Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The Bible as "Vehicle"

I've made much of the fact that for Childs the text is a witness to a divine reality. This has hermeneutical implications, especially concerning how we should read the final form of the text (see here, especially, but also here and here).

As I read through Childs' Exodus commentary, I notice that he also uses the word vehicle. As such, the Bible is a vehicle of truth, so that particular stories can be used to illustrate certain truths or drive a point home. The Rabbis, for example, used the story of the manna in the wilderness as a vehicle for expressing God's care for his people; the early church Fathers used the same story as a homiletical vehicle for a variety of themes, ranging from preparation for martyrdom (Ignatius) to polemics against the Jews (Cyril of Alexandria).

The question I'm asking myself, is whether there is a difference between the "Bible as witness" and the "Bible as vehicle"? The following article on the Biblical Theology movement uses the terms interchangeably: the Bible is a vehicle or witness of the divine Word.

I intend to keep an eye out as I keep on reading. In the meanwhile, I did a quick google and came up with the following interesting phrases on "the Bible as vehicle":

For a secular use of the term, this article talks about the Bible being used as a vehicle for cultural, historical education.

Steve Harris's blog speaks of the Bible as "a vehicle of God's authority through which he acts in the lives of people and in the world"

A critic of Christianity scorns the idea of the Bible being "a vehicle of magic communication from God to me."

A would be Gnostic helps a teenager struggling with Christianity with the following advice: she needs to remember "that the bible is a vehicle to God - a tool to use on your journey."

The Christian Right apparently uses the Bible as a vehicle for defending their position on many subjects.

The following site offers readers help on how to use the Bible as a vehicle for retelling their own life stories.

Someone claims that they are not using the Bible as a vehicle for saying what they want to say.

An article on the Doctrine of Scripture reminds us that "that the Bible is a vehicle to Christ, not an end in itself."

An article on Philo talks of the Bible as a vehicle of salvation.

Someone talks of the Bible as "a vehicle for trying to control people."

German neo-Orthodoxy spoke of the Bible as a vehicle for God's ongoing experiential revelation to humans.

Concerning social change, the Bible can be seen as a vehicle for development in South Africa today.

Colonial interpretation used the Bible as a vehicle for inculcating European manners.

Certain Jewish rituals allow parents to use the Bible as a vehicle for explaining the significance of the name they have chosen.

Some apparently consider the English Bible to be a vehicle for teaching true religion.

Some Jehovah's Witnesses have a habit of using the Bible as a vehicle to critique the Roman Catholic Church.

Some insidious groups use the Bible as a vehicle for the promotion of mind control.

Interestingly, the Bible was also used as a vehicle to advance literacy among Māori.

So, which of these uses of the Bible as a vehicle are appropriate to the Bible itself?


JR said...

Phil - fascinating riffs on the bible as vehicle. Fun. Your search results make me regret my negative joy-killing post on the other thread about biblical law. I held that unpacking ancient texts is nearly impossible. I put too negative a twist on the difficult and exacting scholarship underway. At the same time, take a look at your search results for the “bible as vehicle.” Just imagine all the "soft evidence” (my prior post) from ancient times lost to us. It’s really not for me to say, nor for me to put a cold damper on researching antiquities – how do I know when researchers will hit a mother lode? – who knows, maybe the evidence lost to us from antiquity is stored up in some quantum hologram, which future quantum computers can query as depicted in sci-fi fantasies? – just imagine not having to read heavy tomes of scholars, and instead, imagine sitting down at Google and directly searching the entire time-space library of knowledge archived in some quantum realm! – or, are we smart enough to ask the right questions? – speaking of which, best wishes on your book purchase decisions!

Cheers, Jim

Phil Sumpter said...

Hey Jim,

I didn't find your last post joy-killing. I appreciate all kinds of input and I agree with you anyway, we can't dig up the past (well, not as well as archaeologists and historians would like to). I don't think that being able to do so is necessary for us to be able to read and even understand the text. Whatever origins the laws had, and what ever forces were at work in their production, the tradition process has handed us that which is enshrined in the canonical shape of the Pentateuch, and this new literary shape provides a new and, I'd say, adequate framework for interpretation. Rather than following Noth and Alt in attempting to read the various legal corpora in their various original cultic, tribal (?) contexts, we should read them as they are presented: the revelation of God of his will to his people at Sinai. I'm currently reading Childs' 1975 Exodus commentary which deals with both dimensions of the text. He, at least then, was more confident about our ability to figure out what really happened. But despite that, he argues for the integrity of the final form and interprets it accordingly. So not having access to this quantum computer is not such a problem after all!