Monday, 19 January 2009

Barr on Scriptural Authority

Anyone vaguely familar with this blog will know that I am a great fan of Brevard Childs. Childs' greatest critic was James Barr, another brilliant scholar who I need to become more acquainted with. One thing I notice, however, when I read his critiques of Childs, is that he seems to consistently miss the point. I can't imagine Childs disagreeing with too much of what Barr said ... at least not the stuff I've read. It's just that Barr's own approach, as Seitz put it, is "myopic." He doesn't get to the substance of what Childs is talking about.

Here is a quote by Barr, which, at least read on its own out of context, I can pretty much agree with:

We have seen that scripture emerged from the tradition of the people of God. Now there is no reason why we should say that scripture, i.e. the final written product, is inspired byGod but the stages which led up to it, in which the important decisions were take, the stages of oral tradition and the like, were not inspired by God. So inspiration would have to be understood in the sense that God in his Spirit was in and with his people in the formation, transmission, writing down and completion of their tradition and its completion and fixation as scripture. In this process the final stage, the final fixation, was the least important rather than the most important. Now this helps us with another question: is the authority really the authority of the books as books, or is it the authority of the persons who wrote the book and the persons about whom they are written? Do we believe Romans because, being scripture, it is authoritative, or do we believe it because it was by St Paul who as a person was authoritative? In the way I have put the matter, it is not necessary to make the choice an absolute one. Authority resides in the people of God, or perhaps more correctly in the central leadership of the people of God; but it also resides in the scripture which they formed and passed on to later generations as their own communication, as the voice which they wanted to be heard as their voice. The grounding of scripture is in the history of tradition within Israel and the earliest church.”
Barr,J. (1980) “Has the Bible any Authority”, in The Scope and Authority of the Bible. SCM Press. pp. 63-64

[Hat Tip: Richard, of the helpful blog יהוה מלך).

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