Monday, 1 September 2008

The text-critical challenge to theological exegesis

In my post The unity of Scripture in its diverse transmission, I raised the theological challenge of the textual diversity of Scripture. The early church depended largely on the Greek translation of the Hebrew, and, as becamse increasingly clear, the two diverged quite a lot. How does Childs' "canonical approach" deal with this?

From Childs’ perspective, the issue of textual tradition is derivative of the concept of canon, as it was only when the

“formation of the literature had reached a final stage of development within the canonical process [that] concern for the text of the literature emerge[d]." (Introduction to the Old Testament, 94).
As such there is an analogy to the considerations in my thread on the two testamental nature of Christian scripture, where I claimed that the integrity of the individual testaments should be held in critical tension with the one divine reality to which they testify. The same analogy is found in my thread on the literal and spiritual sense of scripture, where I claimed that the fundamental focus of Christian interpretation is on the spiritual sense, while still tied to and held in critical tension with the literal sense in its integrity.

And so it is in this case: Biblical theology does not attempt to remain at the textual level, as this would be to miss the key which unites dissident voices into a harmonious whole. Instead, the attempt should be made to hear the different voices in relation to the divine reality to which they point in diverse ways. To fail to grapple with this underlying substance of the two witnesses, and thus to collapse the spiritual and literal senses into one meaning, is to commit the sin which Childs calls “Biblicism.” Biblicism is the attempt to remain at the time conditioned level of the text while attempting to read the Bible theologically. This move can be seen in attempts to simply adopt the particular interpretive methods of various New Testament authors as normative for today, as well as in the attempt to elect one text tradition as more authentic or somehow spiritually deeper. Such a move is to misunderstand the theological relation of the text’s authority to its function as kerygmatic witness (see Childs' Biblical Theology, 85).

It should be added that if one text tradition is to be preferred, then Childs has argued for the MT. His argument, however, is not so much based on inherent properties of the translation, as the theological need to maintain the "ontological unity of the people of God" (Israel/church).

This is the final post in my thread on the divine and human authorship of Scripture. My next thread will look at the Christological content of the Bible.

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