Friday, 18 June 2010

Continuity in Childs' exegesis

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm starting a new thread looking at the ways in which Brevard Childs read the Bible. The content of these posts will be pretty simple: I'm simply going to be posting extracts from his two major commentaries: Exodus and Isaiah, juxtaposed in relation to each other and in relation to what I consider to be certain central themes in his work. One could argue at this point that these two commentaries stem from totally different points in Childs career and thus cannot be simply juxtaposed. Almost like a bracket, the Exodus commentary was written at a time before Childs had devloped the concept of a "canonical approach," whereas the Isaiah commentary was published at the end of his career, at a time when the very term "canonical approach" had begun to become problematic for him (due to its misinterpretation by others - do I now belong to that crowd? That's for you to judge).

That a development in thought occurred is clear. My task is nevertheless to highlight the continuity across Childs' career, and I will juxtapose his exegesis from both commentaries in relation to specific issues.

If I were to define this continuity in terms of a phrase, I guess I would say it is his Barthian stance vis-à-vis the Bible, namely, that the text is a "witness" to a reality outside of itself. This “genre category” (because it functions as a description of the nature of the text itself) provided Childs with the impetus in his later career for re-considering allegory as a legitimate mode of appropriating the Bible theologically. Already in a colloquium on Barth in 1969 Childs notes how
Barth wants to go through the text, to the reality, that the text becomes a transparency, that the walls that separate the reader are dissolved, and one then begins to confront the reality itself.”1
This was his point of difference with Hans Frei, who was also present at the colloquium. In contrast to pure narrative referentiality, Childs believes
One has to keep in mind that the early church, in the controversy with Judaism, took a quite different move. Where the Jews were saying, read the text! read the text!, the Christians said, there's something behind the text. It's what the text points to, namely: Jesus Christ. And there was a dialectic between the reality and the text.”2
In a later re-working of the same presentation, Childs notes with admiration how Barth's exbegesis was compatible “with the whole Christian tradition,” that there is a certain “family resemblance.”3

This final term became a key phrase in his look at the history of Christian interpretation of Isaiah.

We will see how this works itself out exegetically in the posts to come.

1Childs, “Karl Barth,” 34.

2Childs, “Karl Barth,” 56.

3Childs, “Karl Barth: The Preacher's Exegete,” unpublished lecture at Yale, 1969 (Thanks to Daniel Driver for providing me with a copy of this paper. He himself received a copy from Christopher Seitz). Childs' last publication before his death, Struggle, makes this phrase and reality programmatic.

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