Wednesday, 19 December 2007
Criteria of Prophetic Truth
After a break of a few days, I return to my summary of Childs' article, "Retrospective Reading of the Old Testament Prophets" (1996). For previous posts in this thread, read the following: 1, 2, and 3.
Because what Childs has to say here is so concise, succinct and important, I'm simply quoting it in full. Of all that Childs has written, this is one of his most illuminating articles!
"The prophetic understanding of truth is not determined by conceptual consistency. This prophetic message is not transmitted in the form of theological tractates nor of philosophical ruminations about abstract moral ideals. Rather, the prophets bear witness to a divine reality by which they have been constrained. Their response is not always logically structured and often a divine encounter is only indirectly perceived. The prophet communicates the divine will for Israel and for the nations in a great variety of different forms, styles, and images. Often the content is too awe-inspiring for conceptual clarity and its ad hoc articulations appear fragmentary, visceral, and partial. Frequently the subject matter runs roughshod over temporal and logical categories, and the editors link together events of similar qualities of time according to their substance. This move accounts for the consistently theocentric orientation of the prophets. Little attention is paid to the psychological state of the messenger, nor to the modern concern over the nature of the filtering process by human tradents. Rather, prophetic truth is measured by what rightly conforms to its divine subject matter and evokes a faithful response from its recipients (Isa 8:11ff).
The implications from this biblical perspective is that too much weight cannot be assigned to the logical inconsistencies or to conceptual tensions within a given passage as a means by which to reconstruct unified literary redactions. Because the nature of prophetic speech was to reflect an encounter with the reality of God, an analysis of a prophetic oracle as if it were simply a freely composed literary construct does not do justice to the material. Careful attention to the function of metaphors in rendering reality is usually more indicative of the prophetic meaning than the coherence of larger literary structures.
Again to assume that meaning can only be rightly determined when it is firmly located within a conceptually evolving trajectory rests on a questionable semantic foundation. Because the prophetic writings were soon treasured as authoritative Scripture, textual expansion occurred in the process of continual usage not toward the goal of correcting concepts deemed false - a concept quite unthinkable in Judaism - but in order to elucidate and confirm for its hearers the truth of a prophetic message which it was assumed to possess." (1996: 374-375).