Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The Hermeneutical Implications of the Canonical Shaping of the Pentateuch

To round off his presentation of the canonical shaping of the Pentateuch, Childs briefly sketches a few of the hermeneutical implications of this approach to Scripture:

1) First, the present shape of the Pentateuch is a theological witness which is lost if its shape is destroyed in order to reconstruct a chronological sequence. The present arrangement preserves a basic critical norm as to how the tradition was to be understood in the life of the people of God.
2) Divine revelation is not buried in past historical events which depend on recovery by archaeology in order to be made available to the church. Rather, the long history of the development of tradition reflects God's continuing revelation of Himself to His church which left its mark in the canonical shaping of the Pentateuch. The growth of the Pentateuch was not an arbitrary selection and arrangement by individuals apart from the ongoing life of the community of faith. The final shape of the Pentateuch is canonical, that is, normative for the life of faith, because it reflects the fullest form of the church's understanding of God's revelation.

3) The decisive factor in shaping the tradition was the concern to render it in a form so that it could be correctly understood and rightly appropriated by the succeeding generations of God's people. This is the role and function of canon. Scripture became the vehicle by which the original historical events were remembered, but also theologically interpreted to function as revelation for the generations yet unborn. The decisive hermeneutical role of canon was to guide the church in moving from the past to the present.

4) By taking seriously the canonical shape of the Old Testament the Christian interpreter suddenly discovers that he stands in the company of all the great Christian expositors of the past. Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, rather than being regarded as museum pieces of an uncritical age, are found to be wrestling with the fundamental issues of faith.

Childs concludes:

In the end, the goal of all our endeavors is that we interpret the Scripture so that men and woman will recognize in them the living Christ, and God willing, some will perhaps even testify: "Did not our hearts burn within us when He opened to us the Scriptures?" (722).


Andrew Compton said...

Wow. Nice post. VERY powerful quote at the end!

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks Andrew. I find Childs challenging, though as I persevere I feel I'm making slow progress.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I think this is just meaningless. I agree with Childs that we have to look at the Pentateuch and the Tanakh as a unity to uncover the themes and intent that ties it all together. However, unless these underlying themes can be linked to specific historical circumstances - such as the exile and the literature and mythology of the Exilers - then we will only be scratching the surface of these texts. I understand the "old testament" as the resistance literature of a "third world" culture, glued together with the notion of covenant. As such, it speaks volumes to a world of superpower conflicts and gross inequalities, incidentally inhabited by a tribe of religionists who bear the name of an ancient freedom fighter but seldom have the courage to follow in his footsteps.