Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Is the Bible a witness or a source?

The distinction is fundamental to Childs' canonical approach to the Bible as scripture:

To hear the text as witness involves identifying Israel's theological intention of bearing its testimony to a divine reality which has entered into time and space. Conversely to hear the text as source is to regard it as a vehicle of cultural expression which yields through critical analysis useful phenomenological data regarding Israel's societal life. [*]
Is this the intention of the traditions found in the Bible? Are secular critics who operate within a materialist framework doing the Bible an injustice by locating it a reality other than the one it testifies to?

[*] Childs, Biblical Theology, 98.


Mark Stevens said...

Fantastic question Phil! I picked up Childs' Exodus yesterday and read the first few pages (I am preaching Exodus this term) and I thought to myself; wow this guys is good (at least in his approach I haven't got to the commentary yet). Then I thought to myself, this is why Phil has dedicated much of his blog and Phd to him! ;-)

Andrew Smith said...

The dichotomy feels false to me. Surely a witness-as-text is a vehicle through which we see cultural expressions? In short, the testimony is coloured by the culture of the writers.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Mark,

I'd be interested to hear what you think of his commentary. It isn't exactly what most people associate with "synchronic exegesis," but that is why I think it is so important. It gives us an insight into key issues that preceded his fully developed canonical approach.


I agree with you, but I think you are saying something different to the quote. It's one thing to say that the text is "a vehicle through which we see cultural expressions," it's another thing to say that these cultural expressoins exhaust what the Bible is about. Hearing the text as source means that your goal is not to ultimately get to the reality which the text is pointing to, but to the culture of ancient Israel. This goes back to Barth, who also influenced von Rad.

Let me know if I haven't made things clearer ... (or if I'm missing something)

Andrew Smith said...

That does clarify the point, but I still feel that the dichotomy is false, that the quote attempts to force me to choose the text as reliable or authoritative witness. Perhaps I'm overstating the issue, but I find it more useful to read the texts of ancient Israel as (in desperate want for a better phrase) opinion pieces about God, filling in the blanks between the witness historical events and the declaration of faith.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Andrew.

the quote attempts to force me to choose the text as reliable or authoritative witnessI do think Childs would like us to make a decision.

I find it more useful to read the texts of ancient Israel as ... opinion pieces about GodThe texts present themselves as being from God to us (most clearly in the Prophets, though I think by implication for the rest of Scripture). I think it's interesting to bear that in mind when (rightly, as you say), taking into account the human dimension of the text.