Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Politics and the Religious Role of 'Canon'

I have claimed here that the Bible developed out of a relationship between God and his people, a relationship in which this people were elected and formed in order to witness to God's single plan of salvation. Central to this relationship is, in some sense, an authoritative Scripture become canon. As Childs says: "The heart of the canonical process lay in transmitting and ordering the authoritative tradition in a form which was compatible to function as Scripture for a generation which had not participated in the original events of revelation" (1979: 60).

The question has been raised as to whether other factors predominated in the texts' formation, such as political, economic, or even morally corrupt ones. These would undermine the nature of the text as religious literature (a kind of form-critical category) for a community of faith.

This is a significant question for Childs, as his approach depends on this theological dimension being actually present in the text. He is aware that the development of the Bible was a complex process in which political, sociological and economic factors played a role. Nevertheless, it is his claim that in these factors were subordinated to a more overarching religious end. The significance of this dimension can be seen in this quote:


"... whenever modern critical theories are proposed which would call into question the integrity of Scripture's faith claims, it is certainly appropriate to mount a reasoned defense for its support. Thus, a historical critical theory of Deuteronomy which would construe the book as a pious fraud created for propaganda reasons to support the political aspirations of the Jerusalem priesthood would, if true, raise serious questions about a canonical interpretation which claimed that the book was shaped by primarily religious concerns. Similarly, if the development of a sense of canon was only a late peripheral phenomenon of the Hellenistic period, my approach to the O.T. would be seriously damaged. For this reason, I have felt constrained to mount a reasoned case why such a politicized interpretation of Deuteronomy does less than justice to the biblical text, and why the forces associated with the canonical process lie at the heart of the entire O.T." (in his "Response to Reviewers" of his Introduction; JSOT (16) 1980: 56).
Here we see that for the canonical approach history matters and that the text should constrain our interpretation. Canonical readers have an vested interest in the results of historical analysis and as such cannot escape into a safe 'narrative' world untouched by real-life concerns. Judgment depends on the results of exegesis done in tandem with a good theoretical awareness of the nature of the project actually being embarked on.

8 comments:

Phil Sumpter said...

Anthony and Timothy,

this is my response to your comments here.

As mentioned in the post, the existence of a political etc. dimension is indeed a real possibility from Childs' perspective, and indeed he admits that it plays a role. He even claims that certain traditions were joined together with no intentionality involved at all. Ultimately, however, these various concerns were subordinated and encompassed within a religious concern. Reducing our understanding of the dynamic of the text to political, sociological or economic concerns simply doesn't do historical justice to what is really going on.

Childs' claim for this theological shaping of the text was also not, as you (Anthony) imply, limited to the final voice which was imposed upon all previous layers (i.e. perhaps in the Hellenistic period?Cf. my post) . Rather, it “extended far back in Israel's history and exerted [only] an increasing force in the post-exilic period” (1980: 53, italics my own). This is the central force of Childs canonical approach which undergirds his insistence that the final form is indeed the final horizon upon which the contemporary theological significance of the text can be perceived. Built into the totality is a forward thrust that is almost restless and which pushes forward to fulfilment. If your interpretation of Isaiah is correct, i.e. chs. 56 – 66 represent an independent piece of literature made to bolster the claims of one political minority, whose voice was included in the canon as a matter open-mindedness or diversity for the sake of diversity, then I guess there would be no reason to focus on the final form. Indeed, we would have to do reconstructive work in order to untangle the mass of independent voices, not only to understand what is being said but also to be able to array before us the full spread of opinions.

This is where particular exegesis comes into play. The problem is that your theory is tendentious and open to serious refute. A characteristic of recent Isaiah research has been the interconnectedness of the entire book (this was claimed by one reviewer to be the main contribution of Childs' Introduction). The book does not fall easily into three parts, rather there is consistent evidence that parts from each were taken and editorially inserted in other parts, creating a theological unity with, arguably, a developing story line (Seitz even rejects the existence of a 'third Isaiah' altogether, arguing that its perspective is too integrated into that of 'second Isaiah'). The canonical point to be made, beyond this merely literary observation, is that the dynamic involved was one of disciples cherishing the historical Isaiah's words and seeing these come to fruition. The identity that the “children” of chs. 56 – 66 is intimately connected with the offspring of the Suffering servant of ch. 53. Their role is somehow to live in his achievement and to carry on his work. Of course, politics and religion are inseparable in the biblical world, so that the claim of one subgroup to be the “true Israel” will obviously cause political dissension. But the point is that the claims of those behind 3rd Isaiah, or simply the identity of the “servants” within the text, is not comprehendable apart the promises of the rest of the book. The development is inherently theological, and from our perspective in this post-biblical time, it can only witness to the one plan of God when it is read on the horizon of the whole book, which includes the failure of Zion to fulfil its mission, its punishment and then redemption for the sake of the whole world.

In sum, canon for Childs is a broad concept which encompasses the actual closing of the canon (something which, for Christians, has never been fully resolved). It is not a matter of what goes in and what stays out. It rather refers to the nature of the texts themselves. This is Childs' criticism of Brueggemann, namely that his approach does not take into account the nature of Israel's own testimony, submerging it instead under the imaginative construal of particular readers. Childs' approach is not some innocent wish for coherence, but rather a claim based on historical and literary exegesis, done within the context of the Christian rule-of-faith. It remains for Brueggemann to refute that, something I haven't seen him do.

Please tell me if I've missed the point, or misrepresented you! These conversations force me back to my texts in order to clarify where Childs is coming from.

James Pate said...

Here's a question I'll throw out:

Even if the composition of the certain biblical writings was politically motivated (assuming that is the case), the writings still present us with a good way to live, don't they?

John C. Poirier said...

Phil,

Now that you’re able to post more regularly, I now find time at a premium. Hopefully I can keep up with your posts. Since you have posted several items since the one in which you last responded to me (in the comments), I have decided to post here so that the discussion will remain closer to the top of the webpage.

Your description of Childs’s understanding of the Bible’s meaning sounds awfully rabbinic: the text (on the rabbinic view) has a depth or multifacetedness of meaning that only comes to be discovered in succeeding generations of interpretation, yet the whole of it is “oral Torah” revealed at Sinai. In practice, for the Rabbis, the conceit about it all having been revealed at one point in the past is really a legal fiction designed to render what, in reality, is a readerly approach in terms really native to a theoretically (divine-)intentionalist or formalist theory of meaning. If I understand you correctly, Childs is doing the same thing, except that the language of an ecclesial hermeneutic takes the place of the language of the Rabbis’ access to oral Torah through the activity of studying. (The similarity of Childs’s schema to the rabbinic schema probably accounts for Jon Levenson’s strong support of Childs’s ideas. Levenson, as a Jew, embraces a rabbinic view of Scripture for himself, and transparently projects the same view onto Christian bibliology.)

You ask me how “meaning is . . . intrinsic to events, regardless of human perception?” That’s not what I meant to suggest. Meaning is a matter of a communicator’s intention, but for that meaning to be *true* on the terms of a spacetime alethiology, it must be indexed positively (i.e. correspond) with prelinguistical, spacetime actuality. It’s not the fact that we’re dealing with meaning *per se* that makes it necessary to bring spacetime actuality into the picture, but rather the fact that any sort of religious affirmation of that meaning (which is what an emic approach to biblical hermeneutics is all about) must regard that meaning as true. (How can a religion regard its Scripture as untrue in that moment that lends authority to that Scripture, yet consider itself a true religion?) This means that in interpreting the Bible we are dealing not only with meaning *per se*, but also with truth, and this is what requires us to inquire as to the alethiological structure of Christian belief. Christianity’s foundational alethiology can be found, as I have said, by asking in what sense the events of the kerygma have to be true in order for the gospel to be soteriologically efficacious. Is it that they have to be true in the sense of obtaining spacetime actuality, or is it that they are true merely by dint of their inclusion within the scriptural narrative? The answer is clear: the Christ event must be true on the terms of spacetime actuality. This means that the (*only*) operative alethiology for the Christian belief system is an alethiology of spacetime actuality, and, by extension, that that is the only alethiology that can be used to understand the truth aspect of Scripture. In other words, the requirement that Scripture be true in at least that function or aspect that makes it “Scripture” for the Christian religion brings to bear a spacetime alethiology, which in turn points to the ontological priority of referent over reference for the Christian belief system in general, which in turn implies that the Bible need not be true in every little thing it says but rather only in those creedal elements that are definitional for Christianity.

At one point you ask me how “such a move” as what you think I suggest “is theological[ly] desirable”. I think that this sort of question reveals a lot about the Childsian approach. I have always found it to be motivated as much by nonrational impulses as by the real question of “Is it true?” (You will recognize this, no doubt, as another of Barr’s complaints.) Frankly, I don’t care at all whether my approach is “theologically desirable”. I only care whether it is true. If I find myself worrying about the former, I try, with a sense of urgency, to correct myself for the sake of the truth of the Gospel. Theologians should avoid, as much as possible, any criteriology based on anything other than the structural demands of the Gospel.

I look forward to your further remarks on authorial intention.

You write that “placing ourselves into the Biblical narrative . . . literally *constitutes* the meaning of the events”, and you ask me how they “have meaning otherwise”. It’s really simple: when the text says that Jesus rose from the dead, it means that he quite simply rose from the dead, with or without me. If my acceptance of that truth effects my salvation, that is something altogether different. It is not a hermeneutical gesture in the least. Appropriating the truth of the gospel through gestures of approach has nothing to do with hermeneutics: the meaning of any proposition (scriptural or otherwise) is materially separate from anyone’s acceptance of that proposition, no matter how much the truth of that proposition might affect that person.

Christianity is, of course, a *revealed* religion, but it is not a *revelational* religion. By that I mean that God’s revelation of the Gospel is not constitutive of the Gospel itself, and that the Christ event should not be understood *in the first instance* in terms of revelation. Rather, it should be understood in terms of an *act of redemption* that is not, in the first instance, epistemic in any way.

I really do think that we can and should make “generalizations about the nature of biblical truth”, because there is only one possible alethiology for a belief system that has the apostolic kerygma as its center. There is no room for any sort of “creative tension”. Language and spacetime reality are not like the sides of a Moebius strip—they are conceptually distinct. As Christians, our first doctrinal allegiance is to the kerygma, plain and simple. If that conflicts with the bibliology of our parents, then so much the worse for our parents.

By a “theology of the Word”, I mean a theology that understands either Scripture or any other medium of God’s revelation to be a sort of active force that engages the Christian in an almost ontological sense (almost like “the Force” in Star Wars).

The function of Scripture, as I see it, is primarily to preserve the testimony of the apostles, which is the kerygma. In this connection, I would agree with Heiko Oberman on the logic behind Irenaeus’ understanding of the New Testament: “Inasmuch as the apostles did not institute other Apostles but bishops, . . . the episcopal witness is a derived witness, and its function is to preserve the integrity and totality of the original apostolic witness. To this end the Canon was formed” (*The Harvest of Medieval Theology*, 367). Secondarily, Scripture also presents the background for understanding the kerygma (including the whole gospel story), gives us examples for our own practical guidance, presents ethical guidelines, wisdom, insights into God’s nature, etc., etc. In short, Scripture does all the things that any Christian who has not been raised on a theology-of-the-Word paradigm would understand to be the purpose of the Bible, based on a simple reading of the Bible as an authoritative text.

I look forward to your continuing series on Childs’s approach.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi James,

this is actually a complex question. Determining whether the Bible presents us “ with a good way to live” depends on what kind of context you are operating out of. From the context of Christian faith, the Bible as Word of God is definitely seen as something 'good' (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16). From other contexts it could be seen as primitive, oppressive or just a mixed bag.

But even when we've decided that the Bible is in some way 'good', we still haven't figured out the hermeneutical issue of how to extract what is 'good' from the Bible and and how to apply it to our very different contemporary contexts. The problem is that there is diversity in the Bible. How do we reconcile the varying attitudes to slavery, for example, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy? How do we reconcile ourselves with the fact that slavery is allowed at all! I personally find the ethics of the Book of Joshua extremely difficult to stomach. Is the command to devote pagan inhabitants of the Holy Land “to the ban” a universal decree, to be followed either literally or by extension?

This is where the discussion of the nature of the biblical witness becomes significant. If the Bible consists of competing voices trying to make their own, independent and self-serving claims, then we need to take each as it comes and choose from any number of hermeneutical options concerning the 'actualization' of these claims (e.g. finding modern analogies, situating the claims within a hypothetically reconstructed salvific metanarrative [Heilsgeschichte], declaring them to be superceded by modern insights about the way things actually should be, etc.). If the texts are seen as a 'dialogue with tradition', in which texts are collected and shaped in the light of broader theological concerns, then the question of the nature of the texts' interrelatedness becomes relevant and indeed, for those of us who are the latter recipients of this tradition, of extreme urgency.

An example of this exegetical-theological move in the realm of “how to live” is G. McConville's essay “Old Testament Laws and Canonical Intentionality” (2006), where he situates the above mentioned tensions in the context of the overall Pentateuchal narrative, reaching back to God's promise to Abraham that he would be a blessing to the nations. I won't go into detail, but McConville concludes that “The narrative of Genesis-Kings has built into it (via Deuteronomy) a temporal depth-dimension which makes it available for re-reading in multiple horizons.” This re-reading is constrained by the shape and thrust of the narrative.

Does that help?

James Pate said...

That's one way to do it, though I would caution that there are sections of the Hebrew Bible that are quite nationalistic and that are not overly positive about the nations. For example, Israelites could treat strangers (or, more specifically, nochriim) worse than they treated their fellow Israelites. I know this somewhat undermines my original point, but it should be put out there.

Phil Sumpter said...

James,

sure. My point wasn't that there are some positive statements about “the nations” and so therefore we should automatically read the rest of the laws as being somehow positive for them. That wouldn't logically follow and it begs the question of how to in fact do that. My point is that trying to understand the 'good' in Bible requires a hermeneutical awareness of how the Bible communicates its message in the first place. Intertextual reference and narrative context provide guidelines. These literary features are the product of a theological submission to God's ongoing revelation, which legitimates reading the texts in this broader context. Such a move doesn't foreclose beforehand what our conclusions will be. Thus, the other anti-nations statements need to be set in their canonical context, which means as part of the whole of Scripture, before they can be evaluated.

Hello again, John.

The conversation goes on! I worry that we may, at times, be talking past each other, but with perseverance and patience we may succeed in enriching our understanding of the Faith and our ability to walk with God (which is what it's all about).

I'll respond point by point to your comments.

In practice, for the Rabbis, the conceit about it all having been revealed at one point in the past is really a legal fiction designed to render what, in reality, is a readerly approach in terms really native to a theoretically (divine-)intentionalist or formalist theory of meaning.”. I'm afraid I don't really understand what you are trying to say here. Childs never claims that the totality of Christian theology was really there all along. He is quite adamant that Genesis 1 doesn't claim that Jesus was the means of God creating the world, or that a full blown doctrine of the Trinity exists in the epistles. The question for the Christian is how to read all this diversity in relation to broader dogmatic claims made by the post-canonical church that are based on the final form of the text, not to read them back into the text. As for rabbinics, Childs emphasises that difference between allegory and midrash as two separate ways for appropriation of the biblical material, though what he has to say about midrash doesn't sound like what you claim here for 'oral torah'. As for Levenson, from what I remember, he appreciates Childs' approach because he emphasises the the value of the final form of the text. On this basis of this assertion, and on this basis alone, Childs finds value in the works of traditional Jewish exegetes such as Rashi who also operated with this context. This creates common ground for Christian-Jewish dialogue. That is not the same thing as saying that both religions share a hermeneutic in which the totality of their respective dogmatics was present in the text from the very beginning. Indeed, if that was really the case, then how could Childs use Rashi? Their starting points (Oral Torah vs. Systematic Theology) would be so different that they wouldn't be able to talk to each other!

You said: “ Meaning is a matter of a communicator’s intention, but for that meaning to be *true* on the terms of a spacetime alethiology, it must be indexed positively (i.e. correspond) with prelinguistical, spacetime actuality”. How can theological truth claims be reduced to “space-time” referentiality (I struggle like anything with the word 'altethiology': could you find a synonym?), given the existence of God outside of time and space? Of course the biblical God enters time and space, but neither he nor his plans are reducible to it. Doesn't the fact that Christianity is eschatological, with a future goal whereby God will fill all things, and we will live in eternity in his presence not complicate the idea that theological truth must, at all times and by definition, refer to things, events, in space and time?

You said: “any sort of religious affirmation of ... meaning (which is what an emic approach to biblical hermeneutics is all about) must regard that meaning as true. (How can a religion regard its Scripture as untrue in that moment that lends authority to that Scripture, yet consider itself a true religion?)”. I believe you are misusing the word “emic”. An “emic” approach to Scripture means reading Scripture from within the Christian world-view, bracketing out supposedly objective truth claims and instead assuming the ones of the target community. When a cultural anthropologist talks about being “emic” in his or her research, he talks about entering their way of viewing things. It is not about simply believeing certain facts to be true or not (if it was then the distinction between emic and etic would be irrelevant, as all truth claims would function of the same level. It would be just a matter of choosing). What you have done is assume from the outset a particular definition of 'truth' (i.e. it is propositional and historical-referential), and have then claimed that Christian truth must also be like this. This is highlighted in your claim that “ I don’t care at all whether my approach is “theologically desirable”. I only care whether it is true.” Neither I nor Childs believe that there are fixed definitions of truth out there waiting to be discovered by intelligent and rational humans, who can then fit their theology into its categories. Such an approach undermines the basic understanding of theology as “faith seeking understanding” (I also find your claim that you are just interested in the truth in general, and only in God and Jesus derivatively, slightly naive. I simply don't believe in dispassionate research). Rather, a genuinely emic approach is Childs', which is to understand the way the Bible functions within the Church in relation to is proclamation of the Gospel, i.e. to enter into the Church's world view. Apart from deciding which community's view-point is to be determinative, this does not prejudice the issue of the nature of truth (i.e. alethiology) from the outset.

Christianity’s foundational alethiology can be found, as I have said, by asking in what sense the events of the kerygma have to be true in order for the gospel to be soteriologically efficacious.” Leaving aside my confusion over your use of the word 'alethiology', could you clarify something. Am I right in saying that you reduce all Christian truth to a set of key events, intentionally reported by some authors, which become the only thing worth believing in, so that the rest of the Bible, which doesn't refer to these key events in a direct and literal way, becomes irrelevant? I also repeat my earlier point: how can an event be soteriologically efficacious without human cognition of it? Thus language and event cannot be separated in terms of God's plan of salvation.

Is it that they have to be true in the sense of obtaining spacetime actuality, or is it that they are true merely by dint of their inclusion within the scriptural narrative?”. I believe I've already addressed this false dichotomy (along with the separation of ontological referent from reference). It's not either-or but both-and. Neither I nor Childs, Seitz, Hays etc. see the issue as so simple. As Seitz says, the biblical text is not an accident of some Metaphysical substance. Details will emerge, especially when discussing Christianity's 'dialectical' understanding of history. See also my comments in the preceding paragraph.

the meaning of any proposition (scriptural or otherwise) is materially separate from anyone’s acceptance of that proposition, no matter how much the truth of that proposition might affect that person.”. Sure, but you need to understand the proposition before you accept it or not. And understanding the naked propostion “Jesus rose from the dead” salvifically (who is that anyway? What's the difference between his resurrection and Lazarus'? What's all this got to do with returning from exile? Why should I care?) is more then mere cognizance that it happened, surely? The guards at his tomb new he rose from the dead, and his disciples believed in him and were saved before it happened. Indeed, so was Abraham. Considering that the Old Testament is as authoritative as the New, a Christian 'alethiology' would have to take into account how Abraham believed on Jesus and was saved.

the Christ event should not be understood *in the first instance* in terms of revelation.” How do you relate this to Jesus' saying: “If they do not believe Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced is someone were raised from the dead”? I know you emphasise *in the first instance*, but I still don't get how that works in practice or how it is of value to separate the two.

I really do think that we can and should make “generalizations about the nature of biblical truth”, because there is only one possible alethiology for a belief system that has the apostolic kerygma as its center.”. Could you justify and explain this? What exactly is the 'apostolic kerygma' for you? Why should all truth claims be reduced to it? You seem to be making humongous, unqualified jumps.

I throughly agree with your quote of Oberman. Childs has often made very similar statements. However, this still doesn't answer the question of what the kerygma is. Irenaeus' rule of faith seems to be far more comprehensive then Jesus' life and accomplishments, and includes prophecy as an integral element. Thus, attempting to derive and alethiology from this “substance” of our faith (if possible and desireable) cannot simply be a matter of propositionally reported events.

This, I believe, is the crux of the matter. The Christian Gospel is “according to” Scripture. It rests upon a pre-existing written word, in which it is, in some sense, “in accordance”. The question for the early church was not, “do we keep the Old Testament now we've got Jesus?”, but “do we accept Jesus in light of the Old Testament?”. This means that all our theologising has to take into account the two-testmental nature of the biblica witness to the One God. The Old Testament is as much a witness to Jesus Christ as the New, only differently. We have to understand how that works, and that should be our starting point for understanding God (which is what it's all about). To quote Seitz:

“Jesus Christ is the Son of God crucified, not because his death was squared with a rigid monotheism in some theologically ingenious way but because of the identity of the God of Israel in the truest and deepest sense. This identity is manifested, in essence, in Jesus' death on a cross”.

This is a complex alethiological situation that involves more then simply pointing our propositional finger at a series of events. Figuration as a means of talking about God and his ways becomes at least as foundational as language pointing to naked events.

In fact, my next post will be on the nature of a Christian's approach to Scripture, taken, ironically, from J. Barr!

John Poirier said...

Phil,

Thanks once again for your response to my comments. Once again, I'll post my remarks at the top of the webpage so that the conversation doesn't get buried.

I find something very frustrating about your description of Childs’s views, as you seem to keep changing it. At one point, you insisted that Childs does not believe that meaning changes. That was the position you held out when I threatened him with not holding to a spacetime alethiology. But in your most recent response, you say that Childs “is quite adamant that Genesis I doesn’t claim that Jesus was the means of God creating the world”, but in order then for Childs to hold that meaning does not change, it must follow (mustn’t it?) that for Childs it is illegitimate to read Genesis 1 in that way. I just don’t see how Childs (according to you) can be both against the idea that the meaning of the text changes *and* hold that Christians must “read all this diversity *in relation to* broader dogmatic claims made by the post-canonical church that are based on the final form of the text”. Does it not follow from the latter that the original meaning has been obsolesced by the new “canonical” meaning? Would that not be a case of changing meaning? Or are we to ignore anything that the text means before it was “canonized”? Does or does not Childs believe that meaning changes? And if he does not, then what is the sense in which he can hold that different generations can read it differently and both be right?

You ask “How can *theological* truth claims be reduced to ‘space-time’ referentiality”, especially given “the existence of God outside of time and space”? I have two things to say in response to this: (1) saying that something is true by dint of obtaining spacetime actuality has nothing at all to do with the physics of spacetime *per se*: it simply means that what makes it true is not a purely semiotic function of language. And (2) the idea that God is “outside of time and space” is certainly a commonplace in Western theology (and it is especially pronounced in Barthianism), but it is not deducible from either the Bible or logical necessity. (On this, see my article entitled “God” in the forthcoming *Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus*.)

Where I said “emic”, I could have said “confessional” and made my point.

Also, I don’t understand how you can say “What you have done is assume from the outset a particular definition of ‘truth’ (i.e. it is propositional and historical-referential), and have then claimed that Christian truth must also be like this.” I’m sure that I have explained, at least half a dozen times, that I am not assuming any particular definition of truth at all, but rather am allowing the centrality of the kerygma, and the sense in which it must be true for Christianity to be soteriologically efficacious, to determine the proper definition of “truth”. I have *never* at any point just started with a predetermined definition of truth. Everything in my understanding of what Christian theology is all about, and what its bibliological options are, goes back to the kerygma that forced that definition of truth on me. Believe me: if the Bible’s central theological commitment offered a linguistical theory of truth in place of the one I actually find in the kerygma, then I would be Childs’s biggest supporter!

I am not saying that everything in the Bible outside of the kerygma is irrelevant. Not at all. I’m just saying that the kerygma is that set of propositions that must be accepted in order to be a Christian, and that, derivative of that fact, *truth*, for the Christian belief system, is a matter of obtaining spacetime actuality. This alethiological byproduct of the kerygma means that the truth of everything in the Bible can only be a matter of spacetime actuality, and that the meaning of the text therefore cannot change.

And when you ask “how can an event be *soteriologically* efficacious without human cognition of it?”, you seem to mistake my meaning. Certainly, we cannot *receive* the benefits of salvation without knowing about it, but that is very different from saying that the meaning of the events is open to readerly interference. Receiving the truth of a proposition is not the same thing as constructing the truth of a proposition by reading oneself into it.

You don’t seem to understand the total separation between the two competing alethiologies. You call it a “false dichotomy”, and “not either-or but both-and”. But that’s not conceptually possible. Spacetime alethiology and storytime alethiology are not compossible. If you say something is true “by dint of its inclusion within the scriptural narrative”, then you are saying that it is true *without* respect to spacetime actuality. You cannot say that linguisticality is prior to prelinguisticality, and that prelinguisticality is at the same time prior to linguisticality.

You ask me to “justify and explain” my saying that “there is only one possible alethiology for a belief system that has the apostolic kerygma as its center.” This is the point I’ve been trying to make all along. Every time I’ve used the word “alethiology”, I’ve been trying to make the point that, if (1) we accept that the kerygma is central for Christianity, then (2) we must accept that the sense in which the kerygma must be true to be determinative for Christian alethiology in general, so that (3) competing alethiologies, even if supported by Scripture or tradition, must be consigned to the dustbin.

You write, “The question for the early church was not, ‘do we keep the Old Testament now we’ve got Jesus?’, but ‘do we accept Jesus in light of the Old Testament?’.” I have to disagree. The Christ event is the starting point of Christian theology—not the Old Testament. The Old Testament was merely used (prooftextually) as a support for the kerygma, to witness to it. As important as that witness was, it was secondary to the apostles’ witness. According to the teaching of the apostles, what makes one a Christian is acceptance of the kerygmatic narrative—*not* acceptance of the Old Testament.

By the way, I want to respond to something that Daniel Driver said a couple of weeks ago. He said that I was lifting Barr’s comment about Childs being “stuck with two theories” out of context, and that what Barr meant by it is not the way I was applying it. I have now gone back and reread Barr’s comment (*The Concept of Biblical Theology*, 416), and I find that I was using it correctly all along: according to Barr, Childs has two theories in that he has “a non-referential one for historical matters and a strongly referential one for theological matters”. Whether a reading is “referential” or not is a matter of whether the truth of its meaning is dependent upon the spacetime actuality of its referents, which is exactly my point in this whole business of alethiology. Driver may wish to take another look, especially since he says he has discussed this passage in his dissertation.

Phil Sumpter said...

John, I've posted my response on the Trinitarian Approach to the Bible post, as it takes into account my two recent posts. I look forward to hearing from you!