Hermeneutics


Hi, I’m Ben and I’m an anachronist. In two recent posts, I’ve called out a couple of forms of anachronism with regard to Trinitarian theology and the Bible–in historical critical work and in one progressive revelation model, but I’m just as bad. While I critique them for an uncritical, or an seemingly unaware, use of anachronism,  I would argue that we cannot escape forms of anachronism so we should own up to the issue. The big concern is that we don’t lose the particularity of each author as we read, but our practice of reading is not uninformed or uninfluenced by conceptualities that post-date the text in focus. (Again, see my discussion of Gadamer in my Christosis chapter 1 for a discussion of how we know and read texts through/by means of tradition, so escaping it is impossible.) It’s not that we need a solution to anachronism, then, but we also shouldn’t let ideas run wild as if the author is dead either.

Two essays that my class explored on the topic of the Trinity and the Bible is that of Kavin Rowe’s “Biblical Pressure and Trinitarian Hermeneutics” and  Brevard Childs’ “The Identity of God”. Both work with a hermeneutical model of progressive revelation. This model is similar to a historical critical model in which the reader is encouraged to progress chronologically–prospectively–rather than  reading backwards–retrospectively. While both encourage seeing continuity between the OT and NT, they both end their respective essays with a potential caution about reading retrospectively, reading with a creedal form of Trinitarianism as one approaches the OT and NT. One distinction, though,  is the emphasis that Rowe places on the model of NT writers reading the OT retrospectively. Indeed, Rowe’s emphasis is on how the NT writers utilize OT/LXX kyrios language to identify the Son and Spirit. Child’s notes the retrospective model of the NT writers but explicitly denies our ability to read in that fashion since they were inspired (p. 381).

It seems to me that we all read prospectively and retrospectively, and that attending to the bi-directional focus is necessary. (For explicitly Christian readings, I would say this bi-directional mode attends to the dual nature of Scripture with its dual authorship–both divine and human.) Many interpreters speak of doing both, with u-turn. The question is do you start at the past and work forward (prospectively) and then read backwards (retrospectively), or do you start with Christ and read backwards (retrospectively) first, and then turn to read forwards (prospectively). In our recent volume on apocalyptic (Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination), we found this bi-directional reading was common to many, but the difference in their approaches related to the starting point. In particular, N.T. Wright pursues a prospective-to-retrospective model, whereas Richard Hays pursues a retrospective-to-prospective model. Both approaches have their pro’s and con’s, but it’s the appreciation for bi-directional reading that is important to recognize when we are working with issues of anachronism.

Statements that the Bible/NT do not have a fully orbed Trinitarianism abound. Of course, those with a “low, slow” christology make that affirmation, but even those with an “early, high” christology regularly make such claims. Behind this is a strong concern to avoid the anachronism of later (creedal) theology back into texts. It is this problem of anachronism that I think undergirds those that would both deny and affirm Nicene theology. In other words, both groups are actually committing an anachronistic reading by making the comment that a fully orbed Trinitarianism is not found int the NT.

Historical Criticism: The concern of anachronism is almost self-evident in historical critical studies. There is a one-way flow of time, and every text/author must be interpreted in light of what is contemporaneous or previous to them. In no way should later conceptualities be introduced that would taint the historical evidence. Therefore, introducing later Nicene theology into a text would be out of order and would produce anachronistic results. Accordingly, one can easily say that the NT does not have a fully formed Trinitarianism, by which they mean a fully formed Nicene Trinitarianism. However, by using this later standard by which to measure Trinitarianism, historical critics have implicitly imported an anachronistic conceptuality into their their argument. Can’t the NT have a fully formed Trinitarianism on its own terms? Or might we say, in light of the historical critical concern to bracket out the ontology of Nicaea in terms of the immanent Trinity, they can fall into the trap of missing the event and action of God in terms of the economic Trinity. For example, Dunn in his Christology in the Making argues that Christ is the revelation of God in Paul’s letters, just that Christ is not ontologically identified with God (through pre-existence) in Paul’s letters: “God had himself acted in and through Christ” (255). This seems to be a strong indication of an economic view of Trinity, which is set in opposition to an immanent view. Yet if the immanent view was not at play in the discussion as an alternative, then the economic would be allowed more space.

Thus, it seems that this anachronistic standard is shaping historical critical affirmations and denials. This doesn’t mean that ontological issues are irrelevant to assessments of these texts, but we need to be careful of importing a standard from a latter time in order to make those assessments. This isn’t only a problem for those critiquing or questioning traditional readings, and I’ll mention how more traditional readers deal in anachronism  while trying to support their readings in a follow-up post.

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I (Ben) am a part of a reading group at church that recently finished Charles Taylor’s Secular Age, and we’re now into Sources of Self. (I know, I go to a cool church!) Taylor’s discussion in Secular Age was very impacting. In particular, his chapter on Bulwarks of Belief is one of the most important things I’ve read on how laying out systematically how the ancient/medieval social imaginary is different to the post-Enlightenment social imaginary. Understanding that difference is fundamental to interpreting these ancient texts. (As a good intro and interaction with Secular Age, I’ve assigned Jamie Smith’s How (Not) to Be Secular with success a couple of times.)

Taylor describes our current age as the Age of Authenticity, which is built upon the idea that we have to create our identity. Since people struggle either to pick the right identity to create or want to create an identity but really don’t have the resources to achieve that goal the level of anxiety has increased greatly: The Age of Authenticity is the Age of Anxiety.

As part of his argument Taylor, at times makes use of Durkheim, and I have to confess I kept getting lost in what Durkheim held to. Another friend from church not in our reading group (I know, what a great church!) mentioned these School of Life videos and specifically the Durkheim one, and his relevance for Taylor became self-evident.

Here’s a nice interview with Mike Gorman about engaging Paul as a theological reader.

Let me also note that Mike contributed a fine essay to our Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination that just came out: “The Apocalyptic New Covenant and the Shape of Life in the Spirit according to Galatians”

HT: David Capes

Ben, Jason, and I are excited to announce the release of our most recent edited volume Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination (Fortress Press). This book has been several years in the making, the main contents of which were initially presented and discussed at an SBL event of the same name in November 2014. The volume contains 17 excellent chapters at 488 pages. The retail price is a reasonable $39.00, though Amazon and other online book sellers are currently offering it as cheaply as $24. Below I’ve pasted the book description and table of contents. We’d be delighted if you and/or your library would obtain a copy!

Since the mid-twentieth century, apocalyptic thought has been championed as a central category for understanding the New Testament writings and the lePaul and the Apocalyptic Imaginationtters of Paul above all. But “apocalyptic” has meant different things to different scholars. Even the assertion of an “apocalyptic Paul” has been contested: does it mean the invasive power of God that breaks with the present age (Ernst Käsemann), or the broader scope of revealed heavenly mysteries, including the working out of a “many-staged plan of salvation” (N. T. Wright), or something else altogether? Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination brings together eminent Pauline scholars from diverse perspectives, along with experts of Second Temple Judaism, Hellenistic philosophy, patristics, and modern theology, to explore the contours of the current debate. Contributors discuss the history of what apocalypticism, and an “apocalyptic Paul,” have meant at different times and for different interpreters; examine different aspects of Paul’s thought and practice to test the usefulness of the category; and show how different implicit understandings of apocalypticism shape different contemporary presentations of Paul’s significance.

Part I.
1. Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction—Ben C. Blackwell, John K. Goodrich, and Jason Maston
2. “Then I Proceeded to Where Things Were Chaotic” (1 Enoch 21:1): Mapping the Apocalyptic Landscape—David A. Shaw

Part II.
3. Apocalyptic as God’s Eschatological Activity in Paul’s Theology—Martinus C. de Boer
4. Apocalyptic Epistemology: The Sine Qua Non of Valid Pauline Interpretation—Douglas A. Campbell
5. Apocalyptic as Theoria in the Letters of St. Paul: A New Perspective on Apocalyptic as the Mother of Theology—Edith M. Humphrey
6. Apocalyptic and the Sudden Fulfillment of Divine Promise—N. T. Wright

Part III.
7. Some Reflections on Apocalyptic Thought and Time in Literature from the Second Temple Period—Loren T. Stuckenbruck
8. The Transcendence of Death and Heavenly Ascent in the Apocalyptic Paul and the Stoics—Joseph R. Dodson
9. Second-Century Perspectives on the Apocalyptic Paul: Reading the Apocalypse of Paul and the Acts of PaulBen C. Blackwell
10. Some Remarks on Apocalyptic in Modern Christian Theology—Philip G. Ziegler

Part IV.
11. Righteousness Revealed: Righteousness of God in Romans 3:21-26—Jonathan A. Linebaugh
12. Thinking from Christ to Israel: Romans 9-11 in Apocalyptic Context—Beverly Roberts Gaventa
13. Apocalyptic Allegiance and Disinvestment in the World: A Reading of 1 Corinthians 7:25-35—John M. G. Barclay
14. After Destroying Every Rule, Authority, and Power: Paul, Apocalyptic, and Politics in 1 Corinthians—John K. Goodrich
15. Plight and Solution in Paul’s Apocalyptic Perspective: A Study of 2 Corinthians 5:18-21—Jason Maston
16. The Apocalyptic New Covenant and the Shape of Life in the Spirit according to Galatians—Michael J. Gorman
17. The Two Ages and Salvation History in Paul’s Apocalyptic Imagination: A Comparison of 4 Ezra and Galatians—J. P. Davies

Index of Names
Index of Ancient Writings

I’ve just listened to N. T. Wright’s lecture on “Israel in Pauline Theology” from the HBU conference held a little over a week ago (see below). I’ve read Wright plenty before on this and related issues, so there were no real surprises here in his exegesis and overall reading of Paul. For Wright, Jesus Christ and the multi-ethnic church are the true Israel. Thus, Paul does not anticipate any yet-fulfilled mass conversion of Israelites prior to the second coming (as the scholarly majority seems to understand Rom 11:25-26 to predict).

I’m quite happy with the way Wright interprets many individual texts, though I disagree with him on at least a couple of significant issues in the lecture (esp. Rom 11:25-26), and ultimately with his final position. I won’t quibble with the content of his exegesis, since many capable scholars have already done this elsewhere (in addition to many mainline commentators, see, e.g., the recent article by my colleague Michael G. Vanlaningham, “An Evaluation of N. T. Wright’s View of Israel in Romans 11,” BibSac 170 (2013): 179-93). But there are a few things Wright says or does (methodologically) here that I think are just plain odd, even for him.

First, given the topic of Wright’s lecture, I was surprised by how quickly he asserted his position on the meaning of “Israel of God” in Gal 6:16 and then just moved on. Near the end of the 57th minute, he says, “[In] Galatians 6:16, he [Paul] calls the church ‘the Israel of God’; I think there is no doubt about that.” That’s it. No exegesis and no argument. This is unfortunate considering how much discussion that verse has received and how many scholars plainly disagree with Wright on this text (see, e.g.,  Susan Grove Eastman, “Israel and the Mercy of God: A Re-reading of Galatians 6.16 and Romans 9-11,” NTS 56 [2010]: 367-95; Bruce Longenecker, “Salvation History in Galatians and the Making of a Pauline Discourse,” JSPL 2 [2012]: 65-87, at 79-80).

To be sure, Wright warns at the beginning of the lecture that he will principally focus on passages that don’t use the term “Israel” at all. I suppose that’s fine. But it is astonishing that he then so quickly bypasses those that do while also maintaining how crucial they are for a coherent reading of Paul. What I mean is that, in my opinion, Wright terribly exagerates the significance of Gal 6:16 and Rom 11:25-26 in Pauline thought when, at the 59th minute, he says, “if those passages don’t refer to the church, then Paul has just unmade the whole theological structure he has so obviously got throbbing through his head and his heart.” Again, this is just asserted, not argued: it is as if he simply forces his entire pre-conceived ecclesiology onto the two passages. Exegetical debates aside, it is just baffingly to me that Wright would place so much significance on two texts he hardly discusses in this hour-long lecture, or to put it the other way around, that he would hardly discuss two texts he considers to be so important.

Finally, as a progressive dispensationalist, I was confused at the 12th minute when he responded to the claim of some dispensationalists (not me) that in Romans 11 Paul predicts the return of the Jews to the land. Wright says in response, “This would be odd [for Paul to predict], not least, because of course when Paul wrote Romans, they [Israel] had not left it [i.e., the land] in the first place,” a comment that sounds like it incited a great deal of laughter. But what does Wright mean about the Jews having not left the land? Had the Jewish Diaspora come to an end before 57 AD? There were obviously thousands upon thousands of Israelites still scattered across the Mediterannean. So I don’t get it. This is a very odd criticism, and one that too quickly won the audience’s approval.

Nonetheless, I appreciate Wright’s attempt to read ALL of Paul and to make his entire theological vision work together, even if I disagree with how he goes about it. I may have my summer school Romans class listen to this lecture (and maybe another one of Wright’s on justification), since it provides a good representation of Wright’s system and is generally quite easy to follow.

This is part 2 (see part 1 here) of Matthew Bates’ response to my review (part 1 & part 2) of his excellent book The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation.

Guest Post by Matthew Bates:

Ben’s comment/question:

“I accept [Bates’] thrust that the Christ-event gives the present a hermeneutical priority, but I wonder what a more sustained interaction with Irenaeus (in addition to Barnabas and Justin) on this topic would have produced? …. I find Bates’ exegesis [of Ps 17:50 LXX in Rom 15:9] enlightening, but I don’t see the need to make David such a flat character and therefore I identify more fully with Hays: Christ has the precedence but his role as the Messiah makes sense in light of David’s substantive role as King. Irenaeus has a robust perspective on typological connections (e.g. AH 3.21-3.22), which would offer mixed support and critique of Bates…”

My comments:
If the reader has followed my clarifying remarks regarding typology above, then perhaps the reader can already anticipate my response to Ben’s query. I don’t think Paul had a significantly different use of “types” with respect to the relationship between past and present than Irenaeus.
Now I move on to discuss whether or not Richard Hays’ model (see The Conversion of the Imagination, pp. 101-18) might be preferable to the one that I have proposed. It is important to recognize that I am primarily questioning Hays’ typological explanation for texts in which Paul (and others) found Christ to be the one truly praying a psalm. Hays argues for a double typology inasmuch as David was an anointed one (messiah, Christ) and also a representative that embodied Israel’s national hopes and tragedies. As such, for Hays, as best as I understand him, the Christ can be made the speaker of, for instance, a psalmic lament because David embodies corporate Israel’s sorrows.

Admittedly this is possible, but in my judgment Hays’ typological suggestion is improbable. I believe Paul’s use of the type metaphor demands that Paul has found “iconic mimesis,” that is, participation in a common image. So when we seek to explain Paul’s identification of Christ as the speaker of a psalm of lament through David, the question becomes, If this is “typology,” then what is the common image between the OT text and the Christ that allows Paul to assert that the Christ is the speaker? Is the both-are-messiahs generality enough? I don’t think so. Ben, following Hays, might not find a need “to make David such a flat character.” Yet in an attempt to persuade Ben (and you, O dear reader), I would push back by asking, What specific evidence exists that David was a robust character for Paul in the ways necessary to sustain concrete image linkage in the specific passages in question? For example, if David, as Hays claims, was to be regarded as the symbol of Israel’s national suffering, and this image provides the link, then where is there any specific evidence that Paul held such a view?

I think a much simpler and better-evidenced solution lies ready to hand. David was consistently regarded as a prophet by the earliest Christians, and as such it was believed that David could speak in the person of someone else—he could take on an alternative prosopon, and speak from the person of this new character. For example, see Peter’s “he was a prophet” explanation of how it is that David can be speaking words appropriate only to the Christ in Psalm 16:8-11 in Acts 2:25-31. That is, I would argue, Paul is doing something similar, engaging in what I call “prosopological exegesis.” The reader will have to look at my book (ch. 4 and 5) to see the details for how and why I argue this, but this argument is grounded historically in early Christian exegesis both internal and external to Paul’s letters.

Ben’s comment/question:
“If the Spirit as an equal member of the Trinity plays a central role [in 2 Cor 3], should there not be more emphasis on or more of [a] place given to the Spirit’s role in Paul’s hermeneutics and not just the content of his message?”

My comments:
I can only say that I suppose I wish there could be more of an emphasis on Spirit’s hermeneutical function here. In constructive theology we can perhaps move beyond Paul’s words, draw on philosophical or traditional resources, and speculate about plausible Trinitarian dimensions beyond what Paul says, but since in my judgment Paul himself doesn’t give the Spirit a definite hermeneutical function in 2 Corinthians 3 or elsewhere, we are simply historically constrained. Paul does affirm the Spirit’s generally providential role in aiding us in all spiritual matters (1 Cor 2:6-16), and the work of the Spirit in making the confession that’s indicative of conversion (1 Cor 12:3), but the idea that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17) is a hermeneutical statement is, in my judgment, problematic since freedom here almost certainly means freedom from the performance-demanding legislation of the Old Covenant, not interpretative freedom (contra Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, p. 149). When you buy your copy The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation (which I trust all readers will do cheerfully and with alacrity), then see my fuller discussion in ch. 3 and ch. 6.

Ben’s comment/question:
“I was surprised but not bothered by the fact that [Bates] returns unapologetically to the specifically Trinitarian implications of Paul’s hermeneutic. (We’re fortunate that he’s got a forthcoming volume tentatively titled The Birth of the Trinity….)”

My comments:
I am glad, Ben, that you found my chapters that focused on prosopological exegesis particularly compelling, as these are what I regard as my most novel contribution, and that you also were intrigued by the Trinitarian implications. My second book, tentatively The Birth of Trinity (the manuscript is complete), will look at the phenomenon of prosopological exegesis in first- and second-century Christianity more broadly and how this method of reading contributed to Christology and the growth of Trinitarian doctrine. Some of my main conversation partners in this forthcoming book are Larry Hurtado (One God, One Lord and Lord Jesus Christ), Richard Bauckham, (God Crucified and Jesus and the God of Israel), Simon Gathercole (The Pre-Existent Son), James Dunn (Christology in the Making), and John Collins and Adela Yarbro Collins (King and Messiah as Son of God). I think this new prosopological angle produces some stimulating results. I hope you and your readers are sufficiently piqued, so that you will dip into The Birth of the Trinity once it is released.

All the best,

~Matthew W. Bates

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