Monday, 18 February 2008

The Nature of the "Substance" of the Bible

Childs often talks of the "substance" of the Bible. It is this reality to which all theological exegesis ought to "push through." Today I'd like to clarify Childs' use of the term, as it has acquired associations through usage which most Biblical Scholars have attempted to eschew.

Classically, the philosophical concept of “substance” denotes the essence of a thing in distinction from its accidents and its qualities. In traditional Western ontology an analogy of being was sought between human and divine reality which could be discerned to some degree by means of reason. As such, objections may be raised that Childs' concern with Biblical reality will end up with a static deposit, a “ground of being,” or an abstraction of timeless ideals.

Childs, however, treats the biblical witness as primary in order to fill these philosophical terms with meaning. The reality to which the Bible points is dynamic, rather than static. The narrative nature of the regula fidei (which Childs endorses, cf. here) already points to this. As Childs states, according to the Bible

“the reality of God ... has no true being apart from communion, first within God's self, and secondly with his creation. God is one whose being is in loving which is grounded in a freely given commitment toward humanity and this relationship is constitutive of his being.” [*]
[*] Childs, Biblical Theology, 82.

3 comments:

Paul said...

Seems to me the Bible is an anthology, multi-authored, composed over thousands of years, with some texts that are very similar and others widely disparate; and that the "substance" is always going to to be those elements and aspects that the particular theologian finds most meaningful and prefers to emphasize.

Which is why the potential for theological debate is truly eternal.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for your comment, Paul. I posted a response to this here: http://narrativeandontology.blogspot.com/2008/02/clarifying-bibles-subject-matter.html.

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