As we read through the biblical story, it is clear that the Israelites themselves retold their stories with such fidelity and innovation. As the ancient Israelites encountered new situations, they remembered and interpreted their traditions in such a way that they engaged contemporary problems and concerns.This patter of "stability and flexibility, fidelity and creativity, consistency and innovation" ought then to be repeated in our age. The fact that the Bible is an "an unfinished drama" frees us to interpret it with a similar amount of creative freedom.
Friday, 24 April 2009
The dynamic of Holy Scripture: verbum and res.
Jason Goroncy of the beautiful blog Per Crucem ad Lucem has posted a quote by Walsh and Keesmaat On the Dynamic of Holy Scripture. If I'm reading the quote correctly, I see them as essentially saying that the Scriptures were constituted by a dialectic between received, authoritative tradition and the creative imagination of later Biblical tradents, employed to related these traditions to their contemporary situations. They say
Having soaked my self in the thought of Brevard Childs over the last couple of years, I find myself coming to a different conclusion. On the one hand, these thoughts are reminiscent of the classical Christian categories of "typology" or "figural interpretation." The difference, however, is that typological or figurative (or allegorical) extension - both in the Bible and in Church tradition is not so much a matter of creative freedom but of discerning the common substance that bridges the temporal gap. In Isaiah, for example, Assyria and Babylon are constantly juxtaposed as reflecting the same ontological reality, despite their (canonically preserved!) historical distinctiveness. In the same token, the second Exodus from Babylon is not just a creative re-construal of a received tradition for a new historical situation, the language of Isaiah witnesses to the occurrence of an event that participates in the same kind of redemption as the first Exodus, as well as every other act of God since (the Resurrection is an Exodus, and not just an event which can be imaginatively seen as such). It is the “substance,” the ontological reality which binds together the diverse formulations and reformulations found in the Bible and it is the quest for the substance - the attempt to “pierce” the text to what lies behind it (Childs spoke of the Bible becoming a theological "transparency" for such gifted interpreters as Karl Barth) - that ought to characterize theological (and indeed any sachgemäß) exegesis.
This links up their phrase: “the Bible [is] an unfinished drama … .”
Is the Bible an unfinished drama? As far as I can see, it contains everything from Creation to New Creation (in both Testaments respectively). What is left open is the way in which we are to perceive this drama at work in our own lives, but again, achieving this has less to do with imaginative reconstruals of inherited tradition and more to do with learning to see the unity within the diversity. And the guideline for doing so is the canonical shape given to Israelite tradition by faithful tradents engaged in exactly this kind of process.
For those who may be interested, I've summarized (or rather am in the process) Christopher Seitz's excellent book Prophecy and Hermeneutics here, which says similar kinds of things.
A New Testament scholar whose profound thoughts move in this direction is Paul Minear. I've collected my quotes and thoughts on his book The Bible and the Historian here (in particular Christian eschatology and historical methodology: the case of John).