Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Form Criticism and the Canonical Approach

Here's an interesting question I was asked recently:

Should we take canonical criticism as a logical extension of the "traditional" methods like source and form criticism?

This question was made in response to my endorsement of a quote by Sweeney on the "canonical potential" of form criticism. Here's my brief answer:

I do indeed think that "canonical criticism [is] a subset of form criticism." I'm not sure if many have cottoned onto to this, but as far as I am concerned it is vital to an understanding of Childs that form criticism, with its focuss on proclamation, be seen as the methodological presuppostion of the canonical approach (see my post on a theological justification for form criticism). However, a canonical approach also attempts to go beyond the atomizing inherent in the form critical method. It seeks to do two things: 1) appreciate the text's genre ("form") as a kerygmatic witness; and 2) think about the true nature of the object of this witness (the text's "ultimate subject matter," its "substance," res or Sachverhalt). In short, if it is the case that the texts witness to a divine Word, a creative reality (Isa 55:11) which "overtakes generations" in new and profound ways (Zech 1:6), then it makes sense that the final form is both the telos of the text's tradition history and the site of the fullest form of divine revelation. This is the ground for an appreciation of the power and integrity of the final form of the text, and not an attempt to bracket out historical criticism with literary theories of textual unity or appeals to the creativity of reader response (as useful as the insights of both these approaches may be).

The unity of the text is in its referent, so that form criticism kind of "dissolves" as its fragmentary, partial witness to something outside of and bigger than itself is elided in the canonical process, which is the history of the relationship between God and His people.

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