Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Quote of the day: Verbal revelation

The revelation is in the text itself, in the words that confront us there in all their strangeness, and not in a history or a personal biography or an event that we reconstruct by means of the text. The event of revelation is available to us only through the text of Scripture interpreted in the context of the church. It is through these words and no others that God intends to speak to us, and, when he does, we know that there is no other kind of inspiration than verbal inspiration. Far from implying any divinizing of the words of Scripture, verbal inspiration understood in its Biblical sense takes the words of the text with full seriousness as the words of real men, spoken or written in a concrete human situation, and yet at the same time words in which God ever afresh reveals himself to me. [*]

What do people think of this? Is it justified? What are the alternatives?

[*]James Smart, Interpretation of Scripture, 195-196; cited in Stephen B. Chapman, "Reclaiming Inspiration for the Bible," 200.


Bob MacDonald said...

Read Psalm 29 - it does not read 'the text of יְהוָה' and read Psalm 19. Their sound is gone out into all the world - without text or language.

Torah is not text but engagement with the one to who the text points. The medium is neither the messenger nor the source of the message.

Bob MacDonald said...

to whom! - typos reveal my errant nature

X-Cathedra said...

Not quite sure how the claim in that last sentence is upheld. I'm also not sure why such a seemingly narrow scope has to be held: what are the boogie-man interlocutors that necessitate such a focus?

What about the nature of Revelation for the Christian communities prior to the final formation of the Bible? Before the Revelation was actually read? Does this view tend to the evacuation of Revelation's historical embeddedness?

I'm just not sure why the line needs to be drawn there, and how it could do greater justice to the non-textual horizons of the text by locating the revelation so exclusively in the reading of the text.

Pax Christi,

N T Wrong said...

What do people think of this?

I think it's complete fantasy, insanity.

Is it justified?

Any sort of nonsense can be justified, and evangelical biblical studies furnishes a number of examples.

What are the alternatives?

(An anal fellow tried to convince me at SBL that you could only have one alternative, not "alternatives". But he was unaware that language evolves.)

One alternative would be to view the Bible as about as likely to provide inspiration from God as it is likely for my dog to vomit up gold. But I guess you're not entertaining that alternative...

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for your comments, guys. A number of issues are raised here which I would like to respond to. Do give me time!

Phil Sumpter said...

I've now responded via another post: My take on "verbal revelation". I'm not sure if I've covered all your concerns so do let me know!

Bob, as I said in the post, I think you are making a different point, but a necessary one as Smart's formulation can be misleading. There seems to be an ambiguity between "revelation as reality" (e.g. the textless sound of Yhwh) and "revelation as text" (Ps 29, which tells us that this is the case). I think there is a similar ambiguity in the early church's use of the term regula fedei/veritatis: it is both reality and authoritative witness. See my post The rule of faith as the reality behind doctrine, tradition, and scripture.


Not quite sure how the claim in that last sentence is upheld.

This is the mystery that I think the church is called to wrestle with. Andrew Louth intimates it here. Childs calls it the "mystery of Israel" (see my post The task of Jewish Christian exgesis, in particular the last line: "the Christian church the continuing paradox of faith lies in its encounter through the Jewish Scriptures with the selfsame divine presence which it confesses to have found in the face of Jesus Christ." Examples of seeing the new in the old are scattered throughout the Old Testament itself, particularly in the actualization of prophetic tradition (see my thread, Canonical shaping of the prophets). Smart's interlocutors are probably conserative Evangelicals who, like their secular counterparts, insist on taking the text literally, assuming it can only have one meaning.

What about the nature of Revelation for the Christian communities prior to the final formation of the Bible?

Great question, thanks. As I mention in my newest post and in my comments to Bob, there is a need to distinguish between different "levels" of revelation (though I doubt that's an adequate term). Barth, for example, spoke of the "three times of the Word" as a way of comprehending this. There is the full reality which is God and is our calling to "plumb," and there is the medium by which we do this. The process of the formation of the New Testament, which took a while, was precisely a process of wrestling with the reality by means of the testimony to it. The selection and ordering of the New Testament was the culimnation of a theological process of figuring out how best to witness to the Gospel. This would assume that the final form of the NT itself is the most adequate witness to reality testified only brockenly in its part (partial gospel witness, synoptics vs John, Paul vs James etc.). The corollary is that church tradition itself becomes a necessary dialogue partner in exegesis, as Smart's quote makes clear.

Does this view tend to the evacuation of Revelation's historical embeddedness?

Not if you take into account what I have said above. A commitment to the text as a means of revelation doesn't rule out taking the developmental nature of the text serioulsy. I would say it encourages it. Hence the fact that historical criticism was originally a Protestant enterprise.

I'm just not sure why the line needs to be drawn there

Where would you draw the line?

N.T. Wrong,

you are obviously an intelligent and informed individual, so I can imagine that dialogue with you could be very fruitful. I'm not entirely sure how that can take place, however, given the contextless assertions you've provided me with. Or did you just want to get something off your chest?