Archive for May 1st, 2009

Theological Interpretation (pt. 3)

Friday, May 1st, 2009

(This post continues excerpts from the revised and expanded edition of Elements of Biblical Exegesis.)

    The first post was general in nature; the second considered the Chalcedonian (or Incarnational) and the Catholic (or Universal) principles.

    3. The Communal (or Ecclesial) Principle
    The third principle is related to the second and refers to the significance of the church (Greek ekkl?sia), or community of God’s people in Christ, for theological interpretation. One way to describe this principle is to say that it expands the concentric circles of contextual analysis beyond even the canonical context and circle (see below) to include the circle of the universal church. The emphasis here, in contrast to the catholic principle, is not on the scope of Scripture’s reach but on the proper location for interpretation—within the church itself.

    This principle has two major corollaries. One corollary is the recognition that exegesis is not primarily an individual affair but an ecclesial discipline, something that happens in conversation more than in isolation. That conversation may take the form of scholarly theological debate, the reading of ancient interpreters, contextualized Bible study by lay people, and much more.

    The other corollary of this principle is an understanding of scriptural interpretation not merely as an academic exercise, but as an ecclesial practice. For theological interpreters, even the most technical and sophisticated academic biblical interpretation has the church as its primary location and ultimate focus. Good theological biblical scholarship is a form of prayer, communion (koin?nia), and, most importantly, service to the church.

    4. The Canonical Principle
    The fourth principle, the canonical principle, means first of all that scriptural texts can and must be heard, not only in their historical and literary contexts, but also in their canonical context. This principle permits and requires the theological interpreter to ask what role a text plays in the canon as a whole, understood theologically not as an arbitrary collection but as a divinely orchestrated whole that unveils the story and the drama of salvation. This principle also permits and requires the theological interpreter to ask questions about the relationship of various parts of the canon to one another (e.g., the imprecatory psalms and the Sermon on the Mount, or the teaching of Paul and the teaching of James)—to put the texts of Scripture in conversation with one another. Finally, this principle both permits and requires the theological interpreter to read the two Testaments in light of each other, asking, for instance, how the book of Genesis provides insight into the book of Revelation (and vice versa), and how the use of Isaiah 53 in the New Testament provides insight into Isaiah (and vice versa).

    Another way to describe the canonical principle, then, is to say that it expands the concentric circles of contextual analysis beyond the traditional literary framework of immediate context and larger context in a particular writing to include the largest literary context—that of the Bible as a single book. Non-theological interpretation does not recognize this context.