Monday, 15 October 2007

"In Accordance with the Scriptures" #2: One possible understanding

What does the Nicene Creed mean when it says, “and the third day he rose again according to the scriptures”? The phrase means: consistent with the plain-sense claims of the Old Testament. So why doesn't the Creed simply say “and he rose again in accordance with the Old Testament”, seeing that the Creed is late enough to presuppose a two-testament canon of scripture? Seitz points out that it is here, more then anywhere else, that we see the exegetical character of the Creed. The phrase is derived from 1 Corinthians 15:4 - 3, where Paul says:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures

Although other lines from the Creed are based on the claims of scripture, both New Testament and Old, this line is a direct quotation. In this sense the line is unique in the Creed, as it quotes from New Testament scripture a confession grounded through Old Testament accordance.

But what does the phrase "and he rose again in accordance with the scriptures" actually mean?

One usual explanation is that the episodes conjoined with the phrase (i.e. Jesus' death, burial, resurrection) were the ones most demanding careful defense in the face of criticism from faithful Jews who claimed that their scriptures spoke otherwise. In the face of a scriptural legacy everywhere seen to be God's very word, the Church was faced with the challenge of what to do with Jesus. In this sort of climate, the Creed asserts that the stickiest moments in the life and ministry of Jesus were fully congruent with the Old Testament and its presentation of the Christ to come. Isaiah 53:5 - 12 had spoken of an expiatory death; Hosea 6:2 and Psalm 16:10 are likewise pressed into service as proof texts from the Old Testament, demonstrations that Jesus' death and raising were "in accordance with the scriptures".

Seitz doesn't dispute this way of understanding the character of scriptural accordance, but he does believe that it is exegetically too narrow and theologically too functional a view of the matter. The problem with the idea that the congruence between Jesus' resurrection and the plain sense of scripture is a matter of collecting scattered proof texts is that it fails to understand what is at stake in Paul's larger argument in 1 Corinthians 15, where the phrases appear.

Stay tuned to find out why!

3 comments:

John C. Poirier said...

Phil,

Thank you for doing this series on Seitz's article. I haven't read this one.

I have a question: You write, "The problem with the idea that the congruence between Jesus' resurrection and the plain sense of scripture is a matter of collecting scattered proof texts is that it fails to understand what is at stake in Paul's larger argument in 1 Corinthians 15, where the phrases appear." I realize that this is Seitz's argument, and not necessarily yours, but how can one square the claim in the above quotation with the evidence supporting the testimony book hypothesis--*viz.* the idea that the verses supporting the kerygma not only were taken out of context, but also were collected and put into a testimony book, which circulated quite separately from the distinct books of the Bible? There is more to the claim that Paul and the others supported the kerygma through prooftexts than just the idea of it--there's also the considerable evidence that there were testimony books, and that Paul (and Luke) used such a book in connection with direct explications of the kerygma. (This evidence is based mostly on the patterns of textual agreement between Pauline prooftexts and the *kaige* text, and the way in which Paul switches from the *kaige* to the LXX in contexts not so exegetically bound to the kerygma.)

Bob MacDonald said...

Phil - I'm staying tuned. Thanks for this stimulus on the Creed and its direct relationship to Scriptures - I had not consciously noticed the direct quotation in spite of all my liturgical writing!

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for your comments, John. I really appreciate having imput from someone who knows far more about this subject than I!

I only have time for a brief answer (I couldn't manage much more anyway). I think Seitz mentioned the option that you have given and called it "one usual explanation". He doesn't go into much detail, just contrasts it as a possibility alongside what he calls "the more general view", namely that of von Campenhausen. To quote: "the problem facing the early church was not what to do with the Old Testament. Rather, in the face of a scriptural legacy everywhere seen to be God's very word, what was one to do with Jesus".

Both of these options are not particularly judged, as far as I can see (though it is clear that Seitz favors the second). I think the key questionis how did Paul relate to the texts of scripture, whether read direct, known off by heart, or contained in a missionary book. The question of whether he looks at the larger context of the individual quotes, rather than force them into an alien framework, is the key issue. See the unravelling argument for details!

Bob,

great to have you with us! You would love Seitz, as he writes a lot of the relationship between Creed, tradition and scripture. I have no time for bibliographic refernces for now, perhaps later if you are interested.