Tuesday 25 May 2010

Aspects of Theological Interpretation 12

[This is the twelfth of twelve posts outlining a number of streams in the current interest in theological interpretation, paying particular attention to recent treatments. For earlier introductions to theological interpretation, see here, here, and here.]

#1 – Its uneasy relationship with historical criticism

#2 – Its disputed overlap with biblical theology

#3 – Its natural affinity with precritical interpretation

#4 – Its noteworthy exemplar in Karl Barth

#5 – Its relative comfort with multiple interpretations

#6 – Its significant emphasis on the role of the community of faith

#7 – Its contested dependence on ‘general’ hermeneutics

#8. Its careful attention to the role of the canon and typology

#9. Its renewed reflection on the doctrine of Scripture

#10. Its increasing interest in reception history

#11. Its undeveloped potential for engaging global concerns and the social locations of interpreters

#12. Its ecumenical appeal and potential for dialogue with ‘people of the book’

Theological interpretation is not an exclusively Protestant phenomenon.

[See Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008), 25-33.]

Studies by Roman Catholic thinkers show an overlap with Protestant emphases, though perhaps some distinctives with respect to claims for the church and tradition (Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation, 31).

Roman Catholic biblical scholars have been calling for more consideration to be given to theological dimensions of biblical interpretation, and for increased dialogue between exegetes and theologians.

[E.g., as a sampling, Carol J. Dempsey and William P. Loewe (eds.), Theology and Sacred Scripture, College Theology Society Annual Volume 47 (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002); Gerald O’Collins and Daniel Kendall, The Bible for Theology: Ten Principles for the Theological Use of Scripture (New York: Paulist, 1997); John Topel, ‘Faith, Exegesis, and Theology’, Irish Theological Quarterly 69, 4 (2004), 337-48.]

Matthew Levering advocates a ‘participatory exegesis’, using Thomas Aquinas as an exemplar.

[Matthew Levering, Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation, Reading the Scriptures (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008); cf. also his ‘Principles of Exegesis: Toward a Participatory Biblical Exegesis’, Pro Ecclesia 17, 1 (2008), 35-51.]

He self-consciously advocates an approach which involves more than ‘historical-critical research into the linear past’, but also ‘participatory “wisdom-practices” (liturgical, moral, and doctrinal)’ that relate the community of faith to God (Participatory Biblical Exegesis, 14).

Although Eastern Orthodox traditions remain largely unexplored by Protestant scholars, here too is a wealth of reflection on interpreting the Bible in line with its own nature and witness, and in faithfulness to tradition, critical study and the Holy Spirit.

[E.g., John Breck, Scripture in Tradition: The Bible and its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001); Timothy Clark, ‘Recent Orthodox Interpretation of the New Testament’, Currents in Biblical Research 5, 3 (2007), 322-40; Thomas Hopko, ‘The Church, the Bible, and Dogmatic Theology’, in Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (eds.), Reclaiming the Bible for the Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995), 107-18; J.A. McGuckin, ‘Recent Biblical Hermeneutics in Patristic Perspective: The Tradition of Orthodoxy’, Greek Orthodox Theological Review 47, 1-4 (2002), 295-326; T.G. Stylianopoulos, ‘Perspectives in Orthodox Biblical Interpretation’, Greek Orthodox Theological Review 47, 1-4 (2002), 327-38.]

Beyond this is the increasing number of those who recognise the implications for interpretation of the Bible in the context of Christian-Jewish relations.

[Brevard S. Childs, ‘Toward Recovering Theological Exegesis’, Pro Ecclesia 6, 1 (1997), 16-26, at 25-26; ‘The Canon in Recent Studies: Reflections on an Era’, Pro Ecclesia 14, 1 (2005), 26-45, at 40-44; James F. Moore, ‘Re-Envisioning Christianity: A New Era in Christian Theological Interpretation of Christian Texts’, Cross Currents 50, 4 (2001), 437-47.]

Jon Levenson, for instance, notes that both Jews and Christians have until recently been required to put aside their respective faith commitments in order to fall in line with the commitment demanded by the academic guild.

[See the various essays in Jon D. Levenson, The Hebrew Bible, The Old Testament, and Historical Criticism: Jews and Christians in Biblical Studies (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993).]

Jews and Christians have responded in similar ways to this, with their responses suggesting a family of ‘postcritical’ methods for interpreting Scripture.

[See Peter Ochs (ed.), The Return to Scripture in Judaism and Christianity: Essays in Postcritical Scriptural Interpretation, Theological Inquiries (New York: Paulist, 1993), esp. Ochs’ introductory essay, ‘An Introduction to Postcritical Scriptural Interpretation’ (3-51).]

Postcritical scholars might well bring so-called modern methods of inquiry to bear on a text, but deny that these are sufficient. The biblical traditions, they maintain, should not be constrained by the criteria of Enlightenment reasoning. In fact, rules for reading can be seen in the traditions themselves and commentary on them. At one level they appear to be postmodern, in that ‘they emerge out of criticisms of the modern search for sources of individual self-certainty, and they emphasize the communal, dialogic and textual contexts of knowledge and the contributions made by interpreters to the meaning of what they interpret’. At another level, they appear premodern in that they ‘serve the theological and moral purposes of particular traditions of scriptural interpretation’ (Ochs, Preface to Return to Scripture, 1-2).

Worthy of mention in this respect is ‘Scriptural reasoning’, with its origins in a group of Jewish thinkers who sought to bridge gaps between literary scholars, philosophers, and theologians.

[Peter Ochs and Nancy Levene (eds.), Textual Reasonings: Jewish Philosophy and Text Study at the End of the Twentieth Century, Radical Traditions (London: SCM, 2002).]

Scriptural reasoning is a practice in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims meet for common study of their respective Scriptures, many of the results of which are published electronically in Journal of Scriptural Reasoning.

[See also the essays in the special symposium in Modern Theology 22, 3 (2006), reprinted as David F. Ford and C.C. Pecknold (eds.), The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006).]

Groups interpret their Scriptures in dialogue with each other, reflecting on theories of interpretation and the way their respective hermeneutical traditions relate to each other. In such contexts, reading is not only academic (concerned with scholarship, hermeneutics, and theology), and divine, but also ecclesial, and has an interfaith element.

[David F. Ford, ‘Reading Scripture with Intensity: Academic, Ecclesial, Interfaith, and Divine’, Princeton Seminary Bulletin 26, 1 (2005), 23-35; cf. his Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) 273-303.]

In contrast to traditional models of dialogue, which seeks agreement at the level of concepts, this model ‘invites participants to be themselves in pursuing an activity they are all familiar and at home with within the life of their respective religious traditions: the reading of Scripture’.

[Ben Quash, ‘“Deep Calls to Deep”: Reading Scripture in a Multi-Faith Society’, in Andrew Walker and Luke Bretherton (eds.), Remembering Our Future: Explorations in Deep Church (Bletchley: Paternoster, 2007), 108-30, here 114.]

One of the consequences is that ‘the texts open up unexpected meanings for those whose sacred texts they are, even at the same time as participants from the other Abrahamic traditions learn more about a text that is not theirs’ (‘“Deep Calls to Deep”’, 114. ) Alongside reciprocity and hospitality as key marks of Scriptural Reasoning is its character as interrogative (‘“Deep Calls to Deep”’, 117-21, 127). It reads in an interrogative mood, with questions being asked of the text, and of members of the group, where the text is understood to shape those involved in the reading process.

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