Saturday, 13 October 2007

"In accordance with the scriptures" #1: Three Aspects of the Phrase

[For the entire series, read in the following order: 2, 3, 4]

In his essay ""In Accordance with the Scriptures": Creed, Scripture, and "Historical Jesus"" (1998: 51 - 60), Christopher Seitz discusses three aspects of the phrase "in accordance with the scriptures", found in the Nicene Creed:
  1. It's biblical character. "In accordance with the scriptures" is a phrase lifted bodily from 1 Corinthians 15. Therefore, any sharp separation between creed and scripture, between Bible and tradition, between exegesis and theology, misrepresents the situation.
  2. It's exegetical scope. While the death and resurrection of Jesus are said by the creed to be in accordance with the scriptures, close reading of 1 Corinthians 15 demonstrates that much more is implied by the phrase than that something singular happened to Jesus, according to scripture. "In accordance with the scriptures" says as much about the present life of the risen Lord, and its relationship to us, as it does about dramatic Easter events once upon a time.

  3. It's theological significance. To say that Jesus Christ died and rose again in accordance with scripture means that his identity is tied up with Old Testament statements on the front end, and post-Easter convictions on the other. These accordances, preceding and following his earthly life, cannot now be, nor have they ever been, impediments to understanding Jesus as a figure of time and space. "In accordance with the scriptures" is a shorthand for "in accordance with the reality for which God requires our conformity and our obedience". As Jesus was in accordance with scripture, so the church lives in accordance with the Jesus canonically presented and shared with believers through the work of the Holy Spirit.


Bob MacDonald said...

Phil - you might want to correct the spelling errors it's should be its - third person singular possessive pronoun and scripture - you've got a couple of instances with an extra t - then delete this comment.

I think the post is important - how do we deal with the scriptures - most 'Christians' today are closet Marcionites

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks Bob, I speed type and forgot to do spell check! I'll keep your comment because of the last sentence.

Timothy Goering said...

Great post!
Had to think of an complimentary note from Childs: "[...] the challenge of Biblical Theology is to engage in the continual activity of theological reflection which studies the canonical text in detailed exegesis, and seeks to do justice to the witness of both testaments in the light of its subject matter who is Jesus Christ.” (Biblical Theology, Minneapolis 1993, p. 78f)

The "in accordance" is a fundamental and central asset to understand the entire Bible. The authors of the New Testament are only able to express what revolutionary new things they have experienced with the 'vocabulary' of the Old Testament! It is impossible to seperate both.
Love Bonhoeffer's thoughts (from your earlier post) on this, too.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks Tim. Looks like my views are "in accordance" with yours.

John C. Poirier said...


I think these remarks might belong here, as some of them deal with the formula “in accordance with the scriptures”.

You write, “I see no problem in ‘changing’ meaning if there is also an essential continuity with the ‘original’ meaning”. I disagree. The sense in which the kerygma must be true is the sense of its referents obtaining spacetime actuality, which is to say that the kerygma renders a spacetime alethiology. Thus, if we assume that the meaning of a given text is true while also affirming the kerygma, then we are implicitly saying that the truth of that text lies in its referential function. There is absolutely no way to allow that that referentiality changes in any way whatsoever without also pulling the alethiological rug out from under the kerygma.

You write, “After the closing of the canon (whenever that took place), God’s word was understood to function differently”. Understood by whom? As far as I can tell, the hatching of a Reformation-style bibliology was a very slow process, and cannot at all be pinned upon the early church. For the early church, as I have said, the canon had the function of continuing the apostles’ testimony. This was exactly in line with standard understandings of what writing was all about: to continue the voice of the author for those who cannot hear him/her in person. There is no hint in the New Testament itself or in anything said by its original canonizers that this function would change. The reason that Childs's ideas are so attractive to some people, I take it, is that they are so transparently derived from the Reformation, and a lot of people have been nursed on the Reformation and assume its ideas and ideals to be those of Scripture as well.

The fact that Ps. 102 and other similar texts have been redactorially recycled does not imply that meaning changes. What we essentially have in these cases is a text with two separate careers, but that fact is not reflective of any quality of canonicity per se, nor of what meaning is or where it lies. If a text is recycled, then we may ask about the original meaning of it (seeing that it had an original author), or we may ask about the second meaning given to it by a redactor (seeing that redactors are also intending subjects). The truth of either meaning will be a matter of determining whether the intention in either case obtains in spacetime referentiality. The idea of a text having its own intentionality is nonsense. Recycled texts should be treated as two separate texts, in that we are dealing, in those cases, with two intentionalities.

With respect to the kerygma, I would insist that “according to the Scriptures” is not so much part of the content of the kerygma, as it is part of the kerygma’s framing epistemic guarantee, similar and overlapping with that formula that scholars since Dahl have called a “revelation schema”. It is important to keep these things separate, as the content of the kerygma, which is determinative for the alethiology of Christianity’s belief system, is necessary for our salvation. The fact that this content was witnessed to by the apostles and by a set of OT prooftexts does not effect our salvation at all, nor does it determine the alethiological aspect of Christian belief.

As for 1 Cor 10:6, Paul of course speaks of the things themselves as the examples, and not the text. In other words, Paul is using the standard referential aspect of a text. When I say that the kerygma was supported by “prooftexting”, I was not calling attention to the hermeneutic invested in those citations, but rather to the simple idea of supporting something with Scripture. As far as I can see, it doesn’t matter what hermeneutic they used—if they used one invoking a storytime alethiology, then we should not adopt their hermeneutic as a model for us to use.

When I said, “it’s just that the kerygmatic events are those that *must* be true for Christianity as a whole to be true, so that the question of what their truth means must be accepted as determinative for the alethiology of the Christian belief system”, you questioned the second half of that, calling it “a logical jump too far.” But there’s no jump at all: if in fact truth is about reality, and if in fact two conflicting understandings of reality cannot be simultaneously correct, it follows that two opposing understandings of truth cannot be simultaneously correct. Any given belief system can have, at most, only one alethiology. So if the kerygma renders a given alethiology, that alethiology must be accepted throughout the Christian belief system.

Phil Sumpter said...

John (and Stephen),

I should first of all say that I've just realised that in my second to last comment on the “Trinitarian” post, I accidentally copied and posted the entire text in my word document, including notes I had written to myself! Sorry for any confusion that may have caused ...

thanks for your thoughts. I'm going to have to defer a detailed response to Seitz, as I summarize is essay in the following posts. I think that a lot of this turns on our definition of the nature of the kerygma. I still feel that your skip between general, a priori definitions of truth and the particular Christian presentation as found in the kerygma. The complexity of the issue is that Christian truth does not claim to give a scientific explanation of reality, such that internal coherence is primary. Rather, it testifies to God-in-Christ, which is far more complex as it involves not only a singular act of salvation but also how we are to live out our lives in light of it. This is for me 'truth', not just a series of true-false sentences. The Biblical narratives often function in such a way as to leave certain options open (e.g. what is the Uriah's knowledge of David's intentions in the Bathsheba narrative), and this openness (called 'gapping') is central to the communicative act of the text. What is wanted is not to express a fact, but to reveal the heart of the reader (I can't think of better examples at the mo. You should check out M. Sternberg's The Poetics of Biblical Narrative. This was one dimension of Jesus' ministry, wasn't it, that the hidden content of hearts would be revealed by how we react to him? This is more then propositional truth.

The fact that Ps. 102 and other similar texts have been redactorially recycled does not imply that meaning changes..

I know what you are saying, and the issue of intentionality is complex. However one resolves it, we need to take into account the nature of the Christian kerygma which, as we see, is intimately bound up with Scripture in a more profound way then you suggest. But, despite this, can't you see that the later shaping of a tradition provides a more profound angle from which to perceive it? One example is the addition of davidic superscriptions to the Psalms, thus providing them with a narrative framework in which their meaning of made more concrete. I intend to give other examples in time.

For the early church, as I have said, the canon had the function of continuing the apostles’ testimony.

That's find. Childs and Seitz would agree with you. What that means in practice is another question (given our disagreement about the nature of the kerygma). It's at moments like this that I realize how much more I need to simply remember what I read. I have vague memories of relevant places to find better responses to what you are saying, but I haven't the time to look up all the references! I wish I could just answer off the top of my head. Instead, I'm taking the slower route of posting bit by bit, guided by comments and in tandem with the literature.

With respect to the kerygma, I would insist that “according to the Scriptures” is not so much part of the content of the kerygma, as it is part of the kerygma’s framing epistemic guarantee.

I'm afraid I don't know what you mean by “epistemic guarantee”. That seems to be a very vague term that assumes more then it says, especially considering that the scriptures were not read in the way you seem to imply (cf. Stephen's comments on “the liberties the NT writers took” here'). I don't get how this squares with your next statement, which is that the 'spacetime alethiology' of the kerygma means we don't have to accept their interpretive methods. If we reject how they extracted meaning from the text, how can the text still function as an “epistemic guarantee”?