Chapter 3 of Joel Green's book discusses the "resources" necessary for reading the Bible as Scripture. He begins by reiterating the current conundrum we find ourselves in. Since Philip Gabler, the "father" of biblical theology, we have found there to be an "ugly ditch" between the Bible and Christian theology. The reason is a sense of the "historical rootedness of the text" and the "historical gap" separating us from the original author's and audiences (64). This is the gap that Green aims to nullify.
[As an aside, I came across some very interesting quotes in Grant Osborne's Hermeneutical Spiral this week that illustrate the situation Green is addressing. Osborne teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is a model card carrying ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) evangelical who affirms the inerrancy of Scripture.
Here they are: "Luther [in his conception of the clarity of Scripture] meant the final product (the gospel message) rather than the process (recovering the meaning of individual texts... In the last century, however... the need for hermeneutical principles to bridge the cultural gap was ignored... The principle of perspicuity [the clarity of Scripture] was extended to the hermeneutical process as well... Hermeneutics as a discipline demands a complex interpretive process in order to uncover the original clarity of Scripture. Again, the result is clear but the process is not..." (27).
This is a very fun passage for me. I do agree that finding the original meaning is hard work that often necessitates a high degree of skill and training. I have argued elsewhere that if the original meaning is what we must know to hear God's voice in Scripture, then most people are sunk. This claim leads me to affirm that there are other meanings to Scripture that are God's direct voice through the Spirit. This is something like the tact Green is taking, although he seems far less confident that we can know the original meaning.
I end my sidebar on The Hermeneutical Spiral with another quote that makes me smile given Keith Drury's frequent complaint as well that the requirement of such complex methods in effect establishes a new priesthood of the Bible--the Bibleheads--and bars the untrained from being able to hear the Word of God. So here is another quote from Osborne: The hermeneutical principles "are not restricted to any 'elite' but are available to all who have the interest and energy to learn them." So Osborne claims it isn't a priestly class because anyone can learn the methods of exegesis! Ha!]
Returning to Green, he suggests three aspects of reading the Bible directly as Scripture to us rather than to them in distinction from us.
1. To read the Bible as Scripture, we must be "ecclesially located," that is, we must read Scripture with the church. "The best interpreters are those actively engaged in communities of biblical interpretation" (66).
The community of the church has itself been formed by Scripture. We find ourselves in these texts, things we want to avoid and emulate. Of course, Green has already emphasized that theologically we must consider ourselves part of the same people of God to which the people of the Bible belonged.
Green recognizes, however, the danger that we will only find in the words a reinforcement of what we want to hear. We have to open ourselves up to being changed. I am unclear exactly how this is to take place in Green's view, unless it be through the Holy Spirit. To me Green seems vague on exactly how we are to lock onto the right meaning of the words for us. Perhaps more is to come.
The last part of this section repeats the fact that there are no neutral or objective readings of texts, particularly the biblical text. He distinguishes these illusions from free wheeling mirror readings, though. He prefers to speak of a certain self-reflectiveness instead of objectivity. We are open to change of our view and are reflective of the forces at work in our interpretation.
2. Reading Scripture is theologically fashioned. Green mentions three assumptions:
a. The Old Testament is part of the grand narrative whose main character is God.
b. There are "rules of engagement" with Scripture (80). This is very similar to what I've said many times in relation to the "rule of faith" and the "law of love." Any application of Scripture that does not cohere with these is an inappropriate application.
The potential difference between me and Green on this point is that I am not sure that he would acknowledge with me that sometimes the original meaning does conflict with these rules. He seems perhaps to avoid this part of the equation. Rather he seems to start with the "surplus of meaning" of the text itself, something I certainly agree with. Because of this surplus of meaning, sola scriptura can never guarantee a Christian reading of the text (81). Green makes this point with the Gnostics, who could have affirmed their particular doctrines no matter what scriptural texts were set as their boundary.
Green warns, however, that there is a give and take between the creeds and the biblical texts. So the saving function of Christ at his return is not clearly in the creed, nor is his earthly life between virgin birth and death. Nor do the creeds say anything about Israel. I of course do not restrict the "rule of faith" to the creeds but to the vaguer but broader "consensus ecclesiae."
c. Green then goes on to speak of the fact that we read Scripture in traditions as well. As someone in the Wesleyan tradition, for example, he finds salvation as the organizing principle of Scripture.
3. Reading as Scripture must involve critical engagement.
This is some of what we saw above. Reading the Bible in communities of faith cannot simply reinforce its own values uncritically. The solution seems to be a "range of conversation partners" (92).
Here are some of the characteristics of such critical engagement: cross-cultural, canonical, historical (so the original readers are part of the equation), communal, global, hospitable.
4. Reading as Scripture requires the Holy Spirit.
I have also accentuated this point as essential to the direct voice of God in Scripture. We look outside ourselves for interpretation if we acknowledge the Spirit's role (94-95). Because we affirm the Spirit's work in the past and the present, we are not skeptical or minimalist in our approach but we approach as believers (96-97). The Spirit of Christ points to the same Christ now as He did when the texts were written. And the Spirit joins us to the Christian interpreters of Scripture throughout history. Green affirms projects like Oden's Ancient Christian Commentary series and The Church's Bible by Robert Louis Wilken.
So you see many similarities between Green's hermeneutic in this chapter and my own. I would characterize Green's in this way:
1. The biblical text is characterized by polysemy, by a surplus of potential meaning.
2. The meaning that Christians are interested in is that which 1) is arrived at in the community of faith both local, global, and transtemporal. The dialog between us, along with a self-reflective and submissive approach to the words, makes this a critical reading of the text, although not an objective or strictly historical one. This reading in community also 2) takes place within the boundaries of orthodoxy, the rule of faith. Finally, it is a reading that 3) is thoroughly imbued by the Spirit.
If I am understanding Green correctly (and I welcome correction), the above description comes very close to my own hermeneutic. The difference, as I perceive it, is that I seem to have a greater confidence that we can and do arrive at original meanings that differ from the Christian readings above. I also think Green could be clearer on how this works with passages that we would not apply to today (like veiling women) or how we are truly to avoid a roller coaster of interpretations as the community of faith itself undergoes change.
The book is not finished though, there are two more chapters yet...