Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Redaction and the "rule of faith"

In response to my recent post prophetic redaction as a rule of faith, a certain Michael asked some interesting questions concerning the nature and adequacy of using the category in relation to the Bible.

What precisely is the "rule of faith" that is in operation in these examples?

Childs' use of this important category stems from his interaction with patristic hermeneutics. I've outlined its interpretation by an important scholar here. Kathryn Greene-McCreight is another important name here. In “He Spoke Through the Prophets” she defines it as “the pre-creedal, creedlike material outlining the basic points or narrative moments of the Christian faith” (172). Again, “The rule of faith functions as an outer limit that places constraints on what can be argued as a legitimate reading ... The rule of faith is 'the real content of revelation, the fundamental tenor of the one message of Scripture'” (173). In short, the rule of faith is the substance of the whole of Scripture, God's ordo salutis, which provides the norm for correctly interpreting it in a kind of hermeneutical circle. If one reads Scripture according to this rule, one is letting Scripture interpret itself (scriptura sui interpres est).

Applied to the editorial history of the Bible, it implies both the source of the editors' inspiration and the function of the result. The final form of the book of Amos, for example, wants to retain the particularity of its various oracles within the broader theological horizon of God's ways with Israel. The editor is committed to a theological vision, a “rule of faith,” and this informs his editing activity. As such, to quote Childs, “The imperative to "remember the law of my servant Moses" ... sets a check against any misuse of the prophet's words which would call into question national solidarity.” The phrase “rule of faith” also describes the function of that which the editor has created: the new literary work provides the material “with an interpretative guidline.” Only in following the final form's shape can we access the theological substance to which the editor is witnessing (in continuity with, though expanding upon, the historical Amos, of course).

And are they the same in each example? (i.e. Amos and Ecclesiastes)

Given the description above, I don't see why not. “Rule of faith” describes the form and function of the text, not its substance. For theological reasons we are committed to believing that on some level the substances create a theological unity (Childs calls it “ontological”).

How is this "rule of faith" created?

Through divine revelation, comprehended in an ongoing dialectic between history/experience and tradition.

Is the label "rule of faith" appropriate for what you see going on?

Yes. “Rule” references the establishing of an authoritative guideline, a κανών, eschatologically orientated to future generations of the faithful. “Faith” describes the nature of the substance witnessed to by the rule: it is a faith reality.

Is what is going on (whatever label you use for it) occurring consistently in other texts as well, with the same function?

Childs has consistently argued in numerous publications on both testaments that this is the case. In my opinion, as long as “rule of faith” is primarily understood in terms of form and function, this shouldn't be too problematic. The “content,” the “object of the witness,” is the complex bit. Can you think of examples to the contrary?


Anonymous said...

Hi Phil,

Again, I find myself sympathetic to what you are seeing and trying to describe, but less sympathetic to some of the terms you use to describe it :)

The reason I keep pressing you on terminology (I hope you are not sick of me yet!) is that as I understand it, the way the ROF is spoken of in theological disciplines seems to be far less dynamic than the process you are describing.

So while I would agree that what you are seeing at work is both "source and result," I am wondering whether this IS a ROF (as traditionally expressed), or simply analogous to it.

I can understand the identification of a continuity or trajectory to certain compositional strategies that result in a Scripture collection. But can you abstract some kind of regulative principle at work behind this, and then identify it with a term that has been used by early Christian readers for a way to relate texts, faith & practice, and the Reality outside the text to which it points?

Also, can you clarify: at one point you remark "In short, the rule of faith is the substance of the whole of Scripture, God's ordo salutis..."; then you say "“Rule of faith” describes the form and function of the text, not its substance."

re: "The “content,” the “object of the witness,” is the complex bit."--yes, it seems to me that this is true!

all the best,

Phil Sumpter said...

Michael, I hope you understand that my delay in replying is not due to the insignificance of your comments! I'm trying to keep my head above water while having various dialogues at the same time. So, do keep pressing me on terminology! I like being pressed.

You said: the way the ROF is spoken of in theological disciplines seems to be far less dynamic than the process you are describing.

You'll have to provide evidence of this. The use to which I have seen it put emphasises the dynamic, transcendent nature of the regula fidei. I'm thinking especially of Webster, who is Barthian. For Hägglund, for example, it is the ordo salutis, Gods way of salvation. All the post is saying is that whatever literary, redactional technique is used, it functions to clarify this reality. As such, I'm not identifying, as you put it, "a continuity or trajectory to certain compositional strategies that result in a Scripture collection." There are a diversity of strategies, as the various posts in the thread make clear, they are all united, however, by their common function: that of pointing to the rule of faith/truth (regardless of how they do it).

In that they do that, one can say that they too are a rule of faith (to respond to your second question). This may be odd usage, but from what I understand there is ambiguity in the tradition. The term rule of faith" is used both of the signifier and the signified, but only to the degree that the former is understood to be a bearer of the latter. Scripture (or the redactors) preserve the truth testified to, i.e. the "rule of faith," and in so doing becomes a rule of faith itself. Here's is Hägglund's formulation:

"The regula fulfils the function of being a fundamentum of the doctrinal tradition through the mediation (Vermittlung) of the holy scripture. We can perceive the reality of the revelation, the facts of salvation history only through the witness of the prophets and the apostles, through the writings of the Old and New Testaments. This witness must be interpreted and expounded again and again, but also recapitulated (zusammengefasst) and literally reproduced. In the process, however, the regula itself, the truth to which the scripture witnesses, maintains its position as an unchanging foundation. It is not a coincidence that the Greek word for rule, κανων, became more and more a fixed designation for the holy scripture. The original witness is not only “canonical” because it is endowed with the authority of the prophets and apostles, but also because it is a bearer (Träger) of the revelation, a mediator of the reality of salvation." (My translation, taken from here.

Let me know if this makes sense or not, or whether your convinced or not!