Archive for May 4th, 2009

Bart Ehrman in the News (again)

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Thanks to Daniel Kirk over at Sibboleth for pointing out a recent brief essay on the Bible by Bart Ehrman. To the surprise of many, Bart was one of my good friends in seminary and grad school at Princeton, and he is an excellent scholar. But at times in his popular books and essays he tends to make mountains out of molehills; much of what he says is not even mildly shocking to anyone who’s been to seminary, even an evangelical seminary.

Sometimes Bart exaggerates the significance of an observation; for instance, I think he exaggerates the significance of the differences among the various NT writers on various topics, such as the meaning of Jesus’ death and the words Jesus spoke from the cross. (He did this recently again on TV and radio.) Sometimes, like any scholar, he is wrong. Often, despite all the hype, he is right, but what he says is nothing new.

In this particular essay, Bart makes some valid historical and theological points. Coming from him, these points sound radical and iconolastic, when actually they are not.

Theological Interpretation (pt. 4)

Monday, May 4th, 2009

(This post continues excerpts from the revised and expanded edition of Elements of Biblical Exegesis.) The subject is principles of theological interpretation.

On a different note: I have recently received a new New Testament introduction (text) and will be posting about it and about that genre.

5. The Coherence Principle
The principle of coherence follows from the canonical principle and is the theological conviction that, in spite of all its diversity, Scripture is one divinely given book that essentially tells one coherent story of the creator-God’s salvation of the world, culminating in Jesus Christ. It is not a collection of mutually competing or contradicting accounts of God and of humanity’s experience of God. This principle also has a corollary: that because of the guiding work of the Spirit throughout the history of God’s people (see the charismatic principle, next post), those who read Scripture theologically can and should be guided by the basic theological convictions of their reading communities (e.g., the Christian church), which are themselves derived from the Scriptures. These convictions have been set forth in the various Christian creeds, especially those from the earliest centuries of the church—to which most Christians give assent.

In a sense, this principle also widens the context within which Scripture is read to include the confessional expression (sometimes called “the rule of faith”) of the reading community named in the previous (canonical) principle and post. It means, for instance, that Christian readers will not be satisfied with readings of the text that stand at odds with their most fundamental convictions, such as the goodness of God and of God’s creation of the world. (NB: This perspective is directly at odds with the Enlightenment [and thus also the historical-critical] view that theological convictions should not guide biblical interpretation and that they, in fact, obscure rather than clarify. Many Christian theological interpreters would identify the Nicene Creed as the appropriate framework for interpretation.) This commitment will at times generate tensions between a “plain reading” of the text and the church’s theological convictions. This is nothing new; the theological interpreter joins the ranks of generations of faithful Jews and Christians who have participated in the same kinds of struggles.