Monday, 22 October 2007

"In Accordance with the Scriptures" #4: Jewish Scripture and the Meaning of the Messiah's Resurrection


In my last post in this series, I quoted Seitz as saying that Paul's understanding of the resurrection was part of a "broader skein of convictions". I now hope to demonstrate this.
Within in the larger context of 1 Corinthians 15 we see that Christ's resurrection is precisely not significant because it is a singular event. Others had already been raised from the dead (Lazarus), or were believed to be resurrected (Elijah, John the Baptist). The phrase "in accordance with the Scriptures" stipulates how we are to understand this specific raising.

In vv. 12 - 28 Paul focuses on the fact of Jesus' resurrection - not as a fact unto itself - but as a fact inextricably related to the general resurrection of those united to his death and rising in baptism. This is of supreme relevance to his Corinthian addressees, who believed in his resurrection but felt it was of no relevance to them. Paul turns to the scriptures as the place where the answers can be found about what God is presently doing in Jesus and in those baptized into his death. If, "according to the scriptures" all died in Adam, then the reverse would equally be true and in accord with scripture: that Jesus Christ was the new Adam in whom all would be made alive. Christ's rising was not an isolated harvest, but the firstfruits of a much broader harvest, to which those in him would belong. Furthermore, Jesus' death and resurrection "in accordance with the scriptures" means that those in Christ are presently living between two times: the time of Christ as firstfruits, and the final time, when those who belong to Christ will be united with him at his coming again.
So what happens during this meantime? In order to understand what Jesus' resurrection entails, Paul searches scripture for clues. He discovers a 'meantime scenario': The meantime is a time when God puts all things in subjection to Christ. Then at the end Christ will hand the kingdom over to God the Father. For Paul, "in accordance with the scriptures" means that Christ's death and resurrection have implications whose lineaments can be seen in scripture. This is most clear in the motif of God's subjecting all things to Christ, with the exception of God himself. Here Paul explicitly takes his bearings from scripture (v.27):

But when it says [citing Ps. 8.6] "All things are put in subjection," it is plain that this does not include the one one who put all things in subjection under him"
Then, in v. 28, Paul explains the final significance of Christ's rising:
"When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

To say that Christ rose again in "accordance with the scriptures" is at its heart a statement about God's long-range plans, with Christ, on our behalf, as this has been set forth in scripture. To quote Seitz:

"It is not that a straight line moves from the Old Testament to Christ in some mechanical fashion. Rather, we comprehend what God is doing in Christ right now and to eternity by returning to the Old Testament and seeking to find within its manifold testamony accordance with what we are coming to know about God in Christ. Once again we are brought up against the reality that the Old Testament, as Christian scripture, is not just before Jesus, but after him as well. It is both B.C and A.D., because Jesus lives in relationship to the Father, to Israel, and to the world; and the Father has set forth his broader plans for the world in his word to Israel, plans at whose center stands Christ. For an understanding of Christ's present rule and relationship to God, from the moment of God's raising him from the dead to that final point when God is all in all, it was necessary to search a first testament to learn about last things." (Seitz, 1998: 57)

17 comments:

drd said...

Great quote.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Within the larger context of 1 Corinthians 15 we see that Christ's resurrection is precisely not significant because it is a singular event. Others had already been raised from the dead (Lazarus), or were believed to be resurrected (Elijah, John the Baptist).

With respect, I think you have an inadequate grasp of the resurrection. (Though it feels mighty pretentious to say such a thing.) Jesus' resurrection was indeed unique. Allow me to quote R.E. Brown:

"The raising of Jesus from the dead was unlike all the other restorations to life mentioned in the Bible." The other resuscitated folk "are described as returning to ordinary human existence; there is no suggestion that they were glorified or that they would not have to die again. But Jesus is portrayed as conquering death, as returning immortal in glory and power."

Brown then summarizes an argument of Pannenberg's: "He insists that there is no question here of a simple revivification of a corpse." Rather, Paul stresses transformation: "What died was perishable, weak, and mortal; what rises is imperishable, glorious, and immortal." What the witnesses saw "was a radically transformed Jesus." (The quotes are from the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, section 81:120 and 124.)

Because of the transformative element of Jesus' resurrection, the NT authors regarded it as an eschatological event. Lazarus's resuscitation did not inaugurate the eschaton; Jesus' resurrection did. Hence the intense expectation that Christ's return would follow immediately, including the general resurrection from the dead which had begun with Jesus. He is, as Paul says elsewhere, "the beginning, the firstborn from the dead" (Col. 1:18).

Beyond that, I have no objection to your argument. (Except that the Corinthians did in fact doubt that Christ had been raised — it wasn't merely a failure to grasp the relevance of the resurrection.) Indeed, I'm sure you can search the Hebrew scriptures for intimations of the transformation described above. Luke comes to mind here: he has Jesus refer to his death as his "exodus" (typically translated "departure"). Surely the Exodus is precisely an image of transformation: or rather of a redemption that transforms one's circumstances.

I have agreed with everything you've argued thus far in your series, "according to the scripture". However, if there's supposed to be something explicitly Childsian about it, or explicitly contra Brueggemann, I'm missing it. If you're offering it just as sound Christian theology, you have my heartfelt Amen!

John C. Poirier said...

Phil,

I agree with Stephen regarding the huge difference between Jesus' resurrection and the revivification of Lazarus and others. These are quite clearly understood in the New Testament to be two totally different things. Christ conquered death, which is what makes his resurrection soteriologically significant, whereas the revivification of Lazarus and others was more like a video tape being rewound, so that they were *temporarily* restored to life.

As for the rest of what you say: What can I say that I haven't already said? Paul insists that Christ's resurrection must be true (I'm sure you're tired of hearing this) in the sense of obtaining spacetime actuality. That means that the operative alethiology for the Christian religion is that of spacetime reference, and that in turn means that meaning, if it is held to be *true* meaning, cannot change, nor can it be referentially multivalent if that is not how it was understood by its original author. And that further implies (clearly, to my mind) that we should not necessarily follow Paul in his use of the Old Testament, especially when to do so is to read it a figurative level. If you or Seitz can address this sequence of logic, and show where there is some failing in it, I desperately need to know.(I'm currently reading Seitz's book, and he seems [as I expected] to be totally unaware of such concerns.) Is there any way at all to save Childs's approach from the charge of docetism? Seitz and others don't seem to understand the substance of the charge, much less offer a defense against it.

Let me reiterate that I greatly appreciate your trotting these arguments out, since a lot of people seem to buy into them. But if you ever come across anyone in the postliberal camp that understands the dangers I refer to, please let me know. As far as I can see, they just don’t get it.

Bob MacDonald said...

...the Old Testament, as Christian scripture, is not just before Jesus, but after him as well. It is both B.C and A.D. ...

Are there ever a lot of slippery slopes in Logic! Is the resurrection a space-time thing? Yes, of course. Raised from the dead by the glory of the Father (Romans 6:4) is how Paul puts it - This is 'enhanced' space-time since, like the transfiguration and the exodus, it involves glory.

Now, about Lazarus, he may well be an example of resuscitation, but it hardly makes full sense of the event as told: is he not also an image of the transformation to be accomplished, a Johannine parable illustrating what Paul says in Romans 6 - 'that we might walk in newness of life'? This use of the death of Christ as a means of transformation can be interpreted purely psychologically - i.e. that being dead to sin via baptism is a powerful metaphor for stopping self-destructive behaviour. But equally, it just might be the means of acquiring the awareness of the Spirit of God in one's present life - so Paul in Romans 8 elaborates this (If you by the Spirit do put to death the deeds of the body, you will live)- as part of the crescendo of the knowledge of the Spirit as documented in the NT and as anticipated from the TNK (according to the Scriptures) - especially the citations about the praise of Israel's God from the Gentiles.

Anyway - I like the radical thought in Seitz that time's centre is at the crucifixion. For it is here that we have the means of a New Creation. And given our ample evidence of degenerate and death-dealing behaviour in the world, the message is apt if costly.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Now, about Lazarus, he may well be an example of resuscitation, but it hardly makes full sense of the event as told: is he not also an image of the transformation to be accomplished, a Johannine parable illustrating what Paul says in Romans 6?

I would say, rather, that Lazarus is an illustration of what John himself writes elsewhere in the Gospel: "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live" (John 5:25).

Lazarus is an image of what is to happen at the eschaton, but his resuscitation was not an eschatological event. Actually, that might be overstating my case. One might speak of it as a proleptic eschatological event — as were Jesus' exorcisms and healings.

But with his resurrection, Jesus entered fully into the eschaton. There is no further transformation / glorification awaiting Jesus. The rest of us live, as Lazarus did, in the now / not yet paradox of the overlapping ages.

Phil Sumpter said...

Stephen,

Jesus' resurrection was indeed unique

I totally agree with you as well as with the quotes you give (thanks by the way, I love quotes). My post was actually predicated on the fact that Jesus' resurrection is unique, different in kind from the others. My point is simply “how did the NT authors come to the conclusion that it was an “eschatological event”? A corpse come to life does say anything about what it means. How do you know he was “the first born from the dead”? Can you see it? Is it a clearly recordable datum that the Apostles just wrote down, something available in 'spacetime reality' to all who witnessed it? I think it's clear that without an interpretive framework, Jesus' resurrection would have been difficult to differentiate from the other resurrections. It is the interpretive framework that guarantees this uniqueness. He may well have been the first born from the dead 'in spacetime reality', but without Apostels to interpret this event, and without the Old Testament functioning for the Apostles as their interpretive grid, we today would never have known this. I'm just arguing that interpretation of historical events in terms of an authoritative Jewish scripture is the key to understanding the significance of the resurrection. A naked, uninterpreted event is useless, cannot save us, and as far as Christianity is concerned has never existed. Word and event belong intrinsically together. I had a great Barr quote on the necessity of verbal revelation as a precondition for historical events, but I can't find it. I'll post a more extended quote from Barr on this today.

I'm offering these posts as what seems to me to be the best way for in order to have sound Christian theology. In this particular thread, I don't see anything particularly Childsian. I don't know how Brueggemann would respond to this. I would just point out that for Seitz, the apostles construals of the OT in order to understand Jesus' resurrection are a response to the plain sense of the text in conjunction with their experience of Jesus. It is not an imaginative piece of work done by creative individuals in the 'freedom of the spirit' (which is, I believe, how Brueggemann is often understood ... though you know more than I).

Thanks for your insights on Lazarus' resurrection as John 5:25. I'd never thought of that. Thanks too the correction on Corinthians!

John,

the idea of the video tape being rewound is helpful, thanks!

Paul insists that Christ's resurrection must be true (I'm sure you're tired of hearing this) in the sense of obtaining spacetime actuality

Although this is how he perceived the event, is that the thrust of his message in this passage? Only to point out that it actually, in spacetime reality, happened? In the same sense as me saying, “Germany lost WWII. Really, properly, in spacetime reality, not metaphorically but actually”. I've illustrated how Paul is doing infinitely more here. Could you respond to my comments to Stephen above by showing how the uniqueness of Jesus' resurrection can simply be read off the raw events, without need to reference any other interpretive grid? Can you show how my interpretation of what Paul is doing when he talks of Jesus as first fruits is nothing more then a response to a naked event, such that the OT is actually superfluous? You yourself say that Jesus' resurrection was different to Lazarus and that this is salvifically significant. How can you or Paul or anyone tell the difference? If it's the case that we need the OT to understand what Jesus is doing, then my case stands that interpretation of event is as salvific as the event itself, that Word and Event cannot be separated, that interpretive perspective (ie. Of the scriptures vis-a-vis raw history) is central to a Christian understanding of history and theology and that our alethiology simply cannot be a matter of pure spacetime referentiality. This would also mean that textual meaning does not need to be monovocal, as a potential depth dimension to meaning enable the text to be recalibrated in the light of later events (hence, it is clear that a rejection of Jesus wouldn't necessarily lead to a christological reading of the OT, whereas for a Christian, as demonstrated in my post, such a christological reading is theologically indispensable. This would also mean that if we were to follow Paul in his reading of the OT, we would be in continuity with his understanding of truth as well as his hermeneutic of reading, which do not seem to be separable for him or us.

That is my response to the sequence of logic you laid out. I can go into more detail if you feel I've missed the point, but I find it hard to see how. I do not feel that you have addressed the content of my post, but have rather just repeated your own point. I feel that my post on its own is adequate. Could you repond to the content, both of my post and my comments here (which, as far as I can see at least, just repeat what I wrote)?

I'm afraid I cannot comprehend how you can call Seitz docetic. Docetism rejects history. Seitz quite patently does not. We all believe that Jesus rose 'in spacetime reality'. How could Paul argue that he is the first fruits if he didn't believe this? Using the OT as your interpretive grid for understanding a spacetime event does not make you docetic, it makes you part of an interpretive community.

Bob,

'enhanced spacetime' – nice idea, thanks. I appreciate your comments, as well as Stephen's qualification on Lazarus. Indeed, I believe that the message of the death and resurrection of the Son of God is incredibly relevant to this day and age.

I like the radical thought in Seitz that time's centre is at the crucifixion.

That may well be the case ... however, the main thrust of the quote is that the OT speaks of a horizon that encompasses that the of the New Testament, ours and even to the end of the age. It's meant as a corrective to views that the OT is just preparation for the 'real' thing which is acutally the New Testament. Rather, the Old Testament is as much our scripture as the New, because (amongst other things) it speak of our world as much as of its own and that of Jesus.

John C. Poirier said...

Phil,

I realize that throwing the charge of “docetism” at a figure whose praises you have been singing would rile you up a bit. It was not my intention to do that. Certainly I know that the quality of arguments is much better when both parties are cool-headed, and I want more than anything to learn from you the best arguments that the canonical approach has to offer. But the charge is one that I mean seriously--it’s really the reason I’m so vocal about this whole business. I doubt that I can convince you that I use the term advisedly, but I should at least set out my case. I will try to do that below. (It is not, of course, just Seitz that I accuse of docetism, but rather the whole lot of postliberals.)

Whether Paul’s thrust in 1 Corinthians 15 is on the spacetime actuality of the Christ event will depend in part on whether the denial of the general resurrection stemmed from a spiritualizing of the traditional doctrine of the resurrection (such as that mentioned in the pastorals). If such a spiritualizing away of the materialist aspects of the resurrection were the culprit, then *yes*, Paul’s thrust would be about spacetime actuality. On the other hand, if the root of the problem is something else, then Paul’s *thrust* may not be about spacetime actuality, but that understanding would *still* be the central thrust of the kerygma that Paul is using as ammunition for his argument. The spacetime actuality of the Christ event is a *sine qua non* for the Christian faith, and therefore determinative of an alethiological criterion. (By the way, softness on this position is precisely what I [like Jeremias and Meyer] mean by “docetism”. See below.)

As for how Paul or others could tell that Christ’s resurrection was categorically different from other biblical resuscitations, I’m not sure what you gain by bringing the Old Testament into it. After all, the OT prooftexts are being used to show that he *did* rise, and not that this rising is different from others. For the apostles generally, the proof of Christ’s resurrection was partly demonstrated by the sending of the Spirit (a consequence of the ascension). I am not, of course, denying in any way that the apostles used the OT to illuminate the kerygma. Quite manifestly they did. But the material content of the kerygma--that aspect that made it soteriologically efficacious--was the Christ narrative itself, and not the external witnesses to it. The OT prooftexts are used to support the case for the Christ event.

Seitz seems to be partly misled by his assumption (floated at least twice in his book) that the traditional understanding of “prophets and apostles” in Eph 2:20 as referring to the Old and New Testaments *as textual units* is what the author of Ephesians intended. This is not at all how the terms are being used. (Could the author of Ephesians speak of the New Testament as a textual unit?) Eph 2:20 speaks of the “prophets and apostles” being the “foundation” of the church, but he does not thereby mean the Old and New Testaments. Rather, “apostles and prophets” refers to the kerygma as that which is testified by the *prophets* (*viz.* the OT prooftexts) and the apostles (eyewitnesses of the Christ event and trustees of the kerygma). This undertanding of “prophets” is supported, in part, by the so-called “revelational schema”, as discovered by Nils Dahl and expanded upon by Dieter Luhrmann. (I gave a paper on this interpretation of Eph 2:20 at a meeting this past Spring. I’d be happy to share it if you’re interested.) So when Ephesians says that the “prophets and apostles” are the foundation of the church, it does not mean that the Old and New Testaments are the foundation , but rather that the apostolic kerygma is the foundation. (This understanding is also supported by the second-century use of the term “prophets”, which, as Helmut Koester rightly argues, refers not to textual units but rather to the prophets as persons.) I realize, of course, that you haven’t said anything about this. I’m just offering this is a partial explanation for why Seitz, in my opinion, gets things so wrong.

You write, “[I]f we were to follow Paul in his reading of the OT, we would be in continuity with his understanding of truth as well as his hermeneutic of reading”, but the question that I am trying to put is “What constrains us to ‘follow Paul in his reading of the OT’?” We all recognize (I think) that in many matters the apostles were children of their time, and that they said some things that are theologically dispensable. The kerygma, of course, is the one thing that is *not* theologically dispensable. If Paul could not think through to the alethiological conundrum that I have tried to spell out, that is no excuse for us following him in his lack of alethiological-critical reflection. Really, given the bibliological habits of first-century Jews, I would have been very surprised to find *anyone* from the first century putting this all together in a consistent way. They emphasized what was most important (the Christ event), and they promoted it in terms rhetorically powerful for their day. We should not expect them to iron out all the philosophical implications ways in which their theology might affect their hermeneutic. In our day of supposedly keen philosophical perception, we should do better.

Again, I am not saying that Paul does not read the OT christologically. Of course, he does. But that does not mean that we can read it the same way. In some cases (*viz.* when it seems likely that a given prophet *did* intend a messianic reference) we can, but in many cases we can’t. I think that a mature faith should come to terms with that simple fact.

Now, let me explain the charge of docetism as best as I can. I recognize, of coures, that Seitz (like Childs, like Hays, like Barth, etc.) quite explicitly affirms the spacetime actuality of the resurrection. My point is that he (like Childs, like Hays, like Barth, etc.) does not recognize that this affirmation is emptied of its alethiological moment as soon as he tries to put into play a hermeneutic based upon an opposing alethiology, which is exactly what is going on when he promotes the idea that the meaning of the OT changes (or develops, or whatever other term you want to use). This is precisely what Barr means when he objects that Jesus die not rise “canonically” from the dead. If the alethiology that underpins the canonical approach were the operative alethiology of Christianity, then the spacetime actuality of the Christ event would be perfectly superfluous: Christ would not actually have to had lived, died, and risen from the dead *in spacetime*--it would be enough (as far as the *truth* of Christianity is concerned) for Christ to have risen from the dead “canonically” (or “narrativally”). That’s what I mean by calling this whole way of thinking “docetic”.

That’s why I feel that the stakes in this whole debate are so high. Postliberalism, in my opinion, is a very serious threat to Christian theology. Barr recognized this huge inconsistency, and he tried to explain it, but nobody gave him a careful enough hearing to recognize what he was really saying because they all knew that he was a liberal and didn’t really accept the kerygma. (This is why it’s frustrating to read Childs’s responses to Barr—he doesn’t listen to what he’s really saying.)

I hope this helps you understand where I’m coming from.

Phil Sumpter said...

Wow, thanks for your detailed response!

I think it's great that you take the charge of docetism seriously enough to counter it energetically here. I appreciate your concerns and would like to encourage you to keep it up. Your breadth of knowledge on this subject outstrips mine, so I appreciate not only being held to task for also for being pointed in the direction of faithful theology. If what you are saying is true, then you are right, there would be a serious theological flaw in the approaches of Childs and Seitz. I should add, however, that in tackling the 'canonical approach' of these two scholars we should really distinguish them from post-liberal. This is a broad movement, to which both Childs and Seitz have only a guarded relationship. As I have repeated, Frei and Lindbeck differ from Seitz and Childs especially on the nature of biblical referentiality. This goes back to our first discussion, in which I pointed out that Childs is not doing pure narrative theology and thus the 'alethiological' claim that truth does not exist outside of the text simply doesn't apply to him (something Barr seems to have misunderstood and which you keep repeating [e.g. in your comments concerning 'canonical resurrection'. That really doesn't have anything to do with Childs or Seitz's claims. Childs deals with this in far more detail then Seitz. I suggest you read his Biblical Theology, pp. 97 – 107, where he discusses the hermeneutical problem of history in the Bible and its implications for interpretation and theology. I intend to deal with this section in more detail in when I get to the 'dialectical nature' of history section of this rather long thread. Although he believes that the object of historical study should be Israel's own testimony to God's redemptive activity, this does not exclude attention to the events themselves, nor their theological and hermeneutical implications. He spells out the details of this quite clearly in this chapter. You should also consider the historical critical framework he takes when dealing with theological question, such as the nature of humanity. The issue is the interaction of the two. I still fail to comprehend an alternative in your proposals: how do the apostles interpret the resurrection (e.g. how does Paul make the claims he does in 1 Cor. 12 – 28. Are they really so irrelevant, that we can just reject them because they are based on a figurative reading of the OT (I don't see how else he can come to the conclusion that Jesus is the second Adam, or the first fruits)? How should we understand the historical events, if they are shorn of Israel's testimony and left to dangle in history? I'm sorry, I'm sure I'm misunderstanding you, but I just can't grasp how that works).

I think the real issues between us are as follows (please tell me if I summarize this falsely):

1)The relationship of scripture to kerygma. We are agreed that the kerygma is not dispensable. However, I am of the opinion (though I really am not [yet?] an expert on such matters) that central to the kerygma is the idea that the Christ event was prophesied before hand. The way was prepared what happened, and this prior testimony is still valid to our acceptance and comprehension of this event. Without prior prophesy, the Christ event simply would not have meant anything to anybody and wouldn't have been able to carry any clout with Jews living at the time, who were waiting for their Messiah on the basis of scripture. This is supported by the way Paul argues in 1 Cor. 15 (i.e. the reality of the resurrection as first fruits is revealed to us by scripture, it is not read off the event itself [please explain how this would otherwise happen]), by the fact that his outline of the kerygma (“things of first importance”) includes the phrase “according to the scripture” (repeated for emaphasis), such that this scriptural accordance (which would seem to be a figurative way of reading the Jewish scriptures) is a part of the kerygma itself. This is further emphasised in Irenaeus' little rule of faith, which includes as an integral element of it not only the Christ event, but also the prophesying role of the Holy Spirit. I'll paste it here, as it seems so clear to me:
“... in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race ....”. Notice how they entire Christ event, including the way it integrates with the rest of the history of the world (evidently also a part of the kerygma, going beyond his ascension) is subornated to the revealing work of the Holy Spirit to the prophets (not apostles). Thus, any discussion of Christian truth cannot do away with this pre-Christ-event work of the third person of the trinity (hence my previous claim that an approach to theology which treats the OT as in some sense foundational to our faith, as much a part of our kerygma as the actual events themselves, is rightly called Trinitarian. This may be seen as my response to your charge of docetism. The identity of God himself is at stake in our talk about the relationship of the testaments, and the relationship of scripture to kerygma (which actually means proclamation, so is itself verbal is nature. You can't talk of the object of the kerygma without at the same talking about the way it is made known to us: proclamation. This has nothing to do with a 'postliberal' claim that truth exists only at the level of text. It's a dialectical relationship, not an either-or).
In relation to your comments on Eph. 2.20, I find it hard to follow your logic here I'm afraid. But I can make some clarificatory points: there is no way that Seitz can claim that this verse refers to the finished textual products. That would be ludicrous and would contradict what he says elsewhere about the fluid state of the OT in the NT period, and the fluid nature of the NT for quite a while into the history of the church (my previous post actually quotes him as saying this: “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?” (could you give me the references where he says this?). Seitz would no doubt follow Childs and say it is the reality t which they both witnessed (i.e. the reality to which the kerygma witnessed, not the kerygma itself, which is only the proclamation of this reality).
Could you explain the following move that you make:
So when Ephesians says that the “prophets and apostles” are the foundation of the church, it does not mean that the Old and New Testaments are the foundation , but rather that the apostolic kerygma is the foundation. .
If the prophets and apostles both are the foundations, i.e. the truth that to which they both witness, why not say that the “apostolic and prophetic” kerygma is the foundation of the church? I don't get how you can suddenly narrow it down to just the apostles. Don't the apostles claim that the prophets witness to Christ as much as they did? No doubt you agree with this, but you would then cut out all prophetic witness to Christ which couldn't be proved to entail – in its original historical context and according to authorial intention – a future-predicting prophesy in the way this is popularly understood (the result being, in practice, that no text of the OT actually talks of Jesus. Or could you provide an example?). This move not only seems to contradict the apostolic claims concerning the nature of the Old Testament witness (something you reject based on a philosophical decision, cf. point 2), it also entails a what seems to me to be an incmphrensible philosophical decision, which is our second main disagreement (Before I skip to (2), I'd appreciate a copy of your paper: thank you. Dahl is always cited positively by Childs):
2)We seem to have a philosophical disagreement. You position is best summed up here:
I recognize, of coures, that Seitz (like Childs, like Hays, like Barth, etc.) quite explicitly affirms the spacetime actuality of the resurrection. My point is that he (like Childs, like Hays, like Barth, etc.) does not recognize that this affirmation is emptied of its alethiological moment as soon as he tries to put into play a hermeneutic based upon an opposing alethiology, which is exactly what is going on when he promotes the idea that the meaning of the OT changes (or develops, or whatever other term you want to use).
I really do struggle with what you mean by the word 'alethiology'. The Wikipedia reference I gave for the term made perfect sense to me, but your qualification of the term just seems just doesn't compute with me. You said then: “I prefer to say that truth is a matter of "what is the case", regardless of what anyone knows or believes.” I cannot imagine how this is impossible, how 'truth' is disconnected with subjective apprehension, and beyond that, that this definition can somehow be relevant for Christianity and this it is consistent with the kerygmatic claim that everything that happened 'in spacetime reality' concerning Jesus is intimately connected with a prior witness that prepared the way, a witness brought about by God himself. I believe in an external truth, outside of my world and ability to grasp it. I believe it would be there whether I was aware of it or not. But given the nature of the Christian God, who is Trinitarian and who has made himself known throughout history, culminating in Christ (though there's more to come), I cannot understand how one can say that whatever Christ himself did, apart from his own Father's witness to him, is not only the real truth but even, somehow, logical requires that all Christian truth must therefore be a matter of events in space and time. Paul's staement in 1 Cor., Irenaeus' rule of faith, even Athanasius' quote that I gave a while back (could you comment on that?) make it so clear that truth is so much more then the factuality of certain things happening. Even Christ's resurrection body participate in a dimension of reality that break the boundaries of the one we currently belong to. How can a spacetime alethiology (whatever that really means) be made normative for all talk of God? I repeat what I said above, your suggestions seem to be cutting at the heart of the triune God.
I hope that my ramblings make sense. I appreciate the taken you are taking to 'point me in the right direction'. I pray that I will be humble enough to hear what you have to say and be corrected by it.

John C. Poirier said...

Phil,

Thanks for your lengthy reply.

First of all, I should say that your assertion that "the 'alethiological' claim that truth does not exist outside of the text simply doesn't apply to [Childs]" is something that appears right only if one reads Childs with the same blinders that Childs wore, ignoring the alethiological fallout from his proposed hermeneutic. What I'm saying is that he traces a storytime alethiology in his hermeneutic, but doesn't even realize it. This is Barr's point as well. (It's in his charge of Childs being "stuck with two theories".) I've been trying to say (all along) that you cannot have it both ways. It doesn't matter how much Childs jumps up and down and hollers until he turns blue in the face that he believes in the spacetime actuality of the Christ event. The docetic threat is there as soon as he speaks of a hermeneutic that divorces meaning from from authorial-intentionalist referentiality. In other words, Seitz's and others' defenses of Childs's orthodoxy on this question miss the point: Childs cannot be cleared of the docetism charge just by citing his explicit language on the spacetime actuality of the resurrection. You keep making a distinction between Childs and narrative theologians, but on this point, I can't see a difference between what Childs does and what Richard Hays does. Hays also insists on the spacetime actuality of the Christ event, but he thinks that the meaning of the text is a matter of the church's interpretation (which changes over time). Now you have denied that Childs’s hermeneutic is ecclesial in the same sense, but it still seems to accept the idea that meaning does not correspond exactly with what the author intended.

The problem I have with considering the OT prooftexts that provide the scriptural justification for the kerygma as part of the kerygma itself is that many of these texts have been read rather badly by the apostles. They just don't mean (in their OT context) what the apostles said they mean. So, if I accept the apostles' interpretation of these texts, I must accept that meaning is a changing commodity (or something that can be "recalibrated", as you put it). That flies in the face of the spacetime alethiology that underpins the kerygma. Yes, I understand that there is a sense in which these OT prooftexts are part of the kerygma, in that the term "kerygma" denotes the standard formulaic preaching, and these texts were included in that. But the soteriologically efficacious core of the kerygma (which is that which lends Christian theology its alethiological particularity) is strictly the narrative of the Christ event itself.

I would like to point out, also, that my understanding of the kerygma is also "Trinitarian", in that it involves all three persons of the Trinity. (God raised Christ from the dead, who in turn, after the ascension, sent the Holy Spirit.) I firmly believe that Christian theology is Trinitarian (though certainly not in a Barthian sense). I'm not so sure, however, that hermeneutics needs to be Trinitarian in the sense of finding an active role for all three persons of the Trinity. Why think that? I think that the impulse to hone a Trinitarian hermeneutic stems more from feelings of devotion than from scriptural or rational considerations. (I realize, of course, that part of the reason for this habit on the part of some probably comes from the assumption, strong in Reformation strains of Christian thought, that biblical hermeneutics has something to do with the doctrine of revelation, but I don't buy into that at all.)

Thus I doubt that "[t]he identity of God himself is at stake in our talk about the relationship of the testaments, and the relationship of scripture to kerygma". I don't see how that could be. On my scheme, the OT is still there. It's still true. In fact, I would insist that it's more true (in a certain sense) on my scheme than on yours, since yours involves a deflection of its given meaning in the direction of a new and different meaning. So God is still the God of Israel. He is also, as the NT shows, the Father of Jesus Christ. I affirm both testaments at the same time, and I don't see any problem with that.

You write, "If the prophets *and* apostles both are the foundations, i.e. the truth that to which they *both* witness, why not say that the 'apostolic and prophetic' kerygma is the foundation of the church?" By then referring to the "apostolic" kerygma, I don't mean to say that it is not "prophetic" in the sense that it was historically upheld by prooftexts culled from the prophets. I was just using the common term. *Of course* the apostles claimed that the prophets witnessed to Christ as much as they did. I'm not questioning that--that is, as a historical point. But it *is* a matter of history (and no more than that) in that the apostles' understanding of the OT was largely determined by midrashic and figural readings of Scripture that are no more necessary for the efficacy of our salvation and the stability of our faith than the question of the historical existence of Noah's ark.

You question whether it is possible for truth to be "disconnected with subjective apprehension". But it's simple. If a meteor hits Pluto exactly now, then the proposition "A meteor hit Pluto just now" would be true. The truth of that proposition would not depend on anyone knowing that a meteor hit Pluto. It would not even depend on human beings knowing that there is a planet called "Pluto", or anything about meteors for that matter. Propositions are descriptions of reality, but in saying "descriptions" I'm not talking about the linguisticality of their being expressed, but to the logicality of their referring. They are not epistemic. This is what alethiology is about. The problem is that the term "truth" has sometimes been mixed with epistemological language (as in somebody saying "That's true for me").

You repeat the charge of my scheme somehow not giving due place to the Trinitarian dimension of Christian thought. But I would repeat what I said above: What does trinitarianism have to do with hermeneutics? There's very little about the personal distinctions between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that really has anything to do with hermeneutics. The Spirit's mediation of Christ's presence is just that: the mediation of his presence to the Church. None of the three persons of the Trinity has a primarily hermeneutical function, nor a primarily hermeneutical relationship to the Church, nor a noticeably hermeneutical role within the economy of salvation (other than what is involved in prophesying, which , of course, is about a great many things and not only about christology or soteriology). I fear that too many Christians (esp. those raised on a steady of diet of Reformation theology) associate pneumatology, ecclesiology, and bibliology too closely to one another, almost (it seems) as if one is a compartment of another.

Let me be clear about something else: you write, "I cannot understand how one can say that whatever Christ himself did, *apart from* his own Father's witness to him, is not only the real truth but even, somehow, logical[ly] requires that *all* Christian truth must therefore be a matter of events in space and time." The problem with this, of course, is twofold. First, truth is about what is, not about knowledge about what is, so if the Father's witness to Christ is said to be "the truth", it is that only because it truly relates the Christ event for us. But by speaking of "the Father's witness", you seem to be assuming that the OT prooftexts surrounding the kerygma *are* the Father's witness to him. This is where we differ, for I say that those prooftexts are being used wrongly, and I therefore deny that they constitute "the Father's witness" at all. Certainly there are other ways in which the Father can (and does) witness, such as through the testimony of the Apostles, miracles, etc.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Hi, Phil:
How do you know he was "the first born from the dead"? Can you see it? Is it a clearly recordable datum that the Apostles just wrote down, something available in 'spacetime reality' to all who witnessed it? I think it's clear that without an interpretive framework, Jesus' resurrection would have been difficult to differentiate from the other resurrections.

OK, now I understand what you meant when you said that Jesus' resurrection was not unique.

As usual, I think we agree on more than we disagree on. However, I would point out that Jesus' resurrection body is described in extraordinary terms. Still bearing the sword wounds and the imprint of the nails; able to pass through locked doors, yet solid enough to consume fish. Not least, there is Paul's encounter with Jesus as a heavenly being of glorious light.

It goes without saying that Lazarus didn't have a glorified body like that of Christ. This in itself, even without the OT witness, would have signaled that there was something extraordinary going on: maybe even something eschatological.

That quibble aside, I agree with the point that you're making. "Something extraordinary is going on" does not equal an interpretation of the event. For that, St. Paul and the other NT authors mined the pages of the OT for direction. Without it, they would have been perplexed and amazed, but not very enlightened!

But perhaps I will also point out, with my emphasis on the spoken word, that Jesus himself explained the scriptures to the apostles — how all the texts testified of him. It won't do to drive a wedge between written and spoken, as if the written word in and of itself was sufficient. Always, it is the text in a community of interpretation … as you yourself are experiencing at school.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks John for the clarity of your response. I do think we are making some progress.

I try and keep this response succinct, while dealing with your main points ...

I'm seeing more and more how central is your theory of 'alethiology'. This philosophical theory is prior to your reading of the kerygma, determinative of it, and has significant consequences for your approach to theology as a whole. It seems to be your only criticism of Childs, that there is an 'alethiological fallout' of which he is unaware, such that even though he doesn't want to say that theological truth exists only at the level of the narrative (a concept I must admit I find hard to conceptualize), he logically must do because the principle of one alethiology per belief system.

This is both philosophically and theologically problematic. First the theological:

You agree with me that reference to the Old Testament is a part of the kerygma (to pejoratively call them 'proof texts' seems to prejudice the issue from the outset; see below). This is undeniable given the central role it plays in 1 Cor. 15, in Paul's missionary activity in Acts (e.g. 17:3), and in Irenaeus' rule of faith (“the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets ...”; see also my previous Athanasius quote on “the living words of scripture” and my recent Augustine quote on the sufficiency of scripture apart from knowledge of the historical Jesus as critical principle of truth). Yet then you assert that this element of the kerygma does not constitute it “soteriological efficacious core”. How do you come to that conclusion? How do you distinguish between what belongs to the kerygma's core and what doesn't, when the kerygma itself doesn't make this distinction? You seem to have arbitrarily decided that what really matters are the events, independent of the kerygma about them, but there is nothing in the kerygma that would lead to that conclusion apart from an a priori commitment to an 'alethiology of spacetime actuality'. This is hardly 'emic' or confessional, as it imposes on the kerygma a theory that contradicts and divides it upon itself. As such, statements such that only the narrative of the Christ event is soteriological efficacious or that the apostles' midrashic interpretations are not necessary for our salvation are simply unsubstantiated claims, justified only by a philosophical commitment to truth that doesn't have any root in Bible or Tradition.

The only argument you have been able to bring against the kerygma's claim that Christ's work was prepared for by the prophets and can be understood in terms of them is that the apostle's interpretation was 'wrong'. This does not provide us with a ground for rejecting their interpretations while still claiming that Christ is the saviour of the world. If anything, if they are so wrong as you think, then our faith is also 'wrong'. This has nothing to do with theological 'maturity' or not, it's just about being consistent with the material before us. Unless we are prepared to assume that a particular 'alethiology' (which defines truth before we even look at the kerygma) is true, and all faith claims must be submitted to it, we must be prepared to take this apostolic interpretation very seriously indeed, whether it fits our modern categories or not. As a matter of fact, a lot of work has been done which shows what kind of hermeneutic is at work here in the New Testament, such that it is seen that he New Testament authors were interpreting the texts according to their final canonical form, within the context of a rule of faith. I have to admit, I'm still trying to get my head round this myself, but it is a matter of principle, if we are to take the kerygma seriously, that we come to terms with the NT authors' hermeneutic and not brush it off because it isn't 'historical-critical' enough.

I'm not a philosopher (unfortunately), but there seem to be some logical inconsistencies in your claim for the existence of (let alone the primacy of) an alethiology of spacetime reality. If it is the case that truth abides in events independent of human perception, such that linguistic statements are only true to the degree that they correspond to these facts (consciously or not?), then what use is talk of the kerygma ('proclamation') in the first place? After all, this is only a subjective human medium that is, according to your 'alethiology', subject to revision depending on how much of it corresponds to certain key events. But how do you even know which events are key in the first place? Someone had to say it, someone with authority. But that is to introduce a subjective, interpretive dimension. Jesus did all kinds of things, why only these things? What criteria were used by the authors of the kerygma to distinguish between 'soteriologically efficacious' events? The same goes for your use of the phrase “narrative of the Christ event”. Narratives don't inhere in reality, such that a machine could measure them. Someone has to see the connections, get the plot, figure out the telos, and then string it all together. Is that objective? Does that represent reality in the one to one fashion your correspondance theory of truth requires? And most basically, a narrative is a boundary setting construct, certain things don't belong in the narrative because they are not relevant. But if truth is simply a matter of uninterpreted events, such that the kerygma itself can be critiqued in light of them, how can the kerygma be used to delineate which events are worth looking at in the first place?

Another theological problem: Pauls phrase (“in accordance with the scriptures”, i.e. God's long range plans including the totality of creation), Irenaeu's and the creeds' metanarrative of creation to new creation, all point to the fact that the Christ event was not an independent event. It's irreducibly connected with a broader picture. One cannot separate creation from resurrection. This is the truth to which the kerygma, the old testament, the whole scripture and church tradition witnesses to, not a series of random events between 1 and 30 A.D (regardless how impressive they were). There is nothing in any of these witnesses that would lead me to surgically remove Christ from his total context, which is also a narrative (creation – resurrection – new creation). Only a commitment to a theory of spacetime alethiology would make me do it, and even there, as I have shown, the theory is inconsistent as it can't tell me which events are salvific apart from the kerygmatic (narrative) witness to them.

Some further responses to your comments:

Childs does not believe the meaning of the Bible is a matter of Church interpretation. This really is very clear from a superficial reading of his texts. Could you provide a single quote to back this up?

I have already addressed Barr's claim of a double theory of truth. He seems to not have grasped Childs' understanding of textual refrentiality, which has a depth dimension. Barr's untheological approach to the Bible is possible responsible for his inability to imagine the text as meaning anything other then what it's ancient context constrains it to mean.

Your understanding of the kerygma is not trinitarian, your understanding of God is trinitarian. The kerygma doesn't just say that the Holy Spirit came after the ascension, but that it was there from the beginning preparing the way for Christ. You have just ignore this (from what I can see, at least). The kerygma talks of a God communicating with his people, through his spirit about his Son, who's task is ultimately to reflect back the same God. The the degree that this communicating is tied up with the Spirit's inspiration of the prophets, such that the reading of them necessarily consitutes part of the theological task of knowing the source of this prophetic witness, the trinity has profound hermeneutical implications. i.e. one cannot isolate Jesus from his Father's speech about him. In this sense you are not reading the Bible the way your trinitarian theology would lead you (Vanhoozer, by the way, in his book Is there a meaning in this Text?, draws heavily on trinitarian theology to justify theologically the general hermeneutic his is proposing).

You assert that the OT does function theologically for you, but how, given that historically it doesn't speak of Christ in any authorially intended way?

I'll just close by restating that, in the light of the above, your statement “truth is about what is, not knowledge about what is” is theologically and philosophically inadequate.

Stephen,

I hope you can read this comment at the bottom of all this text!

Jesus' resurrection body is described in extraordinary terms

This is a very important point. It's important that the discontinuity with the OT and well as the continuity is remembered. I don't think anyone at the time was expecting a messiah like Jesus. Seitz mentioned somewhere that he fulfilled the OT's categories to exploding. In other words, the OT prepared for him, but was not pre-pared for him (ooh, that sounds fancy. I just made it up ... it's probably not consistent but I like the sound of it).

Jesus himself explained the scriptures to the apostles — how all the texts testified of him..

Right, but he wasn't the only one to interpret the OT in relation to himself. So did Paul, and he never met him. So do a whole bunch of people today. I think the presence of a community of interpretation and text as medium of divine revelation (such that it coerces us to interpret it in a specific direction) are both important theological data that need to be maintained and related somehow. Perhaps it's one of those 'fruitful tensions' that people keep talking about.

Phil Sumpter said...

A few more questions have occurred to me for John:

- I still don't get the issue of authorial intent in this. If the proposition "a meteor hit Pluto" is true to the degree it corresponds with reality, isn't that accidental? The truth has nothing to do with what the author wanted to say, it's just a matter of what happened. If he intended or not is irrelevant, what matters, on your plan, is the degree to which it corresponds to reality. I quiet like that, actually, as long as 'reality' is not understood as the Christ event on its own, but rather to totality of what God is doing, Christ being a part of it.

- On your 'altheiology of spacetime actuality' model, how do you come to a doctrine of the trinity in the first place? No body saw it, it can't be empirically measured, it's based very largely on the Old Testament, and it doesn't belong to the narrative of the Christ event. It's almost a 'meta' concept as far as the more mature formations of the kerygma are concerned ('mature' in the sense that the completed two-testament canon was the basis for their theologising), in that the kerygma (both Irenaeus's formulation and the creeds) are structured according to the trinity. The Father comes first, and his first act is creation, not Jesus.
- Where does creation fit into your scheme at all, given its centrality in Bible, Tradition and kerygma? It's not explicitly part of the Christ narrative, and the idea that Jesus' resurrection was part of the New Creation can only be understood when understood in terms of the Old Testament narrative.

I would like to say once again that I appreciate this conversation. It's forcing me to think more clearly about these issues, and it's helping me understand what is at stake. The question of the nature of theological reality and the function of language is becoming clearer to me. I hope that you to are getting something out of this ...

John C. Poirier said...

Phil,

I’m afraid you're still not understanding how the alethiological conundrum works—at least, not in its entirety. I think part of the blame lies with a lot of the nonsense that came out of the twentieth-century linguistic turn, as reflected, I think, in your difficulty envisioning truth as materially separate from the interpretive grid that is required to understand propositions.

Let me put it this way. Let us suppose, just for the sake of the argument, that Jesus Christ was *not* actually (in spacetime) raised from the dead, yet the early Church heralded a kerygma that says he *was*, and that the Church tied this kerygma as integrally with the OT narrative as you claim. Now, I ask, would such a scenario be soteriologically efficacious? Yes or no? It's the overwhelming obviousness of a "No" answer on any responsible reading of the New Testament that problematizes any sort of indexing of truth itself to the narrative component of either the Christ event or the OT narrative. (When I was at Duke, I once said to Hays, "If the narrative is where meaning lies, then Christ didn't really have to die on the cross. It would be enough just for the Church to have a narrative saying that he did." Hays suddenly looked like a deer caught in the headlights, and he turned to another student and asked him, "Is that what you've been trying to say?", to which the student replied, "Yes! Yes!") There is simply no way to place the alethiological issue downstream from the role of the OT narrative as an epistemic support for the kerygmatic narrative without opening the kerygma up to the above objection. It's conceptually impossible, and that's where the principle of "one alethiology per belief system" (your words but my claim) comes from.

Phil, surely you must see that truth is absolutely separate from narrativity in the sense in which the term “narrative” has been used for the past forty or so years (or longer, since at least the time of Gilbert Ryle). You speak of the need for an interpretive grid, but, contrary to what you seem to think, that grid does *not* impinge upon the truth of what it interprets. The grid itself will be true to a degree varying according to how faithful it is to the facts, of course--and those facts can include, in their preinterpretive moment, all the necessary connections and causes that you seem to think originate at the level of the interpretation (which is why your statement that "narratives don't inhere in reality" is false, unless, of course, you mean "narrative" in a purely semiotic way, which is a way that manifestly excludes the kerygma). The efficaciousness of the Christ event lies within the events. Not one whit of efficacy lies in the interpretation. The interpretation is simply the epistemic analogue of the alethic situation, necessary for us to understand but not necessary for the situation to be what it is. I know that a lot of philosophers have seen things otherwise, but their reasoning has almost always been determined in advance by a fatal conflation of epistemic and alethic categories at the outset, facilitated in part by the general scarcity of the term "alethiology". (I am reminded of Cicero's statement: "There is nothing so absurd but that some philosopher has said it".) And I should also mention that I do not put alethiology before the kerygma. I am simply giving alethiology the same weight and philosophical moment that it exercises in and through the kerygma. If it does not work through the kerygma in the way I have been saying, then the scenario I described above, in which the spacetime actuality of the Christ event would be superfluous in the presence of a *narrative* of the Christ event, would be philosophically and theologically unobjectionable. I think that, in Paul's eyes, such a scheme would be about the most objectionable scheme imaginable. It's docetism, pure and simple.

I never meant to imply that interpretations are unnecessary for us to get our minds around things, such as the Christ event. But that's a completely separate issue from the truth of the kerygma (or from the moment of its efficacy, which is the same thing).

Also, I refer to the OT passages cited in the wider formulation of the kerygma as "prooftexts" because that's how they function. I know Seitz doesn't see it that way, but his whole argument seems rather convoluted to me. (In fact, his unpacking of the phrase "according to the Scriptures" seems to ignore the way in which prooftexts are attached to the kerygma in the missionary speeches in Acts! Does he think that those uses in Acts aren’t functional examples of what Paul means by “according to the Scriptures”?) You seem to think that separating truth from interpretation is somehow problematic for the fact that the kerygma must be related through a "subjective human medium" for us to grasp it, and you ask "[H]ow do you even know which events are key in the first place?" The answer is simple: It's through the testimony of the apostles. Of course, we don't really *know* anything beyond that. We accept on faith, and there's no getting around that. In spite of the fundamentalist drive toward an infallibilist understanding of Scripture (as if that could save us from having to accept something on faith), there is no getting around it.

You speak of "Barr's untheological aproach to the Bible", and while that way of putting it is, strictly speaking, true, I think it makes an invalid point, as it is Barr’s ability to think in and through the true logic of the text (something which Childs, Seitz *et al* are missing because of their foresworn allegiance to a Reformation-style theology) that allows him to show what "theological exegesis" conducted according to the text's own rules would look like. And I certainly didn't mean to imply that Christ's sending of the Spirit to the Church implies that the Spirit was not already here—e.g., with the prophets, etc.

How does the OT "function theologically" for me, given that "historically it doesn't speak of Christ in any authorially intended way"? First, I should say that I am open to the OT containing some messianic passages that *were* fulfilled in Christ. (My objection is to the willy-nilly way in which such passages were multiplied almost beyond control by the early Church, and the way in which placing the alethiological moment in those passages upsets the cart.) But primarily the OT functions theologically in that it tells us about God's dealings with Israel. It shows us who God is and what God is like. If that isn't theological, then I don't know what theology is!

You write, in response to my example of a meteor hitting Pluto, that "[t]he truth has nothing to do with what the author wanted to say, it's just a matter of what happened", which, of course, is a correct summation of my view, but you wonder what that has to do with authorial intention. Here it is: in a text in which the truth of some semantic moment (*viz.* the central one) is assumed, as it is in the case of a confessional approach to scripture, the *meaning* of the text is assumed to be *true*, meaning that the author is assumed to be referring to events or circumstances that obtained in spacetime. It's the assumption that something there is true that brings the commodities of meaning and truth into mutual contact.

Isn't the trinity present in the kerygma? I thought that the Father raised the Son from the dead, who in turn sent the Spirit to mediate his continued presence to the Church. In fact, the kerygma appears to provide the most succinct statement of the Trinity found anywhere in the Bible (outside of the textually suspect Johannine comma). And of course I think the creation is important. I think it's central to the faith of the Old Testament, and it's central to Paul's theology. (In fact, I would recommend to you the work of Gustaf Wingren [esp. his *The Flight from Creation* and *Creation and Gospel*]. He shows [convincingly, I think] that creation properly occupies that place in theology which Barth wrongly accords to revelation.)

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi John,

I'm sorry for the delayed response. I've been have a giant conversation on Stephen's blog and it's difficult to have two going at once. I appreciate this conversation however and I've done some thinking. I was wondering if we would get any closer to each other if were to rephrase the issue. I'll go through your e-mail point by point and hopefully this will become clear.

I think part of the blame lies with a lot of the nonsense that came out of the twentieth-century linguistic turn, as reflected, I think, in your difficulty envisioning truth as materially separate from the interpretive grid that is required to understand propositions

I am able to imagine events occurring apart from our consciousness of them. But the occurrence historical events and 'truth' are two separate things. The decision to label only historical events as true, and only certain ones at that, is an decision, and as such it needs to be made on certain grounds. It's not self evident. You indeed provide an argument for this: the kerygma. Yet, as we have seen, the kerygma says a lot more then that certain events happened. Thus, the kerygma cannot be used to justify an alethiology which only accepts historical events as true. In fact the kerygma would imply that a lot more than historical events constitute Christian truth. The mere existence of God is an alethiological requirement, and this is not a historical event. The nature of God as mysteriously triune is also not a historical event. The triune God is not even stated propositionally, but rather demonstrated narratively. That would seem to say something about the limitations of propositional statements in describing this mysterious reality. I would seem to imply that other linguistic genres are perhaps more adequate to the task to doing 'theology', in this case narrative, though arguable others too, such as poetry. The activity of the Holy Spirit in revealing God's entire plan of salvation is in one sense a historical event, but the emphasis is not on its happendness but on the result, namely the prophesies that ensued. When one looks at these prophesis, one is struck by the complex ways they testify to Christ. However they in fact do that, and whether they conform to our contemporary canons of logic, the kerygma would have us believe that this prophetic witness is indissolubly tied up with our apprehension of the truth of Christ. All of this seems, in my mind (and those of many scholars, as well as throughout church history), to indicate that Chrsitian truth includes historical events (an alethiology of spacetime, if you will), but it cannot be reduced to those events. 'God in Christ for the world' is a paradoxical mix of the transcendent touching the finite, for the purpose, not of providing us with a logical system composed of propositions, but for changing us from the inside out. Hence narrative,poetry, law, and dogma are all parts of the totality of theology. To say that narrative, for example, is an important category of truth, is not to say that truth is just a matter of the story, it is to say that the external, objective reality, the 'truth', is so big, all-encompassing and complex, touching all levels of our being, that we simply need lots of different literary genres (propositional statements being one them) to help us comprehend and relate to this reality.

Let us suppose, just for the sake of the argument, that Jesus Christ was *not* actually (in spacetime) raised from the dead, yet the early Church heralded a kerygma that says he *was*, and that the Church tied this kerygma as integrally with the OT narrative as you claim. Now, I ask, would such a scenario be soteriologically efficacious? Yes or no?

We are in agreement, my brother! But do my statements above show you that this poses no problem to me (at least, and I doubt to Hays though, that's another issue. Most certainly not to Childs or Seitz)? It's the inadequacy of propositions to exhaust their referent that requires other genres of communication (I would also say that Christian 'truth' is something that should effect us emotionally, and that narrative enables that, but that's another argument). Narrative is one of them, as imperfect as propositions but equally important, perhaps with its own 'function' in the total process of coming to know God. Thus, your question to Hays (“If the narrative is where meaning lies, then Christ didn't really have to die on the cross.”) is to miss the point of the nature and function of narrative. As far as Childs and I are concerned, narrative is not an alethiological category, neither is 'proposition'. As you say, it is the external reality that counts. But my understanding of this reality is far more than a few happenings, and as such is requires a broader variety of types of discourse (propositions being one of them).

Phil, surely you must see that truth is absolutely separate from narrativity

In light of the above, can you see that we agree here?

You speak of the need for an interpretive grid, but, contrary to what you seem to think, that grid does *not* impinge upon the truth of what it interprets

You are right. But I've never claimed that. What it interprets is bigger than the grid itself, such that the grid reveals a part of it in 'shadowy form'. See above!

The grid itself will be true to a degree varying according to how faithful it is to the facts

I can now agree with you, along as it is understood that the 'facts' to which the kerygma witnesses explode all our categories and so require multiple ways of bringing us near to them. This diversity is present in the bible, in all kinds of Christinan literature,and in the kerygmatic summa themselves (they contain propositions, narrative, prophesy [which, when looked at, contains all kinds of genres]).

The efficaciousness of the Christ event lies within the events

I think I know where you're coming from. Without the events it doesn't matter what people tell me, the event itself saves. My problem is that according to Paul, with out the proclamation, no one will hear of them, so that no one will get saved either. Of course, the proclamation itself won't save us: it would be an empty shell on its own. But the true 'power' which God has displayed, remains isolated without proclamation. And even here, in the context of evangelism, we see how the nature of the truth to be proclaimed is greater than a string of propositions, such that their mere recital constitutes an adequate communication of this truth. I don't want to get into this now, as it's a whole new topic, but people convert, not because something makes sense in any abstract logical sense (usually, at least), but because they see in the totality of the life of the proclaimer something different that attracts them. They see 'shalom', with the hebraic connotations of God making things the way they are meant to be. The gospel heals and makes this creation whole, it restores to a state (Edenic) that has been lost, and we taste this in the middle of this fallen world. Although this is made possible by the events of the cross (your key events), what those events mean is so much more than that they happened. It ties in with falleness, creation and eschatology. It ties into to God calling us home. That is the ultimate reality in which these events participate, within the context of which these events of the cross themselves must be grasped. That is done in manifold ways, such as in lifestyle, experience of joy, yearning and wholeness, the poetic witness to this etc. Here, for example, poetry is a better medium to the truth of God (the ultimate criterion for a Christian alethiology) then propositions alone. And this broader truth of God making whole is real truth, it is reality. It is not just a logical derivative of the cross, something collateral. It is intrinsically tied up with it. I don't know what name you would give to this alethiology, but it is more than space/time.

The interpretation is simply the epistemic analogue of the alethic situation

If I understand this right, then in the light of the previous paragraph, it means that the language we need to talk about God must be adequate to the object to which it is reffering. Thus the complexity of the 'alethic situation' I have just describe requires the diversity of interpretation I have described. Propositional statements being one of them.

And I should also mention that I do not put alethiology before the kerygma. I am simply giving alethiology the same weight and philosophical moment that it exercises in and through the kerygma

I'm afraid I cannot accept that you are actually doing this until you demonstrate how the kerygma itself leads you to your conclusions. I've tried to demonstrate that here.

It's docetism, pure and simple.

I hope you see now that no-one is being docetic here (I can't really speak for Hays, as I haven't read enough of him).

I never meant to imply that interpretations are unnecessary for us to get our minds around things, such as the Christ event. But that's a completely separate issue from the truth of the kerygma (or from the moment of its efficacy , which is the same thing

Can you now see that it is my understanding that the truth of the kerygma as something greater than just the Christ events alone that creates space for multiple ways of talking about it? And not just for taliking about it, but for determining its actual nature? The Christ event alone is not the kerygma, rather the entire plan of God from creation to new-creation. The correlation between a proposition and its referent is only one fractured part of the entire 'spiel', backed up and supplemented by the whole of what the canon has preserved for us.

Also, I refer to the OT passages cited in the wider formulation of the kerygma as "prooftexts" because that's how they function. I know Seitz doesn't see it that way, but his whole argument seems rather convoluted to me. (In fact, his unpacking of the phrase "according to the Scriptures" seems to ignore the way in which prooftexts are attached to the kerygma in the missionary speeches in Acts!

At the moment this is just an assertion on your part. You need to provide evidence, e.g. that Paul was not turning to the OT for guidance in understanding the Christ event. I have presented an argument, and you haven't responded. There are plenty of scholars who back this up. The NT scholar I've read most, and who I find most convincing, is NT Wright in his NTPG series.

You seem to think that separating truth from interpretation is somehow problematic for the fact that the kerygma must be related through a "subjective human medium" for us to grasp it, and you ask "[H]ow do you even know which events are key in the first place?" The answer is simple: It's through the testimony of the apostles

My point is that you go through language to the event. This does not autmatically provide us with an alethiology, but it logically requires a thorough understanding of the kerygma in the first place before we can say what type of truth counts. First we interpret the kerygma, then we say what should constitute a Christian alethioology. And given what the kerygma says, it would seem that an alethiology of spacetime is inadequate. To reject that, you will either have to provide a better interpretation of the kerygma, or you will have to explain how it is one goes from event to a language construct, which is then used as proof that the event is true (i.e. tautologous reasoning). Does that make sense?

You speak of "Barr's untheological aproach to the Bible", and while that way of putting it is, strictly speaking, true, I think it makes an invalid point, as it is Barr’s ability to think in and through the true logic of the text (something which Childs, Seitz *et al* are missing because of their foresworn allegiance to a Reformation-style theology that allows him to show what "theological exegesis" conducted according to the text's own rules would look like.

First of all, you often makes statements concerning Seitz or Childs' inability to read the Bible properly because of their commitment to 'Reformation style' theology. It should be clear that unless you back this up with argument, it begs the question of what is correct theology. Maybe the Reformers got it right, maybe not. I hope you are aware of the extensive work these two schlors have done in the area of patrisitics and the history of interpretation. You should at least have looked at Childs' last published work, a hermeneutical analysis of the church's history of interpretation of Isaiah. The Reformation is just a couple of chapters in this thorough and comprehensive work.

Second, you need to show how Barr's can be used to show us an adequate approach to theological interpretation. All I have to go on for now are the quotes I gave concerning the importance of language as an important element of God's self revelation.

And I certainly didn't mean to imply that Christ's sending of the Spirit to the Church implies that the Spirit was not already here—e.g., with the prophets, etc.

But then how do you account for the role the Holy Spirit plays in relation to the prophets in the kerygma? I'm sure you affirm it, but this seems contradicted in practice.

But primarily the OT functions theologically in that it tells us about God's dealings with Israel.

This is to run into the problem of what right non-Israelites have reading someone else's scripture. Seitz's brilliant essays in Word without End deals with this, as well as the hermeneutical implications (chapters 2 and 4). I appreciate that you've gotten out the book and are reading through it. I also wonder what stops you taking the step of Marcion ...

in a text in which the truth of some semantic moment (*viz.* the central one) is assumed, as it is in the case of a confessional approach to scripture, the *meaning* of the text is assumed to be *true*, meaning that the author is assumed to be referring to events or circumstances that obtained in spacetime

But aren't you assuming what you are trying to prove, that authorial intent guarantees referential truth? You say that the meaning of the text is true from a confessional perspective, which you assume means whatever the texts author is reffering to in spacetime. What you assume is what you are trying to prove, that truth really is a matter of what the author intended originally in spacetime. The complexity of the theological reality to which the kerygma witnesses and the centrality of the Old Testament prophets to that witness, plus the kerygma's own confession of God's gradual revelation to a unifed people over time, would all lead to a different appreciation of the relationship of authorial intention to truth. A more complex one in which original meanings are understood have have correctly identified something, but not to have penetrated deeply enough to its heart, such that later spiritual descendants of the author can shape his original insight within a literary context so that it's deeper significance can be perceived, i.e. so that the final form of the text can witness more adequately to the reality common to all the diachronic layers of this text. Given our point here, at this point in the eschatological drama, it makes sense that the fuller form would be the the form which is theologically most relevant, powerful and yes, more truthful (i.e.it more adequately witnesses to the reality that is outside it, regardless of its literary genre as propositional statement, narrative, or poetry).

So, that's then end of my latest response. Keep the 'chat' up. Do you think I'm making progress? It would seem that our main problem is how to define the true nature of the kerygma's referent, and thus its implications for our alethiology.

Phil Sumpter said...

By the way, John, I just thought you'd like to know that you've been referred to as 'commenter extraordinaire' on my favorite blog here. I, for one, am very grateful :-)

John C. Poirier said...

Thanks for your kind remarks. This discussion is helping me a great deal, as I've often had the opportunity to debate with narrative theologians (*viz.* what I call "Duke-style" theology), but I have less often had the chance to debate directly with Childs's followers. Please feel free to take your time with your responses, or to cut out at any time for more pressing issues.

When you write that "the concurrence [of] historical events and 'truth' are two separate things", I think you're assuming that "historical events" includes only the bare bones proposition of the most general level of description, and that somehow all the descriptions of *why* something happened, or what its significance is for something else, or what it's religious import might be, are somehow something other than "historical events". But they aren't. The interpretation of an event will be true to the degree it lines up with all the aspects of the event that it describes, including questions of significance, etc. So when I refer to the Christ event as a historical event, I am including in that all of the theological connections between the Christ event and everything that it effects for our salvation. All of that is prelinguistical, despite the fact that it is only through language that we come to understand these things. In fact, "narrative" as such, when spoken of in terms of representing what actually happened, is fully subsumable within the same alethiology as propositionalism, as a narrative is nothing more or less than a set of propositions set within a sequential and interpretive framework. (This excludes, of course, all the readerly aspects that were imported into the concept of "narrative" by narrative theology.) So, yes, the kerygma *can be* used to justify an argument for a spacetime alethiology, as the interpretive framework that guides our reception of the kerygma is itself composed of historical events. (Also, the existence of God *is* a historical event, in the sense in which I use "historical" as shorthand for the obtaining of prelinguistical existence. As I've said before, God is *not* outside of history, and I should say now that that is true in two different sense of "history".)

I don't object at all to your insistence on our needing lots of different literary genres to grasp who God is, as long as "narrative" retains the same alethiology as other forms of alethiologically propositional expression.

You write that "narrative is not an alethiological category", but it *is* in the sense that a narrative is a sequentially ordered account of propositional truths. Narratives in the Bible are intended to relate what happened. (The interpretive elements intertwined with the narrative are equally a part of this propositional make-up--if an interpetation is true, it's true because it relates the spacetime actuality of the who, what, where, why, etc., of the events related.)

I agree with what you say about the importance of the gospel being related to people for them to respond to it, but that's a separate issue entirely from the truth of the gospel.

I'm not sure why you're still not getting my explanation of how the kerygma leads me to my claims about truth, as I've tried to explain it perhaps half a dozen times (or more): Paul understands the *sine qua non* of the kerygma to lie in its correspondence with spacetime events, therefore the truth of the gospel lies within an alethiology of spacetime actuality. Any hermeneutic philosophically consistent with the gospel must also be based upon a spacetime alethiology, since any other alethiology represents a first-order conflict. (Once again: reality is either linguistical or it's prelinguistical, but it cannot be both [unless you're on drugs or your name is "Richard Rorty"].)

You write that I "need to provide evidence, e.g. that Paul was not turning to the OT for guidance in understanding the Christ event." But I never claimed that. He clearly *does* turn to the OT for guidance. My argument is that everything he gleans from the OT that falls out of line with a literal (not in the Childsian sense of the word) sense is a wrong reading, and represents an aspect of the historical situatedness of its authors that we may freely discard. My theology is in no way anti-OT, or Marcionite in any respect. (If I'm a Marciontie, then so is every theologian who thought the OT should be interpreted literally, no matter how much they thought the OT was true and relevant for our faith.) And I still maintain that Seitz's proceeding in his unpacking of "In accordance with the Scriptures" is ignoring a huge chunk of counter-evidence by failing to correlate Paul's rehearsal of the kerygma with that of the missionary speeches in Acts: the OT citations in the latter are clearly prooftexts.

It's true that you "go through language to the event", but that doesn't mean that the truth of the proclamation doesn't reside entirely in the spacetime actuality of the event. If I say that a meteor just hit Pluto, the truth of that statement would lie in its correspondence to fact, irrespective of whether that fact was known to anyone. The truth of that proposition would be exactly the same if no one ever said that a meteor just hit Pluto. The linguistic packaging of the proposition is second hand, and it relates to the truth aspect of the proposition as the scaffolding around a cathedral relates to the architecture of the cathedral itself.

You ask "[H]ow do you account for the role the Holy Spirit plays in relation to the prophets in the kerygma?" To my mind, the Holy Spirit is the spirit of prophecy, so certainly the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets in their original utterances. But I'm not sure what that has to do with the recycling of these prophetic texts in the kerygmatic prooftexts. I don't believe that the Holy Spirit is in the business of making his words change meaning. As far as I can see, the Holy Spirit's role in the Bible has nothing to do with hermeneutics.

You write "This is to run into the problem of what right non-Israelites have reading someone else's scripture". I don't see a problem, as I fully believe that the God of the NT is the same God that we read about in the OT. As for what stops me from "taking the step of Marcion", it's my fundamental opposition to his view of the OT.

Concerning your remarks on my assuming authorial intention, etc., I think that it is worth noting that my understanding of Scripture is the simpler, more straightforward one--that the Bible is a text that means what its authors intended, because that's what texts generally are--not only common-sensically, and not only in terms of their origination, but also in terms of every theory of texts that comes down to us from antiquity other than theories of allegory, etc. I think that the burden of proof is on anyone who would claim that the Bible is something different. If the Bible itself *claimed* to be something different, I would accept that, but it doesn't. The New Testament's own self-understanding is that it is the testimony of the apostles preserved for a post-apostolic readership. Nothing more complex than that. In other words, I think that the whole Reformation-style understanding of Scripture as the "word of God" or as revelation itself, or something along those lines, is just the working out of an impulse entirely foreign to Scripture itself. As a primitivist, I believe the Bible is authoritative for me because the apostles were eyewitnesses of the Christ event, and the New Testament preserves their testimony.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks John,

I think we may be making some kind of rapprochement. Your definition of 'spacetime' reality above makes your alethiolgical suggestions more palatable to me. I'm sure, though, that a more adequate term could be found for saying that truth is pre-linguistic. Prelinguistically does not automatically imply 'spacetime', and I have to say, whether God is in time or not, to characterise his reality as one of 'spacetime' seems a bit heavy handed to me. How do you feel about my most recent post? I wonder whether that makes Seitz more palatable to you? I'm thinking especially of his statement that,

“It is not that Jesus is hidden behind the words about him, which must then be sifted to get at the "historical Jesus." It is, rather, that the words that tell about him simultaneously convey their inadequacy, in formal terms, because of the subject matter they are trying to reach. The very fourfoldness of the gospel record is a witness to the majestic difficulty of the endeavor of presenting Jesus as a character of time and space, fully man, fully God. But this is not an inadequacy that can be remedied through historical-critical heavy lifting, because it inheres with the subject matter itself, which is God in Christ.”

I should add that I find it hard to imagine “significance” is a matter of spacetime. It could be, but I think I'd need to flex my brain muscles a bit to be able to imagine that.

The major difference between us seems to be the relation of the two testaments. You say that the NT just radically distorts the OT to say something it doesn't in order to support the gospel. Nevertheless, the gospel is the criterion of the OT, so it doesn't matter that this was done. Whether the OT spoke of Christ or not is beside the point, it's what the apostles say that matter. I guess I have three responses to this.
1)I'm not convinced the NT actually does that. There are plenty of NT scholars who say otherwise (NT Wright, for example. C. Tilling's blog represents this approach). You've referred to Acts, but you haven't said why they are only proof texting. Could you back up you claim with argument?
2) One cannot get at the significance of the Christ events without a pre-existing interpretive model in which to place it. If you reject the OT as the source of the model, then where do you get it? You seem to require a source other than the one the apostles used. But as far as I can see, there is no other source. All the details you've subsumed under “historical” were taken by the apostles from the OT, whether you like the way they did it or not. If you reject their hermeneutic, then you must reject the conclusions they make on the basis of it. Of course, if you say that they made no conclusions of the basis of it, instead simply perverting it to fit their own agenda, where did they get this agenda? The agenda, or interpretive model, must come from somewhere, because dead people rising and then floating into the sky do not intrinsically produce the kind of comprehensive understanding of the events which you outlined above.
3)If it is the case that the OT was central for apostolic understanding of the Christ event, and this could be demonstrated, such that one would have to agree that without the OT they would never have come to the conclusions they did, would you change your mind? I feel you would have to, as you say that it is what the apostles said that counts. Therefore, if they say that the OT is their source for making sense of Jesus, they can't be ignored. Unless you can actually demonstrate how it is that Paul's (for example) assertions about Jesus can be separated from his OT understanding of them. Given the overwhelming centrality of the OT in kerygma, NT and creed, I'm still waiting for an exegesis or philosophical analysis of these texts which back up you claims. You are still simply asserting that it is the case (as in this sentence: “Paul understands the *sine qua non* of the kerygma to lie in its correspondence with spacetime events, therefore the truth of the gospel lies within an alethiology of spacetime actuality.” Regardless of how often you assert it, without an adequate response to my points about utter centrality of the OT to the kerygma, this just remains an assertion, backed up by no evidence).

To my mind, the Holy Spirit is the spirit of prophecy, so certainly the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets in their original utterances. But I'm not sure what that has to do with the recycling of these prophetic texts in the kerygmatic prooftexts. I don't believe that the Holy Spirit is in the business of making his words change meaning

Here you assume what I reject in point (1) above. In addition to that, as I've said, meaning doesn't change in any 'ontological' sense, it is just deepened. It changes only in the sense that a child changes into an adult or a butterfly changes into a caterpillar.

I don't understand how your commitment to the integrity of pre-linguisticality of truth leads to the conclusion that texts only mean what authors meant. If truth is prelinguistic, then it doesn't matter what the author's meant. It only matters that their texts bring us into contact with that truth. This can be done by later redactors perceiving what they meant but within the horizon of a fuller understanding (for example at the 'fulfilment' end of the 'prophecy – fulfilment' spectrum) and thus shaping those texts so that this deeper meaning comes out.

As far as 'common experience' goes, I have friends who are writers, who often say that interpretations of their works understand the issue better then they did, such that they can understand themselves and what they actually meant better in the light of other's responses to their work. It's the subject matter that counts, the reality that they are attempting to grasp, not what was ever in their 'consciousness' in the first place at the moment of writing. Intentionality has various levels of consciousness, such that talk of 'authorial intent' needs to be qualified by what dimension of this intent is meant (see M. Sternberg on this). The very fact that the Bible is kerygmatic, a witness to an external reality, should turn us away from a focus on the what ever the discreet intention of the author was in comprehending this reality. We should get rid of it, but it needs to be relativised within a broader horizon, in this case the totality of what the canon is trying to express.

I should add that literal sense and authorial intentionality are not necessarily the same thing. See Childs, 1977 on this.

reality is either linguistical or it's prelinguistical, but it cannot be both.

I feel torn here. This statement assumes what the reality already is. I'd rather first try and look at the reality under question (God) and derive my conclusion from it. Given my understanding of this reality (i.e. it's really big and complicated and transcendent and paradoxical and involves God becoming human to communicate with us for a particular reason with a particular agenda, all done with in an eschatological framework), I'm reticent about such statements. This doesn't contradict what I said above about the Bible witnessing to a reality outside of it. That reality could be so comprehensive that it includes the linguistic nature of the way we communicate ... but I'm getting out of my depth here.

I think that it is worth noting that my understanding of Scripture is the simpler, more straightforward one--that the Bible is a text that means what its authors intended, because that's what texts generally are--not only common-sensically, and not only in terms of their origination, but also in terms of every theory of texts that comes down to us from antiquity other than theories of allegory

I quote A. Lowth to show how problematic your over-easy rejection of allegory is: “allegory, used in its broadest sense, is constitutive of Christian interpretation as a means of discerning the mystery of Christ”, Discerning the Mystery pp. 96 – 131. Oxford: Clarendon (1983); cited in Childs 2004: 302.