Reading Isaiah as Christian Scripture

Posted in Hermeneutics, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on April 12, 2011

“I want to know one thing: the way to heaven, how to land safe on that happy shore.  God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven.  He has written it down in the book.  O give me that book!  At any price, give me the book of God!  I have it: here is knowledge enough for me.  Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book].  Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone-only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his Book for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of lights: ‘Lord, is it not your Word, “If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God”? You “give liberally and upbraidest not” [Jas. 1.5]. You have said, “If any be willing to do your will, he shall know.”  [Jn. 7.17] I am willing to do, let me know your will. I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, ‘comparing spiritual things with spiritual’ [1 Cor. 2.13]. I meditate thereon, with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God, and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach.”  [From John Wesley (Library of Protestant Thought) edited by Albert C. Outler, 89-90]

N.T. Wright: Letting the Scripture flow through us like a river

Posted in N.T.Wright, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on April 12, 2011

Ellen Davis on reading the Bible confessionally

Posted in Hermeneutics, Life of Fatih, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on April 2, 2011

Ellen Davis reports a time when she was a part of a discussion with scholars representing a broad spectrum of Christian traditions.  One question on the table, “Identify the kinds of theological inquiry that should be pursued and funded in order to provide solid intellectual grounding for this stage of the church’s life.”  In other words, what is the biggest need that the Church faces today?  Davis’ answer is stunningly simple, “To learn again to read and teach the Bible confessionally.”  What does that mean?  “The need for the church to learn afresh to acknowledge the Bible as the functional center of its life, so that in all our conversations, deliberations, arguments, and programs, we are continually reoriented to the demands and the promises of the Scripture.  Reading the Bible confessionally means recognizing it as a word that is indispensable if we are to view the world realistically and hopefully.  We acknowledge it as a divine word that is uniquely powerful to interpret our experience.  But more, we allow ourselves to be moved by it, trusting it is the one reliable guide to a life that is not, in the last analysis, desperate.  Reading the Bible confessionally means reading it as the church’s Scripture.”  [from The Art of Reading Scripture, 9-10]

Origen of Alexandria to Gregory Thaumaturgus: “Study the Sacred Scriptures!”

“Greeting in God, my most excellent sir, and venerable son Gregory, from Origen. A natural readiness of comprehension, as you well know, may, if practice be added, contribute somewhat to the contingent end, if I may so call it, of that which any one wishes to practise. Thus, your natural good parts might make of you a finished Roman lawyer or a Greek philosopher, so to speak, of one of the schools in high reputation. But I am anxious that you should devote all the strength of your natural good parts to Christianity for your end; and in order to this, I wish to ask you to extract from the philosophy of the Greeks what may serve as a course of study or a preparation for Christianity, and from geometry and astronomy what will serve to explain the sacred Scriptures, in order that all that the sons of the philosophers are wont to say about geometry and music, grammar, rhetoric, and astronomy, as fellow-helpers to philosophy, we may say about philosophy itself, in relation to Christianity.”

“Do you then, my son, diligently apply yourself to the reading of the sacred Scriptures. Apply yourself, I say. For we who read the things of God need much application, lest we should say or think anything too rashly about them. And applying yourself thus to the study of the things of God, with faithful prejudgments such as are well pleasing to God, knock at its locked door, and it will be opened to you by the porter, of whom Jesus says, To him the porter opens. And applying yourself thus to the divine study, seek aright, and with unwavering trust in God, the meaning of the holy Scriptures, which so many have missed. Be not satisfied with knocking and seeking; for prayer is of all things indispensable to the knowledge of the things of God. For to this the Saviour exhorted, and said not only, Knock, and it shall be opened to you; and seek, and you shall find, but also, Ask, and it shall be given unto you. My fatherly love to you has made me thus bold; but whether my boldness be good, God will know, and His Christ, and all partakers of the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. May you also be a partaker, and be ever increasing your inheritance, that you may say not only, We have become partakers of Christ, but also partakers of God.”  [Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe.]

Irenaeus of Lyons and Christological Reading of the Bible

Posted in Reading the Bible as Scripture, Theological Interpretation by Bacho on March 30, 2011

The dominant mode of exegesis in the Early Church was to read the Bible christologically.  What does that mean?  The lens of Christ’s incarnation, life, crucifixion, and resurrection allowed them to read the entire Bible with Jesus as the key figure that stood in the center of the text.  The words of Irenaeus, the second century Bishop of Lyons are instructive here, “If one carefully reads the Scripture, he will find there the word on the subject of Christ- de Christo sermonem– and the prefiguration of the new calling.  he is indeed the hidden treasure in the field- the field in fact is the world- but in truth, the hidden treasure in the Scriptures is Christ.  because he is designed by types and words that humanly are not possible to understand before the accomplishment of all things, that is, Christ’s parousia.”  [quoted in Christopher Alan Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers , 192]

Jon Levenson: Historical Criticism as a Tyrant, Parasite or Tradition

Here are few exerpts from Jon Levenson’s book The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism: Jews and Christians in Biblical Studies.  By the way: this book is a must read for anyone trying to read the Bible as Scripture:

“Even the most antireligious among biblical scholars must face this paradoxical reality: the vitality of their rather untraditional discipline has historically depended upon the vitality of traditional religious communities, Jewish and Christian.”  [110]

“The belief that the meaning of religious phenomena is available only to the outside observer is a secular analogue to religious revelation.  If so, then a system of thought like historicism, which “exempts itself from its own verdict”, is a secular equivalent to fundamentalism.  For though it subjects all else to critique, it asserts axiomatically its own inviolability to critique.”  [117]

“Historical criticism will not only have to surrender the positivistic notion of critical autonomy and recognize itself as a tradition.  It will also have to recognize that it corresponds to a community of interpretation.  It is a very special kind, however, one dependent upon other communities of interpretation for the very object of its inquiry and, historically if not necessarily, for its motivation as well.  Historical critics thus constitute a secondary community; they engage in second-order reflection upon the primary language of the religious communities they study.”  [123]

Richard Hays: Five Features of Paul’s Hermeneutics

Posted in Hermeneutics, Reading the Bible as Scripture, Richard Hays by Bacho on March 28, 2011

As I mentioned earlier I am going to post a series of gems that I stumble upon as I work my way through RIchard Hays’ The Conversion of the Imagination.

At the opening of the book Richard Hays does a superb job outlining few broad features that are characteristic of Paul’s approach to the reading of the Scriptures:

First, Hays highlights the pastoral context of Paul’s reading of Scripture.  He writes, “His readings are not merely flights of imaginative virtuosity; rather, they seek to shape the identity and actions of a community called by God to be the bearers of grace.  The conversion of the imagination that Paul seeks is not merely the spiritual enlightenment of individuals but rather the transformed consciousness of the community of the faithful.”  [xv-xvi]

Second, Paul’s reading of Scripture has a poetic character to it.  Hays writes, “He finds in Scripture a rich source of image and metaphor that enables him to declare with power what God is doing in the world in his own time.  He reads the Bible neither as a historian nor as a systematic theologian but as a poetic preacher who discerns analogical correspondence between the scriptural story and the gospel that he proclaims.”  [xvi]

Three, Hays points out the narrative mode of Paul’s engagement with the text.  “It is not for him merely a repository of isolated proof texts; rather, it is a saga of God’s election, judgment, and redemption of a people through time.  Paul sees the church that has come into being in his own day as the heir of that vast ancient story and the remarkable fulfillment of the promises made to Israel.”  [xvi]

Four, Paul reads the scripture with an eschatological mindset. “The fulfillment of those promises has taken an entirely unexpected turn because of the world-shattering apocalyptic event of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus.  When he rereads Israel’s Scripture retrospectively, Paul finds prefigurations of this revelatory event- which nevertheless came as a total surprise to Israel and continues to function as a stumbling block for those who do not believe.  Once the Scripture are grasped in light of this hermeneutical key, their pervasively eschatological character comes into focus.”  [xvi]

Fifth, Paul reads the Scripture with the hermeneutic of trust.  “He believes that Scripture discloses a God who loves us and can be trusted, in his righteousness, to his promises and to save us.  Thus, he always comes to the reading of Israel’s Scripture with the expectation that what he will find there is a word of deep grace.”  [xvi]

Richard B. Hays: Paul’s Model of Exegesis vs. “Kids, don’t do this at home!”

Posted in Hermeneutics, Reading the Bible as Scripture, Richard Hays by Bacho on March 27, 2011

Apostle Paul’s interpretation of the Old Testament has been a challenge for the modern readers of his letters.  I remember one of my profs making an off-hand comment while we were working through the Greek text of Paul’s letter to the Romans, “Kids, don’t do this at home.  You will not get an A for this kind of exegesis.”  Richard Hays has been one of leading voices trying to make sense of Paul as interpreter of Israel’s Scripture.  I recently came to his book The Conversion of the Imagination which seeks to “come to grips with one of the most brilliant and provocative readers of Scripture that Israel’s tradition has ever produced”, namely Apostle Paul.  Hays’ conceptual framework can be summed up in this following quotation, “to link two dimensions of Paul’s thought that are often set in artificial antithesis to one another: narrative continuity with Israel’s story and radical apocalyptic transformation.  In 1 Corinthians both elements are grounded in Paul’s reading of Israel’s Scripture.  I contend that Paul’s pastoral strategy for reshaping the consciousness of his pagan converts was to narrate them into Israel’s story through metaphorical appropriation of Scripture- and precisely by so doing to teach them to think apocalyptically.”  [xi]  Everything in Pauline hermeneutics seems to flow from this overarching framework.

[Note: stay tuned for some more nuggets from Hays as I work my way through this book.]

Augustine’s words that every PhD student in Biblical Studies should heed

Posted in PhD Research, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on March 27, 2011

“In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received.  In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on the side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines our position, we too fall with it.  We should not battle for our own interpretation but for the teaching of the Holy Scripture.  We should not wish to conform the meaning of Holy Scripture to our interpretation, but our interpretation to the meaning of Holy Scripture.”  [Augustine of Hippo, quoted in Alister E. McGrath, The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion, 119]

Kevin Vanhoozer on Theodrama, Faith, and Discipleship

I just came across this lecture by Kevin Vanhoozer titled Gospel Theater: Rehearsing, Imrpovising, Performing. It is an hour long, but worth every second of your time.   To understand Vanhoozer’s program one needs to grasp few key aspects of it.  First, one needs to be familiar with his metaphors, like metaphors for theology (dramaturgy), Scripture (the script), theological understanding (performance), the church (the company), and the pastor (director). Second, crucial for Vanhoozer is his conviction that doctrine is linked with life.  What does that mean?  For Vanhoozer it means that the the doctrine serves the church by guiding it towards wise living.  In his book The Drama of Doctrine Vanhoozer’s goal is “to convince ministers and laypeople alike not to dismiss doctrine as irrelevant, and to encourage theologians not to neglect the needs of the church. It aims to make the pastoral lamb lie down with the theological lion. Its goal is to refute, once and for all, the all-too-common dichotomy between doctrine and real life. Christian doctrine directs us in the way of truth and life and is therefore no less than a prescription for reality” (xii)  It is towards this end that he coins the term theodrama. Under that large rubric he understands the Church as an arena where the gospel is improvised and lived out.  The Scripture is seen as a script to be performed, faithfully, leisurely, and imaginatively.  Discipleship is envisioned as improvisation.

NOTE: this lecture was a part of the the Page Lectures at Southeastern Seminary, Nov. 10-11, 2009, titled “Doing Faith: Seeking (and Showing) Understanding in Company with Christ.”