Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Another Fine Theological Post

Yesterday I omitted a post I had run across recently on Scandal of Particularity summarizing the nine theses set out in The Art of Reading Scripture edited by Ellen Davis and Richard Hays. It includes a few bits of commentary arguing over whether Scripture has only one sense (i.e. the literal) or not -- an argument that I am champing at the bit to join in, but frankly I don't have time.

But I might add that if we say of Scripture that "every passage- as the Reformation affirmed- has only one intended and valid meaning" and that (quoting the gist of the same commentator) God's intention dictates how Scripture uses Scripture, then it seems that any textual meaning is rendered null and void. Let me explain.

When someone is doing lexical-syntactical exegesis (i.e. paying attention to the way the words run, in order to determine what a writer intended by using them in just that way), then inevitably historical considerations come into view. That is, when looking at a word in Koine Greek that Paul used in his letter to the Romans, one might turn to relevant epistolary literature of the first century, hoping to glean some parallels in conventions and usage with what Paul is writing. One would also look to what would be the most likely Jewish background and formation that Paul received. One would also look at the social milieu of the eastern part of the Roman Empire at the time. And of course one would consider carefully the surprising, explosive novelty of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and what the church saw God as doing through him. In other words, in this sort of exegesis one pays attention to context in order to reconstruct what the probable intention of the author was, whether it is Paul, Luke, David, or whoever.

Here's the problem: what is God's context? How might we reconstruct what socio-historical conventions God uses to express God's intentions? If we say that that is misleading, and that God accomodates himself to human conventions in order to address us in our weakness -- a good Calvinist point -- then we are reduced to the very sort of searching after the human author's intention (about Scripture's use of Scripture) that the switch of focus to God's intention was meant to avoid. That is to say, if we affirm God's "authorship" of Scripture (in some sense) and also that there is only one meaning -- the literal, historical -- then we are still looking for the human author's intention.

See? I said I didn't have time, wouldn't write about it, and I still grunted out a hot steaming pile of blog. I suppose what Jello Biafra said of Colonel Qaddafi could be said about me too: "I tell you, that man is unreliable."


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