Quote of the Day

Right now I’m doing some research on the nature of wisdom in Solomon’s judgment over the case of the two women claiming the same baby. I came across this great quote from Richard Briggs:

Complaints against the supposition that this is a paradigm of wise judgment have come thick and fast from various quarters, including the rabbis, some feminist critics, and most memorably, Mark Twain. We shall take our cue from Mark Twain, if only because he is generally more fun than most scholars (83).

Richard Briggs, The Virtuous Reader, Baker Academic 2010.

Hermeneutics and the Eternal Generation of the Son

In two weeks I’ll be presenting a paper with the same title as this blog post at the Southeast Regional meeting of ETS in Birmingham, AL. I’m also presenting the same paper at the ETS Far West Regional meeting in LA in April. I’ve never presented the same paper at two different conferences, so it will be interesting to get feedback in Birmingham and then tweak (rewrite?) the paper for the April conference. I was only planning on presenting in LA, but I’ll take any excuse to go to Sweet Home Alabama and get some good BBQ.

Here’s a paragraph from my introduction explaining my aim and thesis:

This paper seeks to explore and compare the hermeneutical presuppositions and methods of, on the one hand, early Christian interpreters who saw the doctrine of eternal generation taught in Proverbs 8 and, on the other hand, modern interpreters[1] who do not see the doctrine here. What makes the difference in interpretation? It is surely not exegetical rigor – both the pre-modern and modern interpreters have rigorously explored the text with every available interpretive tool.[2] And in the not uncommon case that one assumes modern exegesis is more rigorous and scientific than pre-modern interpretation, it should be noted here that modern commentators cannot come to an agreement on the passage’s meaning, either as a whole or in determining what specific verbs mean (e.g. qana, v. 25). This is in spite of a general commitment to a method (historical-critical, or its close cousin, historical-grammatical for evangelicals) and a conclusion – the passage does not teach eternal generation.[3] In other words, the issue has to lie elsewhere, and I propose here that the difference between those who affirm eternal generation, both in Proverbs 8 and elsewhere, and those who deny it is their theological and hermeneutical foundations. This paper will compare and contrast the aforementioned interpreters’ approaches in order to demonstrate that this is indeed the case.


[1] In using the term “modern” I mean post-Enlightenment, which includes both modern and postmodern readers. While the latter tend to eschew the objectivism and scientific positivism with which moderns approach the text, postmodern readers still tend to retreat to modernistic exegetical methods in their interpretation.

[2] Thus this paper is not an exegetical defense of eternal generation from Proverbs 8, but rather an argument that those who see the doctrine taught here have legitimate theological and interpretive rationales for doing so.

[3] One notable exception is Richard M. Davidson, “Proverbs 8 and the Place of Christ in the Trinity,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 17.1 (2006): 33–54, but even here it should be noted that he does not use the language of eternal generation but only hypostatization. His focus is more on the incarnation language in the passage than on the relationships between the persons of the immanent Trinity. See also Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm., “Wisdom and Creation,” JBL 104.1 (1985): 3–11.

Athanasius and Proverbs 8

Right now I’m researching the hermeneutical foundations for the patristic and medieval use of Proverbs 8 to support the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. One of the essays I’ve been working through for the last few days is Luise Abramowski’s “Das Theologische Hauptwerk Des Athanasius.”[1] My German is below poor, so I hope I’m understanding Abramowski correctly, but what I take the article to be saying is that a number of hermeneutical principles worked together to allow Athanasius to understand Proverbs 8:22-31 as teaching eternal generation.

  1. John 1:14, 16, etc. necessitate seeing Jesus as the divine embodiment of wisdom. In other words, Athanasius begins with the assumption that Jesus as the Logos is enfleshed Wisdom, and therefore that Wisdom must not be a creature (as the Logos is not a creature).
  2. This means that Proverbs 8:22-31 cannot refer to Wisdom as a creature.
  3. The genre of Proverbs, as paroimia, should be understood as either “Sprichwort” (Latin, proverbium; “proverb”) or “Gleichnis” (“likeness,” “allegory,” “parable”). In other words, the tentative nature of the language and message of Proverbs should give the reader pause before proceeding with any definitive interpretation, even of individual words.
  4. Regarding ktizein, there are verbal parallels that suggest it can mean something other than ontological creation (e.g. Prov. 9:1).
  5. It is important for Athanasius to identify the “person” speaking in each verse, and especially between the pre-incarnate Logos and the incarnate Christ (e.g. v. 22 vs. v. 25).
  6. Related to this last point, Athanasius found it highly important to understand individual passages in light of their placement in and reference to the biblical storyline, especially as it relates to the Word becoming flesh.

All of this led Athanasius to reject Arian subordinationism from this passage and turn to eternal generation as the alternative interpretive solution. I’m not sure what I’ll do with that yet, but I do find it interesting that, at least in my opinion, Athanasius seems to be operating with some fairly standard interpretive principles: pay attention to genre and context, pay attention to the biblical narrative, and pay attention to textual details and parallels. The one principle that I think gets people nervous nowadays is that Athanasius starts with the assumption that the NT (e.g. Hebrews 1) interprets Proverbs 8 as it was originally intended. Modern interpreters tend to prefer to isolate Proverbs 8 (or any OT passage) from its reception history, and especially NT reception. I’ll refrain from commenting on that, for now at least.


[1] Luise Abramowski, “Das Theologische Hauptwerk Des Athanasius: Die Drei Bücher Gegen Die Arianer (Ctr. Arianos I-III),” Communio Viatorum 42.1 (2000): 5-23.

Resources for Theological Interpretation

I’m reading and writing on theological interpretation of Scripture at the moment, and I want to make sure I’m covering all my bases. Below is a list of books dealing with the subject; I’m going to try and compile a list of articles later. I’ve organized them by a) books specifically about TIS, b) hermeneutics books that directly deal with TIS or TIS issues, c) biblical theology books that directly deal with TIS or TIS issues, d) dogmatics texts on the doctrine of Scripture, and e) history of interpretation texts that assist in the ressourcement of premodern interpretive methods. Sometimes these divisions are rather arbitrary, as many of these books deal with at least two if not more of these categories. Nevertheless, here they are.

What am I missing here?

TIS Texts

Adam, A. K. M., Stephen Fowl, Kevin  Vanhoozer, and Francis Watson. Reading Scripture with the church: toward a hermeneutic for theological interpretation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2006.

Bartholomew, Craig G., Colin J. D. Greene, and Karl Möller. Renewing biblical interpretation. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press ;, 2000.

Billings, J. Todd. The Word of God for the people of God: an entryway to the theological interpretation of Scripture. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2010.

Bockmuehl, Markus N. A.. Seeing the Word: refocusing New Testament study. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2006.

Bockmuehl, Markus N. A., and Alan J. Torrance. Scripture’s doctrine and theology’s Bible: how the New Testament shapes Christian dogmatics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008.

Farkasfalvy, Denis M.. Inspiration & interpretation: a theological introduction to Sacred Scripture. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2010.

Fowl, Stephen E.. The theological interpretation of Scripture: classic and contemporary readings. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1997.

Fowl, Stephen E.. Engaging scripture: a model for theological interpretation. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1998.

Fowl, Stephen E.. Theological interpretation of scripture. Eugene, Or.: Cascade Books, 2009.

Green, Joel B.. Practicing theological interpretation: engaging biblical texts for faith and formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2011.

Levering, Matthew. Participatory Biblical exegesis: a theology of Biblical interpretation. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.

Treier, Daniel J.. Introducing theological interpretation of Scripture: recovering a Christian practice. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J., Craig G. Bartholomew, Daniel J. Treier, and N. T. Wright. Dictionary for theological interpretation of the Bible. London: SPCK ;, 2005.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J., Daniel J. Treier, and N. T. Wright. Theological interpretation of the New Testament: a book-by-book survey. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J.. Theological interpretation of the Old Testament: a book-by-book survey. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008.

Watson, Francis. Text, church, and world: biblical interpretation in theological perspective. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994.

 

Hermeneutics Texts

Leithart, Peter J.. Deep exegesis: the mystery of reading Scripture. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2009.

Smith, James K. A.. The fall of interpretation: philosophical foundations for a creational hermeneutic. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J.. Is there a meaning in this text?: the Bible, the reader, and the morality of literary knowledge. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1998.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J.. The drama of doctrine: a canonical-linguistic approach to Christian theology. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.

 

Biblical Theology Texts

Bartholomew, Craig G., and Elaine Botha. Out of Egypt: biblical theology and biblical interpretation. Bletchley, Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster Press ;, 2004.

Bartholomew, Craig G., Joel B. Green, and Anthony C. Thiselton. Reading Luke: interpretation, reflection, formation. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster Press ;, 2005.

Bartholomew, Craig G.. Canon and biblical interpretation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006.

Watson, Francis. Text and truth: redefining biblical theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1997.

 

Dogmatics Texts

Swain, Scott R.. Trinity, revelation, and reading: a theological introduction to the Bible and its interpretation. London: T&T Clark, 2011.

Webster, J. B.. Word and church: essays in Christian dogmatics. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2001.

Webster, John. Holy Scripture: a dogmatic sketch. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

 

History of Interpretation Texts

Hall, Christopher A.. Reading scripture with the church Fathers. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Keefe, John J., and Russell R. Reno. Sanctified vision: an introduction to early Christian interpretation of the Bible. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Lubac, Henri de. Medieval exegesis: the four senses of Scripture. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. ;, 1998.

Doctrine and Interpretation

What is the relationship between doctrine and interpretation, specifically in terms of the former’s influence over the latter?

I’ve recently finished Scott Swain’s Trinity, Revelation, and Reading, and am currently reading Kevin Giles’ The Eternal Generation of the Son. Here are there answers:

Swain says,

Church dogma, we might say, is a sign of Christ’s victory through Word and Spirit within the common mind of the church. It is for this reason an ancient landmark that should not be moved.

To the extent, therefore, that the church’s dogmatic deliverances are indeed faithful summaries of the scope, shape, and substance of scriptural teaching, their use in interpretation does not constitute the imposition of an external burden or alien standard upon the interpreter of Holy Scripture. Church dogmas provide instead a divinely authorized interpretive key for unlocking the treasures of God’s word, a blessed pathway into Holy Scripture.

Giles similarly states,

What we must recognize is that there is no reading of Scripture apart from a communal understanding of it, apart from tradition. The question is not, do I accept that my communally held beliefs inform my exegesis or not – they unquestionably do – but, which communal beliefs will I prioritize? . . .the best tradition to inform our interpretation of Scripture is what the best of theologians across the centuries have taught, especially when it is codified in the creeds and confessions of our church.

What do you think? Do, and perhaps more importantly should, the three ecumenical creeds or the seven ecumenical councils have any bearing on our interpretation? What about more contemporary confessions?

Reader-Response Criticism and Theological Interpretation

I have to admit that when I first came across Reader-Response Criticism in seminary I was skeptical about what insights could be gained from such a method. My experience has been that even when a method is agreed upon by readers agreement of a text’s meaning is still harder to come by. This has led me to be more open towards reader-response when such readings are done along the grain of the text. I think Robin Parry captures this well in his short essay in the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baker Academic 2006):

Christians can concede that different acts of reading are undertaken with different goals in mind and that theological interpretation is not the only goal a Bible-reader, even a Christian Bible-reader, may have. For instance, I may read Scripture in order to attempt a historical reconstruction of the events narrated, or to explore the gender relations encoded in the text. Such differing goals will yield different results and must be judged by criteria relevant to their goal. For the Christian, theological interpretation is the supreme goal for Bible-reading, and it too has its own rules of assessment (canonical context, the Rule of Faith, the gospel, etc.). Faith will also guide Christians in discerning which other goals may be legitimate subservient Christian projects (e.g., discerning a text’s redaction history) and which produce inappropriate ways of handling Holy Scripture (e.g., materialist interpretations) (661).

Old Testament Law and Living Biblically

Christopher Wright has an article over at Christianity Today on reading Old Testament law and the Christian life. The starting place for his article are two recent books: A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible and Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood which show how clueless many of us can be when thinking about how Scripture speaks today. In his article, Wright provides some helpful ways for us to think about how law still functions as Christian Scripture. My favourite line from the article:

The idea that all the imperative statements in the Bible should be taken literally, as if they all apply to me, is a nonsensical way of handling Scripture.

You can read the whole article here.

Typology in Chronicles

Image via Amazon.com

Image via Amazon.com

I’m currently reading Scott Hahn’s masterful work on Chronicles, The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire: A Theological Commentary on 1-2 Chronicles (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012). Hahn so far has exhibited exegetical acumen (working both the MT and LXX), historical awareness, and theological brilliance. I realize this glowing description may seem to be so positive that it loses it’s value, but in my opinion it’s just that good. It’s worth its weight in whatever currency you currently carry.

One interpretive tool that Hahn uses par excellence is typology. Although the quotes below are lengthy, I think that his descriptions here may be the best descriptions of typology I’ve read. They take into account not only the historical pattern of events divinely orchestrated by YHWH, but also the conscious intertextual links between the OT authors’ descriptions of these events throughout the biblical canon.

The Chronicler’s history represents a deep reading of the canon of Israel’s scripture. Beginning in the Torah and continuing through the historical and prophetic books of the Nevi’im, as well as the liturgical and Wisdom literature of the Ketuvim, the Hebrew canon is filled with examples of inner-biblical exegesis. Later texts rewrite, comment upon, or reinterpret earlier ones; new situations and people are understood and characterized by analogy to earlier texts.

. . . Like any good historian, the Chronicler provides a record of past figures, places, and events; but his accounting is written in such a way that these figures, places, and events often appear as types – signs, patterns,and precursors – intended to show his readers not only the past but also their present reality from God’s perspective (6).

And again, reflecting on Paul’s note in 1 Cor. 10:11 that OT history “was written down for our instruction”:

“. . . the entire tradition of scripture was written for the instruction of [the Chronicler's] audience. Indeed, the Chronicler’s patterns of inner-biblical interpretation made perfect sense to Jesus and the apostolic church; Chronicles might even be read as a workshop in biblical theology for the New Testament writers: we find operative in Chronicles many of the interpretive principles that become normative for the New Testament writer’s use of the Old Testament (64).

Hahn seems to me to be exactly right. Typology correctly understood is not an a-textual phenomenon, but instead a (the?) method the OT writers used to interpret contemporary events in light of previous Scripture. This method was used again by the NT authors, and it is especially seen in the Gospels, where Jesus is presented as a new Moses, David, Elijah, and Adam (among others). Thus, as Hahn continues to note throughout his commentary, the Chronicler uses Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moriah, Sinai, the ark, Moses, and other OT people and events to help his readers understand his subject, namely David and God’s covenant with him. And, as he points out through continually demonstrating inner-biblical allusions, this is a textually warranted approach.

Sex, Beauty, and Songs

Today at the Gospel Coalition Andrew Shanks posted an article on the difference between Song of Solomon and erotica literature. Shanks points out that while Songs wants to celebrate marital love and beauty as expressed in human sexuality, erotica merely wants to celebrate and exploit sexuality.

I appreciate Andrew’s points there, and I hope this post doesn’t come across as me too harshly critiquing a fellow brother. But this post, and my reference to Andrew’s, are about much more than either of us individually. Instead, this post for me is about how evangelicals continue to read the Song of Solomon as not much more than a Christianized Kama Sutra. In my estimation it still seems like we are, as Christian readers of Songs, lowering the bar on the ultimate meaning of the book. Looking back to my series on theological method, Andrew’s article, along with much of evangelicalism, leaves out the bigger and more important hermeneutical question of how Songs points us to Christ and his gospel. I would say that perhaps Andrew merely wanted to focus on another aspect of Songs, not the primary one of pointing to Christ, but he makes this statement towards the beginning: “In his Song, Solomon’s primary goal is to describe love and beauty” (emphasis mine). This is commonplace in evangelicalism (think Driscoll’s sermons on the book). For many of us, Songs is primarily about the beauty of marriage, the intimate and physical connection that consummates it, the way to handle difficulty before and during it, etc. Don’t get me wrong – each of those things is important. Andrew’s point is important. Many other evangelical teachers’ points, that the book gives us a picture of what marriage ought to be and that we ought to emulate it, are important. But in my understanding these are neither the divine nor human author’s primary goals in any book of Scripture, including Songs. Rather, the Spirit’s, and through the inspiration of the Spirit the human author’s, primary goal is to show us Christ so that through seeing him we might see the Father. And it is only by seeing the Son in the power of the Spirit that we can then move on to understanding the implications for ethical living in areas like marriage and sexuality.

The human author of Songs actually gives us clues that he is talking about much more than beauty, sex, and marriage by making explicit textual connections and allusions to Davidic, Temple, Garden, eschatological, and Lady Wisdom language elsewhere in Scripture. This is highly charged OT language – it encompasses the major facets of OT eschatological hope. It gives us a picture of the wise king and his virtuous bride in a restored garden. It follows the search for a wise king and virtuous woman in the Hebrew Bible order of Psalms, Job, Proverbs, and Ruth. The mystery of marriage is that it a picture of Christ and his Church (Eph. 5:22-32). There are abundant reasons for thinking this book is about much more than beauty or sex. But in the name of the historical-grammatical method, we focus on the physical to the detriment of its spiritual message.

I think we ought to continue to think through the way Songs confronts the sexual ethic (or non-ethic) of our day, as Andrew has. And once again, I am appreciative of that type of work. I think work on the moral sense of Scripture is vitally important. But our understanding and interpretation of Scripture must remember that the primary goal of both the Spirit and the human author is always to point to Christ so that by seeing him we might see the Father and be changed into his image.

 

Textual Method

Well after blogging for four days straight a week and a half ago, an unprecedented blogging feat for me, the law of averages kicked in and I haven’t written my final two posts on method.

I’ll try to get back into the swing of it with this post on textual method.

By textual method I mean that,

Christian interpretation ought to place primacy in hermeneutics on the text itself and not on reconstruction of a provisional, incomplete, finite, and uninspired historical framework.

There are a few things to note here, and I don’t pretend that any of these posts or this outline of method as a whole are complete, but here I want to focus on the locus of interpretation. Modernity has pushed our focus to empirical evidence for everything, including exegesis. Can it be verified? Is your interpretation objective? Are you approaching the exegetical task without bias? As I noted in my previous post on pneumatological method, this arrogance in regard to our ability to objectively approach the text and grind out the correct interpretation is rooted in modernity’s god-like claims of omniscience and comprehensive comprehension of data. This is seen most prominently in how interpretation has shifted from being focused on the actual text to focused on the historical framework constructed around it. Biblical scholars in modernity began constructing vast amounts of historical struts and trellises on which to place the text before they interpreted it. There are, as with any historical event or development, myriads of reasons for this, but primary in my opinion is an Enlightenment distrust of religious texts and especially the inspired nature of the Bible and, therefore, the need to find some other “objective” measure for interpretation besides the (in their mind flawed) text.

Of course for conservative biblical scholars (like myself), the text is still inspired, authoritative, and trustworthy. But evangelical biblical scholarship has capitulated to much of modernity’s methods by adopting many of the tools of the historical-critical approach while rejecting its conclusions about the nature of the Bible. Again, nowhere is this more prevalent than the continued propensity to build historical frameworks on which the text is hung for interpretation.

There are a number of problems with this approach, but the most important are that a) it is a capitulation to modernity’s idolatrous and vainglorious pursuit of “the objective” and b) it shifts interpretation’s focus from the inspired and revelatory biblical text to the uninspired, limited, interpreted, and perspectival historical reconstruction. Christian interpretation ought to be humble in its approach to the text and realize that Christians are given only one enduring form of special revelation by God – Scripture. Historical frameworks are not inspired, and yet they are so often the arbiter of how we approach the text. Should this not be reversed? Shouldn’t we approach our finite historical reconstructions through the lens of God-given and authoritative revelation and not vice versa?

A couple of caveats as I finish here.

  1. This is not to deny the importance of history, and especially the historicity of the text. It seems nonsensical to me to affirm the inspiration of the human authors by the Holy Spirit and then treat the historical verity of their material as unimportant or secondary. No, the biblical authors are claiming something about reality that is rooted in history, and to claim otherwise seems to ignore the biblical authors’ intent in writing their material. The historicity of the text is of utmost importance when we talk about the authority of the Bible (and if you can’t tell by now, I’m an inerrantist; if you didn’t see that coming, you haven’t read much of my blog…).
  2. This is also not to deny the provisional benefit of historical background and worldview reconstruction in interpretation. We ought to, however, greatly mitigate our reliance on that reconstruction in our interpretation of the Bible. The Bible already gives us a worldview – starting in Genesis 1:1 – and many (most?) times it gives us the historical background necessary to understand the author’s message.

For an article on this type of approach, I’d recommend Bruce Ashford and David Nelson, “Meaning, Reference, and Textuality: An Evangelical Appropriation of Hans Frei,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 28/2 (2010): 195-216.