are as far as possible of common concern to all the various branches of the Christian Church in their great diversity…First, there is public reading and exposition of the Bible in the context of worship…The object of this is on the one hand to mould the worldview and understanding of the worshiper and on the other hand to give general practical guidance to enable greater faithfulness in daily living.  Secondly, there is the devotional reading of scripture in private, where the concern is the personal appropriation of biblical insights for everyday life…Thirdly, there is the constant struggle of the Church to appropriate the ethical insights of scripture, so as to work out what it means to live as a truly Christian community in the complex context of the modern world.  In all these contexts, the Bible is used in the service of what might broadly be categorized as Christian spirituality, that is how one should live life under God both communally and individually.”  [148-149]

Third, Moberly goes on to outline the elements and the shape of Biblical theology.  Here the reader gets a sense of the types of writings he has produced in the recent past and a kind of work one might anticipate from him in the future.

Moberly writes, “The arrangement of the material should probably in general be topical…The reason for this is that the concerns of spirituality most naturally fall into topics.  Some of these topics will be already familiar, most obviously those that structure the life of faith, such as God, humanity, Christology, election and covenant.  But other topics should enable one to discern aspects of the text that are sometimes overlooked, for example, the dynamics of repentance or of waiting on God or of prayer, or the relatively neglected theme of spiritual discernment which includes not only the well-known topic of true and false prophecy in both Old and New Testaments but also the recurrent biblical theme of people’s constant inability to see what God is doing even when it is before their very eyes.”  [157]

The bottom line for Moberly is that “the primary and explicit purpose of a biblical theology should be to relate the Bible to the needs and concerns of the spirituality of the Christian Church, that is it should inform the corporate and individual living of the life of faith.  If this is what the Church uses the Bible for, then this is what its biblical theologians should be doing to help them.”  [149]

On Bruce Waltke’s Old Testament Theology

Posted in R.W.L. Moberly, Reviews, Theological Interpretation by Bacho on September 21, 2009

Recently I read through portions of  An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke.  Waltke is the dean of evangelical Old Testament studies.  He is much respected and rightfully so.  This book seems to be an edited version of his lectures on the topic.  While there is much to learn from Waltke, I am disappointed by the poor editing of the work.  Here are few mistakes that I have picked up in just one afternoon, so I wonder how pervasive they are in the rest of it.

First, on pages 33 and 34 there are references to M.B. Moberly’s article “How we may speak of God?”.  One might wonder if this is the same person as R.W.L. Moberly, but according to the index on page 1038 it seems like this mysterious M.B. Moberly gets a separate entry. Yet it is the article  that Walter Moberly [aka R.W.L. Moberly] has written.  The general “WORKS SITED” section does redeem this mistake by correctly placing all of the Moberly works under R.W.L. Moberly heading on page 982.

Second, on page 445 L. D. Hawk is referred to as the Assistant Professor of religion at Centenary College of Louisiana.  One wonders if the reader needs all that info about Dr. Hawk.  If one insists on that type of personal info, then we must correct it.  He has been a professor at Ashland seminary for a LONG time.  Centenary College was his first assignment.  His major monograph “Joshua” in Berit Olam series lists him at Ashland as of 2000, but he was there already prior to that.

Third, on page 816 there is a quote that begins with “as one scholar put it…”  This is a massive quote that takes up 5 lines.  It sounds very much like Abraham Heschel, whom Waltke quotes and leans on heavily.  This would fine in a classroom oral lecture, but looks awkward in a major length book.

Finally, on page 9 there is a quote, “the biblical material is too unrully to be fixed to a Promethean bed”.  I believe in the Greek Mythology it was Procrustes who engaged in stretching or chopping down his victims to fit his proverbial bed.

Walter Moberly’s Thoughts on Story, History and Truth

Posted in R.W.L. Moberly, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on August 9, 2009

The issue of historicity of biblical narratives often becomes a prima facie case of orthodoxy, a sort of a shibboleth for detecting insiders to evangelical circles.  Here is a section from Walter Moberly’s article in Themelios 11.3 (April 1986): 77-82…While his article was written almost 25 years ago, he is still a significant voice in this ongoing conversation about ways of reading historical texts in the Bible as evangelicals.  His insights are worth chewing on for all us who try to read the Bible as Scripture.

“In this final section it will be helpful briefly to consider the question of truth with regard to the stories of the Old Testament. In modern Old Testament study the dominant concern has always been largely historical. One assumption that has been central to this is that questions of history are important for theological truth. The revelation of God has been a revelation in history, and if one denies the historical content of the traditions of Israel one thereby denies the theological meaning attributed to the traditions, or at least one risks reducing theology to a kind of gnosticism.  How then does the current interest in story relate to this?

This question may be approached through noting the tendency evident in some recent literary studies not simply to be disinterested in historical questions, but also to suggest that the literary character of the biblical text shows that only a minimal historical content is present anyway. Robert Alter, for example, whose brilliant The Art of Biblical Narrative is the most stimulating and suggestive of recent literary studies, suggests that ‘prose fiction’ is the best general rubric for classifying biblical narrative. Alter does not intend ‘fiction’ to be pejorative. It is simply that many of the literary features of biblical narrative show the material to be such that it does not fit within the category of historiography as we recognize it. Stories may be based on actual historical occurrences, but their presentation has been shaped by what Alter calls the ‘fictional imagination’. Overall, however, Alter gives the impression that biblical narratives have relatively little to offer the historian.  Such a use of ‘fiction’, which is not uncommon, clearly requires examination, if only for the reason that fiction is often held to be the opposite of fact and truth; and so to describe a biblical narrative as fictional may seem to be saying that it is untrue. Two preliminary points may usefully be made.

First, it is clearly important that ‘fiction’ should be properly defined and not used ambiguously. Although fiction has the general and popular meaning of an untruth or fabrication, it also has the specific literary meaning of a work of imagina tion. In such imaginative writing appeal to historical fact may be quite irrelevant to the determination of its value or truth, which must be established or denied on other grounds. It is clearly in this latter sense that Alter is using the term.

Secondly, there is no intrinsic reason, generally speaking, why a narrative should not be both historically accurate and well told as a story. It is vital in this sort of discussion to avoid unnecessary polarization and creating a false ‘either – or’ dichotomy, when it may be a matter of ‘both-and’. Nonetheless the fact that narrative might in principle be both accurate history and effective literature does not mean that any given narrative actually is, still less that all Old Testament narratives are. There is a wide variety of Old Testament narratives which resist neat categorization in terms of literature and history.  In the story of the fall of Jerusalem (2 Kgs. 25) there is a maximum of history and a minimum of literary art or theo logical development, while in the story of the Flood (Gen. 6-9) the opposite is the case.  Patient analysis of each case on its merits rather than sweeping generalizations is what is needed.  Rather than trying to discuss in general which elements in a story are likely to be literary in origin and which are likely to be historical – a huge undertaking – it will be helpful to focus instead on an underlying issue, that is what constitutes truth in a narrative. For the categorization of biblical narrative as fiction even in the technical sense does seem to stand in a certain tension with the traditional emphasis upon the impor tance of historical content in biblical narrative, and so raises the question of the basis upon which their theological meaning rests.

The central problem, in my judgment, is to do with the relationship between truth and history. Despite the admitted importance of the general historical reliability of the Old Testament, it may properly be asked whether sometimes the relationship of truth and historicity has not been conceived somewhat too narrowly, so that the truth of a narrative has been made to depend too exclusively upon the histoncity of its content. Any narrow equation of truth with historicity would seem to owe more to the influence of the rather limited horizons of enlightenment rationalism than to the tenets of historic Christian theology. It is my impression, though I cannot justify it here, that the rather narrow equation of truth with historicity was first made by the rationalists who argued of certain Old Testament narratives, ‘This is not historical, and therefore it is not true’. This not unnaturally provoked a response along the lines of ‘It is true (because of the conviction of faith), and therefore it must be historical’. The great emphasis so often attached, especially in the English-speaking world, to questions of history, sometimes gives the impression of being part of a tradition of apologetic defence of the Bible to such criticism. But the defence too readily accepted the terms in which the criticism was couched, rather than insisting that, important as history is for the Old Testament, history is but one factor among several that must be weighed in a consideration of whether and in what sense a story may be true.

It is worth remembering that, prior to the rise of modern thought when the historicity of biblical stories was generally assumed and was rarely a point at issue, the significance of historicity played a small role in most Christian and Jewish use of the Old Testament. What made the Old Testament valuable, or what made it problematic, were moral, theological, and philosophical considerations. At the Reformation, although the ‘plain sense’ of the text was given greater weight, historicity as such still had only limited significance. It is well known that Luther evaluated biblical books by the degree to which they bore witness to Christ – a strictly theological criterion. Luther no doubt did not deny the historicity of Esther, but that did not prevent him from considering the book worthless for the Christian on religious and moral grounds.

If it be accepted that the narrow equation of truth with historicity is in fact a departure from historic Christian theology under the influence of rationalist criticism, then it is clear that it needs to be modified. To say this is not to deny the importance of history. It is simply to qualify its importance, and insist that other factors, theological, moral, philosophical and imaginative, be counted along with it.

The breadth of the concept of truth may perhaps be further appreciated through a consideration of the novels, songs, plays and films of our modern culture. What makes most works valuable and gives them their appeal (in their various ways) is surely more than anything else the extent to which they succeed in being true, that is true to life in the sense of acutely depicting and interpreting the human situation and engaging with fundamental values. The interest of, say, David Lean’s film of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago hardly lies in the accuracy of its portrayal of the history of the Russian Revolution; rather it is the struggle of a man for freedom, truth and dignity both against the force of political power and against the tensions within himself, both of which problems are acutely posed by the upheavals of the Russian Revolution. The same sort of thing could probably also be said, mutatis mutandis, about the appeal of, say, the songs of Paul Simon or Bob Dylan.

By contrast, many explicitly Christian novels, songs, plays and films have had limited appeal less because of the unacceptability of a Christian perspective in itself, than because they have been seen as ultimately superficial; they have given answers too quickly without sufficiently probing the reality of God and of human life (something which is never true of biblical narrative). That is, in an important sense their truth has not been sufficiently true. What is probably the most widely read modem Christian writing, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings surely owes much of its appeal not just to the fact that it is a good story well told, but because it also searchingly explores the fundamental ambiguities of power and death. Its Christian values of grace, mercy and hope which confront and overcome evil are clearly portrayed, yet in such a way that they enhance rather than trivialize the story’s seriousness.

Two things, therefore, may be said in conclusion. First, in our modern culture we easily and naturally apply the concept of truth widely and flexibly. We recognize without difficulty when a writing is intended as a work of fiction, that is a piece of imaginative writing, and judge it accordingly. We often find that serious fiction contains and conveys important truths. It is unnecessary and wrong when we turn to the Old Testament to abandon all such understanding and insist more narrowly that historicity is the indispensable condition for truth. Of course, questions of historicity do matter in the Old Testament, and there is the difficulty that we are not part of the culture in which the Old Testament was written and so do not share the assumptions and conventions that would have been widely held then. This should make for a proper caution in assigning literary genres and in judging whether or not writings were intended to be historical or to be imaginative, or varying degrees of both. If an Old Testament writing is judged to be historical, or even partially historical, in intention, then its truth will indeed depend, in whole or in part, upon the historical reliability of its content, and the investigation and establishment of this is the proper concern of the interpreter. But if it be decided that, for example, Jonah is a parable-like composition, which tells an imaginative (and unhistorical) story in order to make a moral and theological point, then it should be seen that this neither detracts from the truth of the book, for its truth would be of the same sort as that in the parables of Jesus, nor does it imply that therefore history is unimportant for the Old Testament as a whole, for each writing must be judged according to its own characteristics.

Secondly, it is important again to be reminded that the truth for which the Old Testament has always been valued is not simply truth with regard to what happened in history, but truth with regard to its deep understanding of the paradoxical character of God and the paradoxical nature and situation of man. Readers constantly sense depth in Old Testament narratives, and this is usually an instinctive recognition of the way many stories transcend their original Israelite context and have a meaning and relevance for the ‘human situation’ of all periods. Usually readers do not bother to ask how it is that the stories achieve this effect, and there is little reason why the ordinary reader should. Nonetheless it is a legitimate question to ask, and the current literary interest in Old Testament narratives as story is a contribution towards the answer.”

Review of R.W.L. Moberly’s “Theology of the Book of Genesis” (IV)

Posted in R.W.L. Moberly, Reading the Bible as Scripture, Reviews by Bacho on July 17, 2009

Moberly’s final chapter deals with reading Genesis 37-50.  His entry point into the theological reading on this text is found in his evaluation of von Rad’s account of the Joseph narrative.  Von Rad postulated that the Joseph narrative reflected the “Solomonic Enlightenment,” “a time when a new kind of consciousness pervaded Israel, a consciousness expressed particularly in wisdom traditions and literature, where Israel shared much common ground with, and indeed drew on, the wisdom literature of its wider world, especially Egypt” [227].  Thus Genesis 37-50 could be seen as “a narrative embodiment of the theology of wisdom, with a didactic purpose for those who would become administrators in the royal court” [227].

Moberly, while being aware of severe critique of von Rad’s historical reconstruction, still seeks to re-envision key elements of von Rad’s hypothesis and read the Joseph narrative in light of the book of Proverbs.

He concludes, “Irrespective of von Rad’s particular hypothesis about the origins of the Joseph narrative, there is surely still real value in seeing Joseph as a wise person who models important dimensions of what wisdom may entail- not only the transcending of youthful arrogance and egotism through allowing suffering to have a purifying effect under God but also having the ability to live with integrity when under pressure, with a sense of accountability to God that dispenses with any kind of doctrinaire approach to living well” [237].

One senses that Moberly’s own emphasis shines through when he writes, “If a prime purpose of the Bible within the church is to nurture the church to live in ways that are wise and faithful, then there is a sense in which the Bible as a whole comes o function in the kind of way that von Rad depicts wisdom: general formation becomes more important than precise prescription- though of course both are necessary and will always operate dialectically” [236].  His own scholarship seeks to l the didactic function of the Bible as Scripture within the life of believing communities for whom this text is the authoritative guide.  To that end this book makes many significant and insightful contributions.

Review of R.W.L. Moberly’s “Theology of the Book of Genesis” (III)

Posted in PhD Research, R.W.L. Moberly, Reading the Bible as Scripture, Reviews by Bacho on July 16, 2009

This entry focuses on chapters 7-11 in Moberly’s book which deal with Genesis 12-50.  Once again my primary focus will be on chapter 7 that deals with Moberly’s approach to reading the whole of patriarchal narratives in this section of Genesis.  Chapters 8-11 provide few provocative and mind-stretching readings of Genesis 12 and 22 as well as topics of Christian Zionism and “Abrahamic Faiths.”

Moberly opens his discussion with raising the issue that the patriarchal narratives have long presented a problem for Jewish observance of Torah.  What does he mean by that?  He points out that the Patriarchal religion has very distinctive patterns that set it apart from the rest of the Pentateuch.  For example, their religion lacks the concept of holiness, no particular cult site is given priority, they do not aggressively claim the land as theirs rather Abraham buys the land [Gen. 23], there is no mention of the dietary laws or the Sabbath observance [137-138].  All this and more amounts to the scholarly conundrum of fitting the pre-Moses context of Genesis with post-Mosaic one.

Moberly’s canonical approach sees Genesis as “The Old Testament of the Old Testament.”  He writes, “The problem that Genesis poses for Jewish thinking is surely closely analogous to the problem posed by the Old Testament as a whole for Christian thinking…How does one relate continuity and identity to real and major difference?  Christians down the ages have made same kinds of moves in relation to the OT that Jews have made in relation to Genesis.  The predominant instinct has been to assimilate-more or less subtly- the unfamiliar to the familiar, the divergent to the normative” [131].

How does this happen in Genesis?  Moberly carefully documents how the  Abraham material relates to the rest of the Pentateuch as opposed to texts dealing with Jacob or Joseph.  One can detect the strangeness in Jacob and Joseph material that disappears when one reads texts about Abraham.  Moberly postulates that the authors “molded the Abraham material in certain ways so as to make it more accessible for Israel to appropriate” [138].  How did they go about it?  “It is likely that the Abraham story has been deliberately shaped so as to make Abraham’s obedience and offering into a type of Israel’s appropriate response to YHWH through Torah”  [138].

“In all this,” writes Moberly, “one sees an interesting blurring of historical differences in the interests of appropriating the figure of Abraham within the context of Israel.  It is the case neither that historical differences are eradicated nor that they are preserved for their own sake.  What appears to be going on, as best as we can see, is a recontextualizing of the Abraham material so that it can function as religiously authoritative for Israel” [139].

This strategy of recontexualization in Moberly’s mind finds echoes in the Christian typological and figural readings of the OT as it reflects “the same conviction that one God is at work in the differing contexts and that this one God gives himself to be known in different ways” [139].  So he hopes that “the recovery of the classical Jewish “problem” of the patriarchs in genesis can inform reflection on the nature and interpretation of the Christian Bible as a whole” [140].

Brevard Childs and the Canonical Approach to the Bible

Seems like I have been swimming in the sea of Childs’ work for a while now.  Most likely I will continue to swim in that sea for the duration of my PhD work and beyond as he is one of the major voices in the theological interpretation arena.  For those of us who are only now starting to break our teeth on Childs here are some summary thoughts from Walter Moberly’s article in The Face of Old Testament Studies edited by David W. Baker and Bill T. Arnold.

Moberly  sums up Childs primary concern as “to address the question of how these ancient Hebrew texts can responsibly be understood and appropriated as Christian Scripture” [466].

How does Childs go about doing that?  According to Moberly, Childs has to “fundamentally rethink a common approach to the text in which scholars primarily apply the common criteria of ancient historical method and then, if they are so inclined, add some “theological” icing to the cake thus baked.  For to assume that Christians can use the text as Scripture only by initially bracketing out their Christian perspectives and then subsequently bringing them to bear is what makes the whole task of theological appropriation impossible from the outset; for then, by definition the Christian perspective is marginal, not foundational and integral, to the whole enterprise” [466].  I think here lies the main reason why Childs resisted the label of Canonical Criticism. In his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture he writes, “Rather, the issue at stake in relation to the canon turns on establishing a stance from which the Bible can be read as sacred scripture” [82].  In his mind his project cannot be placed alongside of Form Criticism, Rhetorical Criticism or any other method.  As Moberly puts it, “What Childs has argued for is nothing less than reconceptualizing the discipline of biblical study as a whole by reuniting it to the wider context of Christian faith and theology from which, at least in theory, it has been separated in the name of a critical awareness that has sought to understand the text in its own right and with its own authentic voice by freeing it from the shackles of anachronistic ecclesiastical dogma”  [466]  [N.B. italics are mine].

It is here that we find the reasons for Childs’ insistence on the received or canonical shape of the text for Biblical studies.  Moberly gives the following explanation, “the shaping the biblical text has received is integral to a process whereby the enduring significance, and possible continuing appropriations, of the text has been made accessible to those who come after its original addressees or recipients.  To ignore the received shaping of the texts, and to prefer instead some kind of reconstruction of something more “original” behind the text [the person of a prophet, the course of religious history], exacerbates rather than solve questions of responsible use and application by continuing communities of faith”  [467].

Review of R.W.L. Moberly’s “Theology of the Book of Genesis” (II)

Posted in PhD Research, R.W.L. Moberly, Reviews by Bacho on July 8, 2009

This entry covers chapters 2 through 6 that encompass Moberly’s reading of Genesis 1-11.  In chapter 2 Moberly gives his lens through which he reads this text.  He then follows it up with few chapters of close readings of various texts in Genesis 1-11.  My interest in this book is primarily with figuring out Moberly’s approach to reading biblical texts, so this entry will deal with chapter 2.  [Caveat: Moberly provides careful and intriguing readings of very familiar texts.  It is well worth the price of the book.]

Moberly’s primary focus in chapter 2 is to identify the genre of Genesis 1-11.  His reason is that “one cannot put good questions to and expect fruitful answers from a text without a grasp of the kind of material that it is” [21].  He seems to be dissatisfied with various ready-made genre labels that have been used in reference to this text.  He prefers to work his way through close inductive reading of the text allowing its own genre pointers to guide him.  His analysis of various puzzling aspects of Cain and Abel story as well as the Flood narrative leads him to the conclusion of “the individual narratives having a history of their own, in the course of which they have been transposed from their original context and relocated in their present context” [32-33].  In light of that Moberly calls his readers “to take seriously the biblical text as a crafted literary phenomenon, whose conventions must be understood and respected on their own terms and not prejudged in terms of their conformity (or otherwise) to a modern reader’s possible initial expectations” [36].

Moberly is very much aware of the uneasiness that this approach entails for those who want to take Genesis 1-11 as Scripture.  They might suspect that his taking of the text as a crafted literary phenomenon inevitably results in eliminating its divine aspect.  He cites Thomas Paine and Richard Dawkins as examples of those who have dismissed the Bible as a product of erroneous and morally flawed human imagination.  For Moberly everything hinges on one’s understanding of the revelation, i.e. “whether it is theologically responsible to recognize God’s self-communication and enduring truth about humanity and the world in variegated texts that bear the hallmarks of regular literary conventions and historical processes” [38].  He rejects the a priori notion that the human cannot mediate the divine.  According to him, “any significant mode of human communication should in principle be acceptable as a vehicle for the divine word, unless it can be clearly shown that it is problematic in the kind of way that might disqualify it” [40].  In the end for Moberly the real challenge of the theological reading is “finding the way to hold the human and the divine roles in creating the biblical text as complementary rather than competitive” [40].  To that end he takes the canonical approach that works with the text in its received form.  This entails two basic assumptions.  First, there is “a willingness to trust the continuing religions traditions, in their various forms, of which the Genesis narratives form a part” [41].  Second, there is “ a commitment to think with the biblical text and its historic appropriation” [41].

Review of R.W.L. Moberly’s “Theology of the Book of Genesis” (I)

Posted in R.W.L. Moberly, Reviews by Bacho on July 3, 2009

In next few posts I would like to offer some summaries, reviews and random thoughts on Walter Moberly’s new book The Theology of the Book of Genesis.

The first chapter sets out Moberly’s methodological approach that shapes the nature and scope of this book.  Here are three thoughts that in my mind give a summary of Moberly’s approach.

First, we need to highlight Moberly’s understanding of the nature and task of theological interpretation.  He writes, “The theological interpretation of scripture- its reading with a view to articulating and practicing its enduring significance for human life under God- involves a constant holding together of parts and a whole which is regularly reconfigured.  It is in the meeting of biblical text with canonical context and the ongoing life of communities of faith that theology is done- and where one may hope to try to articulate a theology of Genesis.” [17]

Second, Moberly insists that Genesis is different from other ancient texts like The Epic of Gilgamesh. He writes, “Genesis is not a freestanding ancient text…, but is a part of the authoritative scriptures of synagogue and church, wherein there has been an unbroken history through the centuries of living with the text in a variety of ways.” In light of these observations Moberly insists that, “one does not, indeed almost cannot, come to the text “cold”, but only in the context of an enduring Jewish and Christian, and consequent wider, cultural reception.”  In the end he is led to conclude, “this reception forms a kind of plausibility structure, a context for bothering with the text and for taking it seriously, in a way that would not be the case otherwise.”  [7]

Finally, Moberly’s thought of the reception of Genesis as a plausibility structure for taking it seriously leads organically to his thought that this reception can play a significant role in its theological interpretation.  He writes, “Although there can be an undoubtedly heuristic value in bracketing these contexts of reception, so that the meaning of the Genesis text as an ancient text can better be appreciated, the appropriate stance for a theology of Genesis is not only to bracket but also to incorporate.”  [13].  Moberly sees the reception of the text as a resource for probing its significance.