Reading Isaiah as Christian Scripture

Tony Clark on the Nature of the Revelation of God

Posted in Hermeneutics, Karl Barth, Reviews by Bacho on August 16, 2010

Tony Clark, Divine Revelation and Human Practice: Responsive and Imaginative Inspiration (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co, 2010)

I will be reviewing this book for RRT. Here are few excerpts that caught my eye so far…

“The revelation of God is not God’s answer to the religious questioning of humanity.  In revelation humanity is confronted with the reality of God.  This confrontation is God’s decision and God’s act, and there is no possibility of such a revelation for humanity apart from this decision and act of God.”  [2]

“Revelation is not a commodity that passes from God to the person; it is the reality of God that becomes present to the person.  It is an event.”  [3]

“The knowledge of God is known in the event of God making himself known.  Apart from this event, there is neither knowledge of God, nor knowledge that there is no knowledge of God.”  [10]

Karl Barth and The Word of God

Mark I. Wallace, The Second Naivete: Barth, Ricoeur, and the New Yale Theology (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1995)

Reading Wallace’s book I am struck by how crucial for Barth is notion of the Bible as the Word of God.  It is here that everything hangs in balance.  Wallace would go so far as state, “To understand Barth’s theological hermeneutic, one must first grasp his doctrine of the Word of God.  This category not only provides the foundation for his hermeneutic but also the main support for his theological project as a whole.”  [3]

Both Barth’s theology and his hermeneutics find their entry point in this center, “Barth’s theology seeks to be theonomously governed by its free submission to the Word of God- the “center” of Christian theology that “is not something under our control, but something which exercises control over us.”  The focal point of his theology is a nonsystematic “center” that has the capacity to decenter and reorient our expectations as to how it should normatively function in Christian dogmatics.”  [4]  Crucial factor in Barth is that he never seeks to authenticate his claim of the Bible as the Word of God by any external measure, “Barth never seeks to demonstrate the reliability of the Bible as a form for the Word of God because he axiomatically presumes Scripture to be a faithful witness to the divine event.  “We will not ask: why the Bible? and look for external grounds and reasons.  We will leave it to the Bible itself…to vindicate itself by what takes place [in it].”  [5]  As any other classic the Bible has a certain “acquired authority,” even though there is no empirical test or measure by which the reliability of this authority can be conclusively demonstrated.  According to Wallace, “Only those who accept this axiom and have been “gripped” by the biblical subject matter can adequately interpret Scripture.  If the Bible claims to be revelatory, then it should be read as such and interpreted accordingly.  Barth acknowledges the circularity of this claim, but maintains that without the operative presupposition that the Bible mediates the Word of God no sound hermeneutic can be sustained.”  [5]

Wallace would offer the following summary, “This, then, is the fiduciary component of Barth’s hermeneutic: Scripture is trusted because in the past and the present it has functioned as a faithful witness to the divine reality by virtue of its role as God’s Word written.”  [5]

Text to Praxis: Review of Abraham Kuruvilla’s new book

Posted in Hermeneutics, Reviews, Theological Interpretation by Bacho on July 23, 2010

I just finished editing my review of Abraham Kuruvilla’s new book titled Text to Praxis. It will appear along with three other reviews in the next issue of Reviews in Religion and Theology. The book is an edited version of Kuruvilla’s PhD thesis that he wrote under Francis Watson at Aberdeen University.  He leans heavily on Wittgenstein and Ricoeur in formulating his methodology.  It is a valiant effort in bringing the worlds of critical study in the academia and preaching in the Church together.  Here is a quote that sums up his approach:

“The Christian community claims that through its canonical Scripture, such a new world is proclaimed and projected- a world that is significant and singular, a world into which God’s people are beckoned to enter.  The textual corpus in toto projects the world in front of the text; thus Scripture as a whole projects a canonical world.  In this schema, individual texts within the canon depict facets or segments of that canonical world, with genres providing as it were, windows to that world that is projected, framing ways of comprehending the world, and directing ways of responding to that world” (30).

My review of “Canonical Theism” is on-line at RRT

Posted in PhD Research, Reviews by Bacho on June 30, 2010

My review of Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology and the Church is on-line.  Feel free to check out the current addition of RRT.  It is filed in Theology, Ethics, and Philosophy section.

I found this book pretty intriguing.  Here is a snippet from my review that gives a sense of my thoughts on it,

“Though the Canonical Theism proposal might not turn out to be a silver bullet for reconfiguring a church for 21st century, it does offer resources for taking first, albeit tentative steps into the future.  We must applaud these scholars for producing a rich repository of first-rate material.  While not being the first to voice concerns for the renewal of the church, this collection provides intellectual stimulus and theological depth.  Whether this project gets a wholesale buy-in from the church at large there is plenty of serious thoughts to ponder and implement.”

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.

John Barton on Ethics in Isaiah

In his article titled Ethics in the Book of Isaiah John Barton [Oriel and Laing Professor of the interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford]  traces the shift that has taken place in last few decades towards the final form of Isaiah.  He sees this as both a trend and reasonably justified move based on recent redactional analysis.  Barton argues that, “In practice theories about the book’s growth tend to be strongly correlated with theories about what will make an appropriate style of exegesis, and there is often a certain circularity about this.”  Yet this is not just a fad.  In Williamson’s “brilliant study” he finds a historical justification for a final-form approach.  Barton’s approach is worth quoting at length, “I would not want to go so far as to say that the book of Isaiah is a literary and theological unity: I do not find I can ignore what seem to me obvious dislocations, and signs of complex growth.  But what has been presented here, even if only some of it is correct, seems to be enough to dismiss any idea of the book as a purely adventitious grouping of unrelated oracles.  Just as there is a “deuteronomic/deuteronomistic” flavour to some books, which we can learn to recognize, so there is an “Isaianic” flavour in this collection which transcends probably multiple authorship of its various sections.”

Barton’s inquiry into the “Isaianic flavour” is centered around the issue of ethics in the book of Isaiah.  He builds on his previous research by identifying three distinct areas of Isaiah of Jerusalem and then correlates them with the rest of the text.  First, Barton identifies the issue of “social justice.”  Oppression of the poor and miscarriage of justice are “strongly concentrated in Isaiah and presented as a single and outrageous whole.”  Closely linked with this issue is the condemnation of the political leadership that is chastised for fostering there social evils and wrongheaded attitudes in the realm of international politics.  Barton’s analysis of the rest of the corpus finds little evidence of the Isaianic influence in the realm of social oppression as this theme is prevalent in most of the prophets.  The situation is different with Isaiah’s political message.  He finds striking echoes of Isaiah’s message of trust and quietness in Deutero-Isaiah.

Second, Barton traces Isaiah’s interest in the attitudes of his audience.  He focuses on the themes of human pride and humility coupled with the issue of human folly that give Isaiah’s overarching vision of society.  He writes, “Isaiah’s vision of society is one of a stable, aristocratic state, in which the poor are protected by an attitude of noblesse oblige on the part of the ruling classes, and property-owning males are given their “rightful” pre-eminence.  Humility towards God goes hand in hand with respect for the long-established orders of society.”

Third, Barton explores the belief in a moral order built into the fabric of the world that in many ways resembles the modern notion of “natural law.”  He sees the supremacy of YHWH as Isaiah’s most cherished belief.  Isaiah is guided by the notion that YHWH is the de jure ruler who possesses absolute power and demands supreme reverence.  Exploring this ethical point in non-Isaiah portions Barton concludes, “The distinctly Isaianic approach to ethics involves tracing ethical obligation to its highest source, which lies in the supremacy of God, from whom all good and all power derives, and doing, saying, and thinking nothing which might derogate from that supremacy.  No other part of the Old testament quite captures this vision, but every part of the book of Isaiah does.”

Lawrence Boadt on Reading the Bible as Christian Scripture

Two thoughts were intriguing in Lawrence Boadt’s article “The Poetry of Prophetic Persuasion: Preserving the Prophet’s Persona” in CBQ 59:1-21

First, Boadt writes about the unique role of Biblical texts as sources of the sacred for those in the communities of faith.  He writes, “Discussions will continue passionately over the value and legitimacy of various interpretive principles and strategies, but one has to question whether biblical exegetes can be entirely at ease with methods that involve significant loss of historical perspective on texts.  This especially true for those involved directly in the interpretive task of the communities of biblical faith.  Biblical texts are not just texts; they are in a special category for interpreters because of their historical origins, their claim to divine revelation, their role as a source of the sacred for readers, their ecclesial owners who hold them as official canons of defines communities of faith, and the specific history of their interpretation and use.  The fact that this type of text is sacred suggests that its interpretation must be done in constant dialogue with its purpose and situation at all levels of its growth, from original prophet, through redactors, to canonizers.” [3]

Second, Boadt highlights the unique nature of Biblical texts as embedded texts.  he writes, “Also, because these books are part of the sacred canon of communities of faith, prophetic texts are not texts “in themselves” alone but are embedded texts which of their very nature testify, celebrate, proclaim, and seek to persuade hearers of the religious truths of a historical experience that has grown and has been fashioned and further interpreted within a specific set of religious convictions and presuppositions.  To neglect this essential characteristic of the Bible as Bible threatens to reduce its authority to the same level as that of Dante or Shakespeare.”  [4]

Relationship Between The Creed and the Scripture

I just finished working on my review of Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology and the Church edited by William J. Abraham, Jason E. Vickers and Natalie B. Van Kirk for Reviews in Religion and Theology.  Very intriguing read.  Feel free to check out their next issue for my full review.  Here is one excerpt that intrigued me:

“The creed is integral to scripture as a properly functioning nervous system is integral to the health of a human organism.  Those who undercut a vital connection between scripture and the creed, usually end up discarding for a variety of historical, philosophical, theological, political, and ideological reasons significant portions of scripture.  Such a scholar is like a person who stumbles upon a beautiful garden of canonical heritage, tears out all the flowers but one-scripture- and then proceeds to peel off the petals of that flower until she is left with a bare stem or nothing at all in her hands.  She then looks at the remains and marvels at the fact that they bear on resemblance to the garden in front of her!  Canonical Theism is an invitation to cultivate the garden, not to pluck out the flowers.  Canonical theism is a proposal to undo the damage made by canonical minimalists who reduce the canonical heritage to one normative principle and then proceed to create even narrower canons within the remaining canon.”  [40]

Kathryn Greene-McCreight on The Rule of Faith

Kathryn Greene-McCreight (Ph.D., Yale University) is an advising pastor in the seminarian intern program at Yale Divinity School and assistant rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Haven, Connecticut. Her books include Ad Litteram: How Augustine, Calvin and Barth Read the Plain Sense of Genesis 1-3; Feminist Reconstructions of Christian Doctrine and Darkness is My Only Companion.

Greene-McCreight has written an excellent article on The Rule of Faith in the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible.  It is a great strating place for anyone interested in this topic.

First, she gives several examples of the Rule of Faith in the patristic writings.  She writes, “We can find early kernels of the Rule of Faith, which expand upon NT statements about Jesus and his relation to the Father, in Ignatius’ Letter to the Ephesians and Letter to the Trallians, and in Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians. References to and longer summaries of the Rule of Faith can be found in Tertullian’s Veiling of Virgins, where we see the similarities between the Rule of Faith and the creeds…[and in his] the Prescription against the Heretics.

Second, Greene-McGreight points to Irenaeus’ illustartion that shows the relationship between the Rule of Faith and the Scripture.  She writes, “Irenaeus illustrates the relationship between the Rule of Faith and Scripture by using the metaphor of a mosaic [Against the Heretics 3.4.1], which can be arranged to form a portrait of a king or that of a dog.  In the ancient world, unassambled mosaics were shipped with a pan or key [hypothesis] according to which they were to be arranged.  The Rule of Faith is like the key, he says, which explains how the Scriopture are to be arranged, to render the portrait of the King, whereas the heretics arrange the Scritoures wrongly to form the poicture of a dog or fox.  Thus, the Rule of Faith assures a correct reading of Scripture, indeed a christological reading [in accordance with the “King”].”

Third, Greene-McCreight gives a helpful description of the Rule’s place in biblical interpretation.  She writes, “The Rule of Faith thus functions hermeneutically to hold together theologically the confessions of God the Creator and jesus Christ the Son, and thus also to bring together in a dialectical relation the two Testaments.  the Rule is thus a basic “take” on the subject matter and plot of the Christian story, which couples the confession of Jesus the redeemer with the confession of God the Creator, and thus “rules out” heretical statements that do not honor the content of the Rule…Thus, it circumscribes a potential set of interpretations while disallowing others.”

Steven Fowl on Theological Interpretation

I have been reading Steven Fowl’s excellent new book Theological Interpretation of Scripture. Written by one of the key participants in the current academic dialog, it is a great primer for anyone trying to enter into the realm of reading the Bible as Christian Scripture.  Here are few thoughts that have stood out to me.

First, Fowl reflects on the nature and  role of Scripture.  He writes, “Scripture is a gift from the triune God that both reflects and fits into God’s desire to bring us into ever deeper fellowship with God and each other.”  This claim flows out of Fowl’s assertion that “the end or telos of the Christian life is ever deeper communion with God and each other.”  [13]

Second, based on this assertion of Scripture as a gift, Fowl insists that Christians are called “to interpret, debate, pray over, and embody Scripture as a way of advancing toward their true end of ever deeper fellowship with God and each other.”  [14]

Third, based on these two thoughts about the nature of Scripture and its role in God’s ongoing drama of salvation, Fowl offers his  understanding of theological interpretation of Scripture, “Theological interpretation of Scripture will involve those habits, dispositions, and practices that Christians bring to their varied engagements with Scripture in ways that will enhance their journey toward their proper end in God.”  [14]